Thai, also known as Siamese or Ayutthaya, is the official language of Thailand, and is spoken by over 20 million people. As I’ve mentioned in my Chiang Mai and Bangkok posts, it could take some time for an English-speaker to pick up Thai due to significant linguistic differences. That should not stop you from learning a few key phrases to prepare you for your trip to Thailand! In this post I’ll cover Thai for travel, giving the key phrases you need to navigate the country.
Language Overview | Thai
Thai is a member of the Tai Language family, and has significant vocabulary derived from Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, and Old Khmer. Like many Southeast Asian languages, it is a tonal language. This means that the pitch of a word can change its significance entirely. Thai has its own script, consisting of 44(!) consonants and 15 vowels. The language has gender rules too – In order to make sentences more polite, you add ka/kap to the end of it if you are female or khrup/krap if you are male. While in Thailand, we did find that many people speak English to some degree, but we got bigger smiles when we greeted the locals in Thai :).
Saying hi and goodbye.
- Hello / Hi – Sawadee ka / khrup
- How are you? – Sa bai dee mai ka / khrup
- Bye – La gorn ka / khrup
Thai people are very respectful and polite, and alwasy greet others using the “wai”. This greeting is demonstrated by bringing both hands together and bowing the head. As a foreigner, it is not expected that you do this, as there are nuances to the greeting that may escape you. Simple smile and nod your head in return – that will suffice!
Essential Thai Phrases
Those phrases you use every day:
- Yes – Chai ka / khrup
- No – Mai ka / khrup
- Thank you – Khop khun ka / khrup
- You’re welcome – Yindee ka / khrup
- Sorry / excuse me – Khor thod ka / khrup
- I don’t understand – Mai Khao Jai
- Please – Pord ka / khrup
- Where is the bathroom? – Hong nam yoo tee nai khrup/ka?
- How much does it cost? –Ra ka tao rai khrup/ka?
- Delicious – Aroy
- I need a doctor- Phom dong gaan hai mor maa raak sa khrup/ka
- Never mind- Mai pen rai
If you are more of an advanced Thai learner, and want to increase your vocabulary, check out this site!
Thai for Travel | Final Thoughts
Well that wraps my short list of Thai for travel. You can download a copy of these key phrases below, to keep them in your back pocket as you travel in Thailand! As I mentioned in my post on Spanish phrases, practicing is really key to feeling comfortable using a new language.
You can practice with a real person by using my favorite language resource, iTalki. On this site you can practice with a tutor, formal teacher, or others just seeking to do a language exchange (for free!). The paid lessons have very cheap options, with some as low as $5 an hour. Check it out!