A Basic Introduction to Thai for Turists

The Thai language is very different from western languages as it is a tonal language. It means that two words that sound the same can have differnt meaning depending on which tone it has. There are five different tones. Low, Mid, High, Falling, or Rising. The mid tone is the easiest to learn and use, as it is like normal western speaking. The others are hard to explain in writing, but the names of the tones are directly linked to how they sound.

So what is tone? It isn’t used much in western languages, but it can be compared to the tone change that usually occurs when asking a question.


Example: ไม้ใหม่ไม่ไหม้ (Mai mai mi mai / Mị̂ h̄ım̀ mị̀ h̄ịm̂) means “The new wood doesn’t burn.”
Enter the phrase into google translate (https://translate.google.com) to hear how it sounds.

Example: One of the first times I was in Thailand I stayed for a long time on Ice Beach, a basic bungalow resort on the outskirts of Lonely Beach. There was a dog that “belonged” to the resort, and sometimes the manager would call “ma maa” and the dog would listen. It was a female dog and my friend and I just assumed that the dogs name was Mama. Later we found out that he was saying “ma maa”, first ma is with mid tone, the second ma is with falling tone. Which means “Come dog”.

The Polite Particle

One thing that is very important to remember! The Thai language has a “polite particle”, a word that is used to portray politeness. Think of it as; thank you, excuse me, sir, madam etc. All packaged in a single word. Well, two words. One word is used by men, and the other is used by women. The polite particle for men is ครับ (khrap). However the acceptable pronunciation for the word varies and most people say it as cap as in the word capo. The polite particle for women is ค่ะ (kha). Technically it has a rising tone, but if you just say it at the end of a sentence everyone will understand you.

It is very important that you get into the habit of ending all your sentences with the polite particle. You will be mispronouncing things and get things wrong. Take the example above with the dog. Say you want someone to come with you. So you say “come come” in Thai. But you got the tone wrong and now you are suddenly calling the person a dog. But if you use the polite particle you can prevent misunderstandings.

Basic Phrases:

  1. Hello: สวัสดี (sawasdee)
  2. Thank you: ขอบคุณ (khob khun)
  3. Yes: ใช่ (chai)
  4. No: ไม่ (mai)
  5. Please: โปรด (prôd)
  6. Excuse me/Sorry: ขอโทษ (khaw thôht)
  7. Goodbye: ลาก่อน (laa gòn)
  8. How are you?: สบายดีหรือ (sabaidee reu?)
  9. I’m sorry: ขอโทษ (khaw thôht)

Asking for Information: 10. Where is…?: ที่ไหน (t̂hī̀ h̄ị̀n…?)

  1. What is this?: นี่คืออะไร (nī̀ khụ̂ xaray?)
  2. How much is this?: ราคาเท่าไหร่ (rākha t̂hāo h̄ị̀r?)
  3. Can you help me?: คุณช่วยฉันได้ไหม (khun chûay chăn dâi h̄ị̀m?)

Food and Dining: 14. Water: น้ำ (náam)

  1. Food: อาหาร (âahâan)
  2. Menu: เมนู (menu)
  3. I’m a vegetarian: ฉันกินเจ (chăn kin jay)
  4. Spicy: เผ็ด (phèt)
  5. Not spicy: ไม่เผ็ด (mâi phèt)
  6. Delicious: อร่อย (a-ròi)

Transportation: 21. Taxi: แท็กซี่ (tǽk sī̂)

  1. Bus: รถเมล์ (rót mēl)
  2. Train: รถไฟ (rót fai)
  3. Airport: สนามบิน (snām bin)
  4. Where is the bus station?: สถานีรถเมล์อยู่ที่ไหน (s̄t̂hānī rt̄he mēl xyù thī̀ h̄ị̀n?)

Emergencies: 26. Help: ช่วย (chûay)

  1. I need a doctor: ฉันต้องการหมอ (chăn t̂xng khạm mǭ)
  2. Where is the hospital?: โรงพยาบาลอยู่ที่ไหน (roṅ phayābāl xyù thī̀ h̄ị̀n?)
  3. Police: ตำรวจ (dtam rūat)
  4. I’m lost: ฉันเสียทาง (chăn s̄ī t̄hāng)

These 30 basic Thai words and phrases should help you in various situations while traveling in Thailand. Remember that Thai people appreciate when tourists make an effort to speak their language, so don’t be shy about using these phrases during your trip. If you are having difficulties with pronounciation, use Google Translate to playback the sound that the words make. https://translate.google.com

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