Basic Thai Culture, Etiquette and Words

Basic Thai Culture, Etiquette and Words

Introduction to Thai Etiquette and Culture

Thai culture is centuries old, complex and deeply rooted in Buddhist belief and philosophy. A complete exposition of Thai culture deserves an entire website (and PhD), and is not something we’ll do here. We’ll condemse the main principles behind Thai culture, and we hope it’ll offer you guidance in your everyday dealings while in Bangkok.

General Demeanour

As a highly non-confrontational society, Thais emphasise courtesy and politeness above many things. Always show respect, kindness and courtesy to others around you, and avoid confrontations (especially in public) at all costs. Well-composed and culturally informed tourists tend to earn the respect, trust and kindness of the locals, and would certainly influence the entirety of your visit to Thailand in a positive way.

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Showing Respect in Everyday Speech

Thai Girl in Traditional Clothing

In western societies, we often address others with “Sir” or “Madam” as an outward sign of respect.

In Thai culture, their equivalent is to end your sentences with the words, ‘ka’ (for females) or ‘krup’ (for males). Also, the difference is that the choice of word depends on the speaker’s gender, not the gender of the person you’re addressing.

Thus, if you’re a lady, you should end your sentences by saying “ka” to everyone, regardless of whether the person you’re addressing is a man or a woman. Likewise, if you’re male, you should say “krup” to everyone.

* ‘Krup’ sounds like ‘club’ in English *

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The Wai (Thai Greeting)

Thai Etiquette: Greeting (Wai)

Famous the world over, the unmistakeable Wai is an age-old show of respect, similar to a handshake in Western cultures or a deep bow in certain East Asian cultures. The Wai consists of a slight bow, with both palms pressed together in a humble, prayer-like fashion.

An often overlooked detail is the positioning of the hands. If you place your hands higher when performing a Wai, you are showing more respect and reverence to the recipient. The opposite is true, of course, so be very careful.

Because Thais are very sensitive to their self-perceived standing in society, tourists and visitors unaccustomed to the intricacies of Thai language and culture should never initiate a Wai with someone younger than them. However, one should always return a wai that is offered as a sign of respect, regardless of age or standing.

Basic Thai Words Used on a Daily Basis

Hello/Bye   Thank You
Thai Translated
Sawadee ka/krup
  Thai Translated
Kob kun ka/krup
Pronunciation
sa-wat-dee-ka
  Pronunciation
khop-kuhn-ka
 
     
 Nevermind    Sorry/Excuse Me
Thai Translated
Mai pen rai ka/krup
  Thai Translated
Ko tot ka/krup
Pronunciation
mai-phen-rai-ka
  Pronunciation
khor-thot-ka
     
How Are You?   Where Are The Toilets?
Thai Translated
Khun sabai dee mai ka/krup
  Thai Translated
Hong nam yu nai ka/krup
Pronunciation
koon-sa-bai-dee-mai-ka
  Pronunciation
hong-naam-you-nai-ka
     
I Don’t Know   I Don’t Understand
Thai Translated
Mai-roo
  Thai Translated
Mai kao jai
Pronunciation
mai-roo
  Pronunciation
mai-kao-jai
     
Yes   No
Thai Translated
Ka/Krup
  Thai Translated
Mai
Pronunciation
ka/krup
  Pronunciation
mai
     
Yes, You Are Right (Correct)   No, It’s Not Right (Wrong)
Thai Translated
Chai ka/krup
  Thai Translated
Mai chai ka/krup
Pronunciation
chai-ka
  Pronunciation
mai-chai-ka
     
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