Must-Know Thai Phrases for Savvy Backpackers

Last Updated on April 27, 2024 by Kylie

Traveling to another country where your native language isn’t spoken can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Save this list of essential Thai words and phrases you’ll be using on your backpacking trip.

Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

A few notes about Thai language!

  1. Kha (kahw) and Khrab (krawb) not only define the speaker’s gender (kha for female and khrab for male) but signify respect. The longer they’re drawn out, the more respectful your sentence is. The higher a person’s status, the longer kha and khrab should be drawn out.
  2. Tones create all the differences in the Thai language. You’ll find that many words are spelled the same, but can be pronounced with a wide variety of tones. Even the slightest change can create a COMPLETELY different meaning.
  3. Don’t let the letter ‘H’ fool you! An ‘H’ adds airiness to words, unlike its usage in English. For instance, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket (two of Thailand’s most popular destinations) are commonly mispronounced as Koh Fee Fee and Foo-ket. They’re pronounced Koh-Pee-Pee and Poo-ket.
  4. However, there is an exception to the letter ‘H’! When paired with a ‘C’, it makes a “sh” sound. So if mentioning Chiang Mai, you’ll notice locals pronounce it, “Shang Mai”.
  5. Roll your R’s! Just as you would in Spanish or Japanese, be sure to roll your “R’s” in the Thai language.

Thai phrases you’ll use every day

  • Sa-wat-dee (kha/khrab) – Hello (paired with a wai)
  • Ko tot – I’m sorry/Excuse me
  • Khap khun (kha/khrab) – Thank you
  • Chai (kha/khrab) – Yes
  • Mai – No
  • Mai pen rai – No worries/It’s okay
Thai baht

Essential phrases for shopping

  • Tow-rai – How much is this?
  • Mai ow ting – No plastic bag

Basic phrases when ordering food

  • Mai Sai Prick – Without spice
  • Mai Pet – No spice (some places may interpret this as “less spice”)
  • Nit noi A little bit

If you’re visiting the more touristy spots in Thailand, you’ll find that the food is already toned down with less spice than it’d normally have.

  • Nam – Water
  • Check bin – May I have the check? (this phrase uses the actual English word “check”)
  • Aroy – Delicious

Save this list for your Thailand backpacking trip!


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