Two words: THAI FOOD. So spicy, yet so good and always served hot & fresh. Before landing in Bangkok, familiarize yourself with some Thai phrases to ease the anxiety and communication barrier when ordering street food or treating yourself at a restaurant.
Especially as a traveler on a budget (where most of your eating will be street food), these words and phrases will certainly come in handy!
Before we get started … a few notes about Thai language!
- Kha (kahw) and Khrab (krawb) not only define the speakers’ gender (kha for female and khrab for male), but they also add respect to sentences. The longer they’re drawn out, the more respectful your sentence is. Be sure to use them accordingly to social status! The higher a person’s status, the longer kha and khrab should be drawn out.
- Tones create ALL the difference in Thai language. You’ll find that many words are spelt the exact same, but are pronounced in a wide variety of tones. Even the slightest change can create a COMPLETELY different meaning. Don’t let this scare you! Just be mindful – this is a common cause of miscommunication.
- 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 actually pronounced Koh-Pee-Pee and Poo-ket.
- However, there is an exception to the letter ‘H’! When paired with a ‘C’, it makes a “sh” sound. So if mentioning Chiang May, you’ll notice Thai’s pronounce it, “Shang Mai”.
- Roll your “R’s”! Just as you would in Spanish or Japanese, be sure to roll your “R’s” in the Thai language.
Useful Thai phrases for ordering food
- Mai sai prick – Without spice
- Mai pet – No spice (some places may interpret this as “less spice”)
- Nit noi – Little bit
- Mai waan – No sugar (you’ll find that many dishes and drinks contain lots of added sugar)
- Waan noi – A little sugar
- Aroy – Delicious
- Check bin – May I have the check? (this phrase uses the actual English word “check” – are you paying attention to that tricky ‘H’?)
If you’re visiting the more “touristy” spots in Thailand, you’ll find that the food is toned down with less spice than it’d normally have (although it’s still pretty spicy!)
Expand your Thai food vocabulary
- Kai – Egg
- Kai tot – Omelet
- Gai – Chicken
- Plah – Fish
- Too-a – Nuts
- Nua – Beef
- Kung – Shrimp
- Kaeng – Curry
- Khao Pad – Fried rice
- Khao – Rice
- Moo – Pork
- Talay – Seafood
- Pak – Vegetables
Thai vocabulary for drinks
- Nam – Water
- Nom – Milk
- Gai fae (yen/ron) – Coffee (iced/hot)
- Cha (yen/ron) – Tea (iced/hot)
- Na pon-la-mai – Fruit juice
- Khai mook – Boba pearls
Ordering with dietary restrictions
- Chan gin jey (kha/khrab) – I am vegan
- Chan gin mangsawerat (kha/khrab) – I am vegetarian
- Sai pak yaang deaw (kha/khrab) – Only with vegetables
- Mai sai (food) – No/Without (food)