Key phrases that will help you get what you need, when you need it
Remember your khap or ka
Added to the end of sentences, the words khap (used by men) and ka (used by women) have no direct translation in English. Think of them as polite syllables which demonstrate manners and respect. Always add khap or ka after the words and phrases listed below.
Please and thank you
The Thai phrase for “thank you” is khop khun, so a man should say khop khun khap and a woman should use khop khun ka.
Although there is a Thai word for “please” (karuna) it isn’t used in the same context as it would be in the West and you needn’t worry about using it. However, it is important to add the polite article khap or ka in most situations. This includes greeting people, saying thank you and asking for the bill.
Hello and goodbye
You may see ‘sawatdee’ written as ‘sawasdee’, ‘sawatdii’ or a number of different ways. It’s a greeting that can be used to say hello, good day, good morning, good afternoon and goodbye, so sawatdee is a useful word to learn.
Females say ‘sawatdee ka’ and males say ‘sawatdee khap’.
How are you?
Another greeting you will hear a lot in Thailand is sabai dee. A Thai person may ask you sabai dee mai? which is the equivalent of saying “How are you?”
Khap or ka will normally be added to this, so you may hear sabai dee mai khap/ka? Respond by saying sabai dee khap if you’re a man or sabai dee ka if you’re a woman. This translates as “I’m well, thank you” or “I’m fine, thank you.”
The bill please
The phrases check bin or kep tang may both be used when asking to settle your bill at a bar or restaurant.
In bars you are more likely to hear check bin, but it’s OK to use kep tang too. To avoid sounding abrupt, don’t forget your khap or ka at the end of it; use check bin khap (if you are male) or check bin ka (if you are female). Or alternatively, kep tang khap and kep tang ka.
Thai people love their food. They will also want you to love their food. If you can ask for the bill in Thai and then tell the restaurant owner, the cook or the waitress that the food was aroy (delicious) you are likely to get plenty of smiles and receive a warm welcome the next time you go back.
Mr, Miss and Mrs
In Thailand, the word khun is a polite word that precedes a person’s name and can also be used when trying to get somebody’s attention.
Thai people don’t normally address people (Thai or foreign) using their surname. Instead they use the first name preceded by the title khun. It isn’t gender specific and in this context it’s similar to saying Mr, Mrs or Miss. So if your name is Joe Smith you will probably be referred to as khun Joe or even Mister Joe. If your name is Mary you’re likely to be called khun Mary by Thai people.
If you want to impress a Thai person you can use khun in front of their name. For instance, if the receptionist at your hotel has a name badge which says Lek, you can greet her with sawatdee khap/ka khun Lek (“Good morning, Miss Lek!”)
Originally from the UK, Roy Cavanagh is a freelance writer based in Thailand. Passionate about Thai culture, Roy spends much of the year travelling all around Thailand to research stories and capture photographs of his adopted homeland.