Learning Thai for specific purposes: travel, socialising, business

Image by Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

Are you relocating to Thailand for work? Or maybe just a fun trip? Or are you keen on making friends with the locals here? Either way, learning some basic Thai beforehand can greatly improve your experience. Being able to communicate, ask questions, and interact with people will enrich your stay in countless ways.

So, if you’re on a mission to learn Thai for a specific purpose, keep reading and let us help you out!

Thai for travel

smiley people ordering food in Thailand
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Many people think that they don’t need to learn Thai if they’re only visiting. Yes, you can get by just fine with English, especially in cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya. However, having a few basic Thai phrases up your sleeve can really make a difference! These can come in handy when ordering food at a local restaurant, asking for directions, or simply greeting people you meet along the way. Plus, showing effort to communicate in the local language can help you feel more immersed in the culture and maybe even earn respect from the locals. Here are some essential travel phrases:

Please keep in mind that some Thai words can be pronounced differently than they are written to make it sound more natural in spoken language.

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1. Greetings and introductions

  • “สวัสดี + ครับ/ ค่ะ” (sawàtdii + khráp/khà) – Hello
  • “ยินดีที่ได้รู้จัก+ ครับ/ ค่ะ” (yindii thîi dâay rúu jàk+ khráp/khà) – Nice to meet you.
  • “คุณชื่ออะไร+ ครับ/ คะ ” (khun chʉ̂ʉ ʔaray+ khráp/khá) – What is your name?

In Thai culture, saying hello politely involves using the finishing participles khà (for women) or khráp (for men) at the end of your greeting. Women typically extend their khà with a drawn-out tone that falls in pitch, while men pronounce khráp with a sharp, high tone.

The way these particles are pronounced can convey different nuances of respect and politeness. You may switch to a higher pitch when saying khá to ask a question. Pay attention to how the locals say khá and khráp, and you can begin to understand how tones impact meanings in Thai communication.

Moreover, greetings in Thailand are often accompanied by a “wai.” This is a traditional gesture where you press your palms together and bow slightly. It shows respect, and it is especially important in formal or initial meetings.

2. Basic phrases

In addition to greetings and expressions of gratitude, keep the following phrases in mind:

  • ขอโทษ” ( khɔ̌ɔthôot) – Sorry
  • “ใช่” (chây) – Yes
  • “ไม่ใช่” (mây chây) – No

3. Directions and transportation

Understanding the following terms can help you get around cities like Bangkok, where public transportation is a convenient mode of travel:

  • ไป………ค่ะ/ครับ” (pay…..khà/khráp) – Go to….. (this is useful when you’re taking a taxi)
  • “…destination…+ ไปยังไงคะ/ครับ ” (…destination…+ pay yaŋŋay khá/khráp) – How can I go to…?
  • “ห้องน้ำอยู่ที่ไหนคะ/ครับ ” ( hɔ̌ŋnáam yùu thîinǎy khá/khráp) – Where is the toilet?

4. Shopping and dining

When you’re out shopping or eating at a local Thai establishment, remember the following Thai phrases to make your experience more enjoyable and interactive:

  • ราคาเท่าไหร่คะ/ครับ” (raakhaa thâwrày khá/khráp) – How much is this?
  • “มีสีอื่นมั้ยคะ/ครับ” (mii sǐi ʔʉ̀ʉn máy khá/khráp) – Do you have another colour?
  • “ขอเมนูหน่อยค่ะ/ครับ” (khɔ̌ɔ meenuu nɔ̀y khà/khráp) – Menu please
  • “อันนี้เจมั้ยคะ/ครับ” (ʔan níi jee máy khá/khráp) – Is this vegetarian?
  • “ขอไม่เผ็ดค่ะ/ครับ” (khɔ̌ɔ mây phèt khà/khráp) – Please make it not spicy
  • “เช็คบิลค่ะ/ครับ” (chɵ́k bin khà/khráp) – Can I have the bill?

5. Cultural tips on local etiquette

When travelling in Thailand, it’s important to be aware of and respectful of Thai customs. For example, always remove your shoes before entering homes and certain sacred places. Also, understanding the local etiquette, such as not touching someone’s head or pointing feet at people or religious objects, goes a long way in making a positive impression on locals.

Thai for socialising

Happy women eating together street food
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Thai people are known for their friendliness and hospitality. They’re always ready to welcome you with a big smile and make you feel at home. Just like anywhere else in the world, socialising is an integral part of life. Therefore, being able to engage in small talk or join in social activities can make your time in Thailand extra special. If you want to make friends in Thailand, remember the following social phrases:

1. Greetings and small talk

Thais often use small talk as a way to express genuine interest in others. When you greet someone (after you use the greetings as covered in the previous section) and you want to introduce yourself, use the following phrases:

  • คุณชื่ออะไร + ครับ/ คะ” (khun chʉ̂ʉ ʔaray + khráp/khá) – What’s your name?
  • “ผมชื่อ… + ครับ” or “ฉันชื่อ… + ค่ะ” ( phǒm chʉ̂ʉ…+ khráp or chán chʉ̂ʉ …+ khà) – My name is… (for men/women)
  • “คุณมาจากไหนครับ/ คะ” khun maa jàak nǎy khráp/ khá) – Where are you from? (this is a common question to learn about someone’s background).

2. Expressing gratitude and politeness

  • “ขอบคุณมากครับ/ ค่ะ” (khɔ̀ɔpkhun mâak khráp/khà) – Thank you very much.
  • “ยินดีครับ/ ค่ะ” ( yin-dii khráp/khà ) – You’re welcome.

3. Invitations and social activities

Sharing meals and participating in communal activities are central to Thai social life. Ask the following questions when you want someone to eat with you:

  • “กินข้าวหรือยังครับ/ คะ” (kin khâaw rʉ́yaŋ khráp/ khá ) – Have you eaten yet?
  • “ไปกินข้าวด้วยกันมั้ยครับ/ คะ” (pay kin khâaw dûay kan máy khráp/ khá) – Do you want to eat together?

Moreover, learn the following sentences if you want to be friends with someone:

  • To spark conversations about hobbies and interest: “คุณชอบทำอะไรในเวลาว่าง” (khun chɔ̂ɔp tham ʔaray nay weelaa wâaŋ) – What do you like to do in your free time?
  • Ask someone to hang out or go out together: “เราไปเที่ยวกันมั้ย” (raw paythîaw kan máy) – Shall we go out together?
  • To find dining recommendations: “คุณรู้จักร้านอาหารดีๆ แถวนี้มั้ย (khun rúujàk ráan ʔaahǎan dii dii thɛ̌ɛw níi máy – Do you know any good restaurants around here?
  • To discuss food preferences: “คุณชอบกินอาหารไทยจานไหนมากที่สุด” (khun chɔ̂ɔp kin ʔaahǎan thay jaan nǎy mâak thîisùt) – What is your favorite Thai dish?
  • To start a conversation about travel experiences: “คุณเคยไปเที่ยวที่ไหนในประเทศไทยบ้าง” (khun khəəy paythîaw thîinǎy nay pràthêet thay bâaŋ) – Where have you traveled in Thailand?
  • To keep in touch with new friends: “ขอเบอร์โทรศัพท์คุณได้มั้ย” (khɔ̌ɔ bəə thoorasàp khun dâay máy) – Can I have your phone number?
  • To express a desire to deepen a friendship: “เราควรทำความรู้จักกันมากขึ้น” (raw khuan tham khwaamrúujàk kan mâak khʉ̂n) – We should get to know each other better

4. Understand the social norms

Understanding social norms is key to making meaningful connections in Thailand. For example, showing respect to elders, being soft-spoken, and avoiding confrontation are valued traits. Building connections in Thailand revolves around creating a harmonious environment through mutual respect. The use of proper greetings and gestures of respect is essential in daily interactions. Plus, being attentive to social cues and practising good manners can help establish rapport with others.

Thai for business

Business meeting between three people who are just learning Thai

Image by pressfoto via FreepikThailand is a significant hub for trade and investment because it has one of the most dynamic economies in Southeast Asia. If you end up doing business or getting a job transfer, it’s a good idea to learn specific phrases that are often used in professional contexts.

However, most foreigners use Thai during important business meetings once they achieve a certain level of proficiency. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get a good grasp on the language first before diving into business discussions in Thai to avoid potential miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Here are some foundational phrases to get you started:

1. Thai business terms

Before you learn more complex phrases, try to familiarise yourself with the following business terms:

  • “ธุรกิจ” (thúrákìt) – Business
  • “บริษัท” (bɔrísàt) – Company
  • “งาน” (ŋaan) – Work
  • “เจ้านาย” (jâw naay) – Boss
  • “ประชุม” (pràchum) – Meeting
  • “การตลาด” (kaan talàat) – Marketing
  • “ผู้ถือหุ้น” (phûu thʉ̌ʉhûn) – Shareholder

2. Basic business sentences

Here are some sentences you’ll likely hear and use in a business conversation:

  • To clarify if you need to switch to English: “คุณสามารถพูดภาษาอังกฤษได้มั้ยครับ/คะ” (khun sǎamâat phûut phaasǎa ʔaŋkrìt dâay máy khráp / khá) – Can you speak English? (male/female)
  • To schedule and confirm meetings: “เรามีประชุมตอนเช้า” (raw mii pràchum tɔɔncháaw) – We have a meeting in the morning.
  • To seek clarification during discussions: “ช่วยอธิบายเพิ่มเติมได้มั้ยครับ/คะ” (chûay ʔathíbaay phə̂əmtəəm dâay máy khráp / khá) – Can you please explain further? (male/female)
  • To ask politely for information to be sent electronically: “กรุณาส่งรายละเอียดทางอีเมล” (karúnaa sòŋ raayláʔìat thaaŋ ʔii meew) – Please send the details via email.
  • To emphasize the significance of a document: “เอกสารนี้สำคัญมาก” (ʔèekkasǎan níi sǎmkhan mâak) – This document is very important.
  • To set meeting locations: “เราจะพบกันที่ไหน” (raw jà phópkan thîinǎy) – Where will we meet?
  • To let the other person to ask questions and ensure understanding: “ท่านใดมีคำถามมั้ยครับ/คะ” (thân day mii khamthǎam máy khráp / khá) – Do you have any questions? (male/female)
  • To ask for a meeting postponement: “รบกวนขอเลื่อนนัดเป็นวันศุกร์ได้มั้ยครับ/คะ” (rópkuan khɔ̌ɔ lʉ̂an nát pen wan sùk dâay máy khráp / khá) – May we postpone our appointment to Friday? (male/female)

3. Politeness and requests

Politeness is highly valued in Thai culture. Using the following phrases can convey respect and smoothen interactions:

  • “ขออนุญาตครับ/ ค่ะ” (khɔ̌ɔ ʔanúyâat khráp/khà) – May I? / Excuse me
  • รบกวนช่วย….หน่อยได้มั้ย + ครับ/ คะ” (rópkuan chûay nɔ̀y dâay máy+ khráp/khá) – Can you please help me?
  • “กรุณา……” (karúnaa+Sentence) – Please……..

4. Remember the business etiquette

Understanding the nuances of business culture is just as crucial as speaking the language fluently. The first thing you need to remember is hierarchy and respect. Thai society places a strong emphasis on seniority and position, so it’s essential to address individuals by their titles and last names in business settings unless given permission to use their first names. Punctuality is another critical factor to keep in mind – being on time for meetings demonstrates respect and professionalism. It’s advisable to arrive a few minutes early for appointments.

Learning Thai for specific purposes, whether for travel, socialising, or business opens doors to deeper cultural understanding and more meaningful interactions.

Taking up online courses with ALA Language School is a convenient way to kickstart your language journey, especially if you’re not yet in Thailand. However, if you already find yourself in Bangkok, enrolling in their offline classes offers the added benefit of making new friends and immersing yourself more fully in the local culture.

ALA Language School proudly offers a team of expert teachers who are dedicated to helping students progress through a practical Thai curriculum spanning from Beginner to Advanced levels. The positive atmosphere at the school, combined with its central location, makes it an ideal choice for those seeking to upgrade their language skills while enjoying the process.

For more information about their Thai classes and curriculum, visit ALA Language School’s website.



Cita Catellya

Cita Catellya is a journalist and writer who covers a range of topics from medical and property to leisure and tourism. Her career began as a copywriter 5 years ago, where she worked with several brands in Indonesia to help them increase their online presence. Cita writes in both English and her native Bahasa Indonesia

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