6 Ways to Make Your Thai Better Tomorrow

Everyone has to learn a little Thai when they get here, but ‘sawatdee’ and ‘khop kun’ only let people know you’re very polite.


Everyone has to learn a little Thai when they get here, but ‘sawatdee’ and ‘khop kun’ aren’t actually useful beyond making people think you’re very polite. If you have no desire to become fluent and just want to learn ‘the basics’, here they are.


The day you learn to use “piset” will probably be your greatest day in Thailand. Piset means more food. Well, actually, it means “special”, but tacking it on to any food order will get you a bigger portion. Piset means slightly different things everywhere, so you can clarify with “piset (item)” (eg. piset gai for chicken). Check here for pronunciation.


Sia means broke, busted, wasted, kaput. If it’s bad and you don’t want it, it’s sia. This comes in handy a lot for motorcycles, but you’ll find tons of uses. Pronunciation here.


Eating nothing but vegetarian food in Thailand is a pain in the butt, but there are actually vegan restaurants on nearly every block. Je (pronounced “jay”) food is made by members of a Chinese Buddhist sect that prohibits all meat, dairy and eggs, as well as foods with strong flavors like onions and garlic. It’s usually a fairly wussy version of real Thai food, but if you don’t eat meat it’s a reliable choice. Signs are always yellow with red writing, and often the “je” (เจ) looks like a “17.” Here’s an article.


As with any language, numbers will make every single transaction easier. Learn to tell time and you’ll also be able to ask shops when they open and close. This one hardly takes any effort at all, and if you just start thinking about numbers in Thai, you’ll have it down in no time. You don’t need to worry about Thai numerals, by the way – they’re rarely used. This soundboard will get you started.


Most people pick up on certain ingredients like pork, chicken and chillis, but if you pair those up with “stir-fried” or “curried” food becomes a lot easier to order. Here are a few to look for on menus, and the dictionaries on thai-language.com and thai2english.com can help you with pronunciation.

  • Thawt (ทอด) – Breaded and deep fried
  • Tom (ต้ม) – Soup (literally ‘boiled’)
  • Pad (ผัด) – Stir fried
  • Gaeng (แกง) – Curry
  • Tom Yam (ต้มยำ) – Soup with herbs and spices
  • Yam (ยำ) – Salad
  • Yang (ย่าง) – Grilled (occasionally ‘roasted’)
  • Bping (ปิ้ง) – Grilled (usually on a stick, unlike ย่าง)


Okay, so maybe you couldn’t do this tomorrow. But it’s much easier than you think! It has no complicated characters like Japanese or Chinese, it’s just an alphabet (well, technically an abiguda). All you have to do, more or less, is memorize 44 consonants and fifteen vowels, which should take most people about two weeks. In our book, it’s certainly worth two weeks of practice to learn to read a whole new language. Reading Thai opens up the world around you and will start to improve your vocabulary with very little work – after all, new words are written all around you. Not to mention the better food you’ll get when you can read menus.

  • Unfortunately, almost every resource out there for learning to read Thai is crap. But if you can slog through the b.s. it’s really not difficult. Some sites to get you started:
  • This page has every Thai consonant with its pronunciation. You can make flash cards from it.
  • Here’s a soundboard with the vowels.
  • This site has a few lessons that will explain the workings of a Thai syllable.

Have you had any success with any of these? What words, phrases and tips have made your life easier? Let us know at [email protected].

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