Different countries have unique customs for greeting people. Learning how to say hello in each country is usually optional but Thailand has its own for this. Learn how to say hello in Thailand and get familiar with Thai greeting for you to feel connected to the Kingdom and avoid any potential cultural errors.
Say Hello in Thai: Sawasdee (สวัสดี)
The standard greeting used at any time of the day in Thailand is Sawasdee (sounds like: "sah-wah-dee"). This is the most important word for your trip to Thailand. In fact, Sawasdee was derived from a Sanskrit word used by a Thai professor and has only been widely used since the 1940s.
Unlike saying hello in other country, Thais use the same greeting regardless of the time of the day or night. As a traveler, all you need is a simple greeting, no matter what time of day or who you're speaking to.
Thai Ending Particles: Krap (ครับ) and Kha (ค่ะ)
The world Sawasdee is followed by the appropriate final form Krap (often sounds like Khrap, Kab) for the man or Kha (Ka) for the woman to make it politer and friendly way of greeting.
- Men say hello with: Sawasdee Krap!
- Women say hello with: Sawasdee Kha!
Generally, this "Krap" and "Kha" can be used at the end of a sentence for more politeness. Women end their greetings with a long Khaaa which falls into tone. Men end their greetings with the words Krap with a sharp, high pitched tone. You can use Sawasdee Krap/Kha with all Thais you meet. Most Thais will greet you this way too.
Say Hello with Body Language: Wai
Wai (pronounced “Why”, as in English) is an important part of Thai etiquette and it is the most traditional way of greeting in Thailand.
Wai is the Thai equivalent of the Western handshake but Thai people do not always shake hands, kiss or hug. Usually, such acts of extreme intimacy are considered impolite. Even though you don't have bad intentions, most of them will feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially in crowded places.
Thai people will clasp hands together in front of the chest then slowly bow (how much or less depends on who is being greeted). Even if you are unsure of the exact technique, just put your palms (fingers pointing toward your chin) in front of your chest to show respect.
Basically, the Wai is carried out first by the younger or the socially inferior person. Also, when greeting, avoid eye contact as it will be perceived as impolite and disrespectful, sometimes even embarrassing. If you receive a Wai greeting, you should greet in return to show your respect. Only the king and monks of Thailand must not return the gesture.
The Attitude of Wai
The Wai ritual is different depending on social class, gender and age. This idea of human inequality may strike many tourists, but social inequality is part of Thai culture. As a rule, the higher Wai in front of your body, the more respect that is shown. Wai also can be carried out in any position whether standing, sitting, walking or lying.
To get a deep understanding, here are 4 basic ways of Wai as follows.
1. For younger age
Normally, younger people or children are only greeted with words without the body movement. Younger people don't get a bow. No clasped hands, unless you are greeted first.
2. For people of the same age
You clasp your hands in front of your chest, your head is slightly bent so that your nose touches your fingertips. It is the best to accompany this movement with the widest smile.
3. For older person or someone with a higher rank
If greeting an older person or have a higher rank such as grandparents, parents, teachers, your hands will also be clasped in front of your chest, but your head is bent so that your fingers touch your forehead. There is no need to smile. This greeting represents a polite and respectful attitude and tourists are not required to use it.
4. For monks or privileged people (royal family)
Monks and royal family are extremely highly respected by Thai people so when you greet them, you have to put your hands neatly on the ground, bending your body so that your forehead touches your thumbs. No smile, everything is very serious. No local will greet you like that.
Again, along with the Wai movement, men will say "Sawasdee Krap" and women will say "Sawasdee Kha". Thais consider this to be the politest and friendly way of greeting.
You don't have to do Wai
Although the Wai greeting is often used to express respect, it is not expected from foreigners. You are not expected to greet people with Thai Wai. Unless, you want to make a very good impression on someone. However, if you use the Sawasdee greeting and the Wai gesture correctly, of course, you will receive in return a warm, heartfelt smile from the heart and a good start contact.
In some cases, especially the younger generation, you will be asked to shake hands or smile instead of Wai.
Locals usually do not offer Wai to people they pay for the service such as waiters, street vendors, cashier or taxi drivers. You will see the staff at 7-Eleven or in the supermarket give Wai to customer when making payment, you can just nod or smile. When you go to a restaurant, waitresses will meet you. Again, you only have to answer with a smile.
Wai is not only used in Thailand for saying hello, it can be a way of saying goodbye. In fact, it is also used for thank you, showing respect, gratitude or to sincerely apologize depending on the circumstances.
Other possible forms of Greeting
Apart from the standard greeting Sawasdee, there are a few other greetings that locals use. They will not say Sawasdee every time they meet among people of the same age.
There are three very common variants:
- Sabai Dee Mai - How are you?
- Ginn Khao Rue Yang - Have you already eaten?
- Pai Nai - Where are you going?
As a tourist, you might not hear this often, but if you are staying in Thailand a bit longer, you can expect this phase instead of Sawasdee. You can pay attention to how Thais greet each other during your next trip to Thailand.
Thais love to smile, and for a variety of reasons, which is why Thailand is nicknamed "The Land of Smiles". You will find the famous Thai smile in all sorts of states, good and bad. The smile is another important part of greeting someone in Thailand as well.
Most Thais are delighted when foreigners are trying to express themselves in their language. So we recommend to learn a few essential words in Thai language such as:
- Thank you - Kob Khun
- How are you? - Sabai Dee Mai
- Fine - Sabai dee
- Never mind - Mai Pen Rai
- Goodbye - Bai
- What is your name? - Kun chuu arai?
- Yes - Chai
- No - Mai