How to Say Hello in Thai

Sawasdee

Hello sign

Greetings are one of the first things you’ll want to learn in Thai language.  There are plenty of different ways to say hello in Thai, but which word or phrase you use will change depending on a few different factors including age, status and your relationship with the person.

Assuming this isn’t the first thing you’ve ever read about Thai, you’ve probably come across สวัสดี (sawasdee). Sawasdee is a greeting that was put together by humans during the 1930s. It is fairly polite so people will often use it upon first meeting or in cases of workers speaking to customers, however it’s used much less often in informal situations. And it’s almost never used in intimate situations.

Sawasdee comes from the Sanskrit word “svasti” which means something like “well, happy, successful, etc” This word is also the root for swastika which is usually used to refer to a lucky or auspicious object or symbol.

“Sawasdee” is not a naturally occurring phrase. Rather, Thai people usually greet each other by saying “Where are you going?” , “Where are you coming from?” or “Did you eat yet?” If they haven’t met in quite a while, they may also ask สบายดีมั้ย (sabai dee mai?) “How are you?”

Your relationship with (or relative to) the person is an important factor in deciding the best greeting.

Saying Hello in Thai

Formal Thai Greetings

: If speaking to someone who may be considered to have higher status than you (teacher; boss; girlfriend’s parents, etc), is older or the first time you meet:

Informal Thai Greetings

: When speaking to someone of lower status, the same or very close in age

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Greeting Close Friends

: You don’t need to use สวัสดี/หวัดดี at all with close friends. It’s more natural to just ask them one of the following:

While those are the standard greetings, what you’ll quickly find is that in daily life, most exchanges that you are likely to encounter are going to be fairly informal. The security guard at your building and the lady who cuts your hair are probably not going to say swasdee to you. They are usually going to follow this very basic formula:

Flow Chart for Saying Hi in Thai

Is target person moving? Ask them where they are going or coming from.
Yes —-> Past or away from you? — > ไปไหน (ppai nai)
Towards you? —> ไปไหนมา (ppai nai maa)

Are they stationary? Ask them if they’ve eaten yet.
No —-> กินข้าวรึยัง (kin khaao rue yang)

Answering Common Thai Greetings:

* When people are asking you these questions, the answer usually doesn’t matter. You don’t have to tell them if you’ve eaten or what you’ve eaten or what you’ve been doing all day. These phrases are more for showing warmth and concern for you (and concern over whether you’ve eaten because food is so important in Thai culture) and not an interrogation about where you’ve been and what you’ve eaten. While I would recommend using one of the set responses above, you could also just ignore the question and move onto something else.

In any case, there isn’t much importance placed on the answers to these questions when they are used as a greeting. Imagine if you asked someone “How are you doing?” and they went into a long tirade about how their health is failing, their girlfriend left them and they lost their job when all you wanted to hear was “I’m well, what’s new with you?” Nobody really cares that much whether you ate noodles or rice today, but they sure will pretend to if you go into it.

Other questions you may encounter which:

For example, if you run into someone at the mall, they might ask some variation of “What are you doing here?” They may ask this, even if the answer is obvious.

And you could just respond with what you are doing there with any simple statement:

Saying Hi on the Phone

Formal: สวัสดี (sawasdee) ครับ/ค่ะ (khrap / kha) – Use at first if you don’t know who you are talking to or if you are calling someone with higher status/age

Informal: ฮัลโหล / ฮาโหล / โหล (ha-loh / haa loh / loh) – *From English “hello”Be sure to use rising tone on the “loh” part.

Saying Hello in Online or in Chat

Wow, that’s a lot of ways to say ‘hi’ in Thai. So which one should I actually use? The answer, as always in Thai, is that it depends on a few things.

Additional Notes for Saying Hi in Thai

  • When saying hi/hello (sawasdee) สวัสดี in Thai, it’s not ever necessary to mention the time of day like in “good morning/afternoon/evening.”  They exist in Thai and you may hear them on tv, but nobody ever uses those in real life so you shouldn’t either unless you are making a joke.  

How to Say Nice to Meet You in Thai

Thai people love to tell you to say ยินดีที่ได้รู้จัก (yin dee tee dai roo jak) for “Nice to meet you.”  However, Thai people don’t generally use this when meeting each other for the first time.  You can use it if you want and it’s not strange hearing you, a non-native speaker of Thai, saying it, but you’re also free to skip this entirely.  You can do what they do which is after saying hi, you might introduce yourself and then just talk.

How to Introduce Yourself in Thai

Introducing yourself in Thai is super easy.  After you’ve said hi, you can just let them know your name.  Remember the word you use for “hi” can vary based on who you are meeting, but since this is the first time, the standard สวัสดี ครับ/ค่ะ is usually the best option.

How ไหว้ “Wai” in Thailand

First of all, as a foreigner in Thailand, the chances of you getting this right at first is pretty low.  When staff at a shop or a restaurant wai you, there is no need for you to wai them back.  They as an employee are showing respect to you, the customer.  Wai-ing them back ends up landing somewhere between awkward and cute depending on the situation, but it’s not normal for a Thai person to return a wai in these situations.

There are a number of levels to the Thai wai.  From highest to lowest.  Aside from being used in certain situations as a greeting, it is also a sign of respect.

*It’s not only a sign of respect to wai people who are older or higher in status than you, but in general, I’m fairly certain older relatives get a very warm, fuzzy feeling when the young children wai them.

Notes:

  • If someone younger than you wais you, you can “รับไหว้” (rap wai) where you copy the same wai and return it to them as if they were about the same age as you.  
  • Friends generally don’t wai each other in everyday situations and when you are meeting new people your age, I wouldn’t recommend wai-ing unless they do it.  It’s just not very common these days and  wai-ing too much or out of place just isn’t natural. 
  • When you meet someone older than you, or of higher status (your girlfriend’s mother, a boss or potential employer, the prime minister) you should use a wai.  It’s the younger person’s responsibility to know when to wai. 
  • As a foreigner, you’re given a lot of freedom to make mistakes so don’t worry about it too much, but if you want to get more into the native speaker flow, you need to observe what Thai people do in different situations and copy them.