The standard way to say “hello” or “hi” in Thai is สวัสดี (Sa-Wat-Dee). Thai uses gender-based polite particles. So a male would add a “khrap” at the end and a female would ad “kha.”
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 than saying hi or hello, Thai people generally 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:
- สวัสดี (sawasdee) + ครับ(khrap)/ค่ะ (kha)- *standard greeting + polite gender particle
- หวัดดี (wat dee) + ครับ/ค่ะ( khrap /kha)- Still polite because of the particle, but less formal.
Informal Thai Greetings
: When speaking to someone of lower status, the same or very close in age
- หวัดดี (wat dee) – Hi *If you aren’t sure, add the ครับ/ค่ะ (khrap / kha). It’s ok to make mistakes. Just listen to what native speakers do and emulate them.
- หวัดดี + จ๊ะ (not found)(wat dee + jaa) (females often use จ้ะ jaa)
Greeting Close Friends
- เป็นยังไงบ้าง (ppen yang-ngai baang) – What’s up ? / How’s it going? / How are you?
- เป็นไงมั่ง (ppen ngai mang) – *more colloquial version of เป็นยังไงบ้าง
- มาไงเนี่ย / มายังไงเนี่ย (maa ngai nia / maa yang-ngai nia) – What are you doing here? *This one can be used if you are a little surprised to see someone somewhere and/or meet them unexpectedly.
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 How to Say Hi in Thai
Are they stationary? Ask them if they’ve eaten yet.
No —-> กินข้าวรึยัง (kin khaao rue yang)
Answering Common Thai Greetings:
- กินข้าวรึยัง (kin khaao rue yang) – Did you eat yet?
- กินแล้ว – (kin laew) I’ve eaten already
- ยังไม่ได้กิน – (yang mai dai kin) I haven’t eaten yet
- ยัง – (yang) Not yet
* 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.
- มาทำอะไรที่นี่ (maa tham a-rai thee nee) – What are you doing here?
- มาทำอะไร (maa tham a-rai) – What’d you come here for?
And you could just respond with what you are doing there with any simple statement:
- มาซื้อของ (maa sue khawng) – I came to do some shopping.
- มาดูรองเท้า (maa duu rawng-thao)- I came to look at shoes.
- มาดูหนัง (maa duu nang) – I came to watch a movie.
- มาหาร้านกาแฟนั่ง (maa haa raan kaa-fae) – i came to find a cafe to sit at.
- มาเดินเล่น (maa doen len) – I came to walk around.
Saying Hi in Thai on the Phone
Saying a Thai Hello in Online or in Chat
- ฮัลโหล/โหล/โหลๆ (ha-loh / haa loh / loh-loh) – These are coming from “hello” in English.
- ว่าไง (waa ngai) – what’s up?
- ว่าจะใด (waa ja dai)- what’s up? *Northern dialect
- ว่าใด (not found)(waa dai) – sup? *Northern dialect
- ไง + สบายดีมั้ย (ngai + sabai dee mai) – how’s it goin? all good?
- เฮ้ (hey) – hey
- โย่ว (yo) – yo
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.
- ไหว้พระ (wai phra) – bow your head, bring your palms together with hands flat and place your thumbs between your eyebrows.
- ไหว้ผู้ใหญ่ (wai poo-yai) – bow your head, bring your palms together flat and the tips of your thumbs should be touching the tip of your nose
- ไหว้คนที่อายุเท่าๆ กัน (wai khon thee ah-yu tao-tao gan) – bow your head, bring your palms together flat and the tips of your pointer fingers should be touching the tip of your nose
*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.
Thai Cultural 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.
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