Thailand is known as สยามเมืองยิ้ม (Siam muang yim) or the Land of Smiles among visitors. This slogan has been used as an attraction to boost Thailand's Tourism Industry for many years.
The country welcomes millions of visitors each year. This is because visitors find themselves falling in love with street foods, beautiful beaches, unique cultures, and the charmed smiles of Thai folks.
For those who have visited Thailand or are planning to visit the country soon, you will notice why it is named as the Land of Smiles. It is rooted in the essence of the culture that with a smile, everything can be solved and things will be alright.
One of the obvious characteristics of Thai people is that they like to keep a front. To hide their true emotion inside, they will project themselves as easy-going and friendly to outsiders.
However, the smile of Thai people can have different meanings. It can be tricky for the visitors to understand what those smiles mean. Learning the different types of smile and what they mean is essential.
Just like the esquimos have many different words for “snow”, in Thailand there are different ways to say “smile”.
Smiles in Thailand can be interpreted in many ways depending on the situation where the smile is presented. Here are some examples:
ยิ้มทักทาย (yim tak taai): The phrase describes a polite smile used to greet strangers. When Thais meet a stranger and want to get to know that person, they will politely smile as a way to start a friendship.
ยิ้มแย้มแจ่มใส (yim yaem jaem sai): Thais use this phrase to refer to someone who looks happy and cheerful. When Thais are very happy, they will smile from ear to ear.
ยิ้มน้อยยิ้มใหญ่ (yim noi yim yai): The phrase explains a situation when someone is overjoyed with something. He/she can't stop smiling.
คุณยิ้มสวย (kun yim suay): It means ‘you have a beautiful smile’ This is a sentence used to give a compliment to a person’s smile.
นัดยิ้ม (nat yim): This expression contains the word “smile” (yim). It is used to describe a fun hook up with a stranger with no strings attached. Thais use this to describe their desire of getting into a bed with someone they like or meet online.
Interesting fact: recently the word “Yim” started being used as a slang word to describe an intimate moment between two people.
ยิ้มทั้งน้ำตา (yim tang naam dtaa): Thais use this phrase to describe a smile with tears running down the face. Those could be tears of happiness or sadness.
ฝืนยิ้ม (feun yim): It refers to a forced smile. When Thais secretly hate someone, they will force a smile on their face regardless. This is because a smile is a polite way of presenting oneself as a happy and cheerful person.
ยิ้มสู้ (yim soo): A smile in the face of hardship. Thais use this phrase when they face a difficulty, but they will not give up. This smile represents the hope of solving those problems.
ยิ้มแห้ง (yim haeng): This refers to when things don’t go as you expected, but you don’t want to look disappointed. You smile to cover your disappointment.
ยิ้มมุมปาก (yim mum bpaak): This describes a smile in a corner of the mouth without opening it. When Thais smile like this, it means that something good happened as they expected.
ยิ้มเศร้า (yim sao): Thais use this word to describe a sad smile. Thais smile this way when they have been through something bad.
ยิ้มมีเลศนัย (yim mee let nai): This means an “evil smile”. When Thais have bad thoughts and they like those ideas, they will express it through this smile.
ยิ้มเก้อ (yim ger): “A smile that is ignored” When you smile at someone, but that person doesn’t smile back.
ยิ้มเยาะ (yim yor): “a smirk”. Thais use this to express satisfaction or pleasure about having done something that is not known by others.
Thais smile in every situation, even if they are not actually happy. That’s how much they like to smile. Learning when is the right time to smile and differentiating between different types of smiles is a big plus while staying in Thailand.
In Thailand, the first thing you will notice is the Thai greeting gesture which is called ไหว้ (Wai).
“Wai” is used to show respect to someone your age or older. You will see kids “Wai” their parents, and students “Wai” their teachers, but rarely the other way round.
Thais will do the “Wai” gesture by placing their palms together at the chest level with a small bow. Even if you forget to “Wai”, no one will actually blame you for that. A polite smile would be just right to start your relationship with the locals.
Together with the greeting gesture “Wai”, first thing you want to say would be สวัสดี (sa-wat-dee). This is a proper Thai way of saying “hello” during any time of the day. You can “sawatdee” anyone and anywhere regardless of age and relationship.
For close friends, Thais have a shorter version of saying hello which is หวัดดี (wat-dee) or “hi” in English. “Wat-dee” is used to greet a friend or someone you know well.
When you are saying “sawatdee” to Thai people, you will get the same greeting back in return or at least a smile to indicate that they are doing well.
After the greeting, Thais will use the phrases below to inquire how others are doing:
There are many ways to reply back to the questions above. You can answer back with anything that best describes your feelings at that moment. For a beginner, these are some easy responses:
Thai people use smiles to show their well being. Putting a smile on your face is the easiest way to make friends with the locals in Thailand.
With a smile on your face, you can start with “Wai” follow by saying “Sa-wat-dee” and use these sentences to introduce yourself to any Thai person, and you will be the famous “Farang” (ฝรั่ง) immediately. Normally, “Farang” means Guava fruit in Thai, but Thai people use this word to refer to a westerner, Caucasian, or any visitor who has blue eyes and blond hair.
For a male speaker:
สวัสดีครับ ผมชื่อ (your name) ครับ
sa-wat-dee krap pom cheu (your name) krap
Hello, my name is (your name).
For a female speaker:
สวัสดีค่ะ ฉันชื่อ (your name) ค่ะ
sa-wat-dee ka chan cheu (your name) ka
Hello, my name is (your name).
In almost every sentence, you will notice that it ends with ครับ “krap” for a male speaker and ค่ะ “ka” for a female speaker. These are gender based ending particles that Thai people use.
Note that Thai people also end sentences with the particles นะครับ “na krab” for a male speaker and นะคะ “na ka” for a female speaker. These particles are used at the end of statements to politely reassure the listener.
These particles are used to make the sentence sound more polite. However, you can omit them when talking to friends or families.
After introducing yourself, it is a custom to ask Thai people for their name. Here is how to do that:
Thai phrase for “Nice to meet you” is:ยินดีที่ได้รู้จักครับ/ค่ะ (yin dee tee daai roo jak krap/ka)
One interesting aspect is that every Thai person will have ชื่อเล่น “cheu len” or a nickname which they always go by. When a child is born in Thailand, he/she is given a nickname in addition to his/her first name and last name by their parents.
It is normal for Thais to introduce themselves by using their nickname. This is because the first names of Thai people might be too long to pronounce and difficult to remember. The uses of the first name are in formal situations or in the first encounter.
For example, Thai people will introduce themselves with their first names, then follow by their nicknames. In most situations, the listeners will refer to the speakers by their nicknames instead of their first names.
With this reason, It is very common to meet a Thai girl with พร “Porn” (This word means “good wishes” in Thai) as her nickname, or a Thai boy with เบียร์ “Beer” as his nickname. The nicknames can be in Thai and other languages as well.
There was once an exchange student from Russia, her Thai mom decided to give her what seems to be a cute nickname as ปลา “Plaa” which means Fish in Thai. You might as well get one when traveling to Thailand.
Thai people are very polite and greatful in general; therefore, it’s common to hear Thais show their appreciation with the following expression:
To show even more gratitude and make it more dramatic, Thais will also add the “Wai” gesture while saying this phrase with a small bow. If you want to keep it casual, then there is no need to “Wai”.
Thais also have a shorter version of saying “Thank you” which they use with people they know well:
You will rarely hear Thais use the shortened version of “Thank you” to anyone older than them or to a stranger as it would be considered inappropriate.
Near the famous temples in Bangkok, you are likely to encounter a tour package salesman or a taxi driver, bothering you with a smile on their face.
These people will pressure you to buy their over-price tour package. If you are not interested in getting ripped off, here is what to say to politely refuse their offer:
If after saying this, they do not leave you alone, just walk away from them.
The expression for “goodbye” is not often used. Instead, Thais usually use the same phrase as when they say hello to say goodbye. Though it might seem weird, it is the most commonly used goodbye in Thai to say to anyone in any situation.
Thais will also do the “Wai” gesture to show their politeness before leaving. (It is not only used to greet someone)
Textbooks teach the following expression, but it is rarely used in real life:
When Thais say “laa gon”, it implies that they will not see that person again. Instead, Thais will use these phrases to inform someone before leaving:
Thai people also have other friendly phrases to say bye-bye to their friends:
A few things to remember is that a simple smile on your face will help you go by easily in Thailand. Whatever your reasons for learning a Thai language are, start with a smile as it lies at the heart of the country and you will have a great language learning journey ahead.
You can use our free web application to record your own Thai phrases.