Visiting Thailand

If like thousands of others, you are considering visiting Thailand for your vacation this year, you are likely to have a better experience and make more Thai friends, if you try and learn some of the language before you go.

It isn’t necessary as many Thais, especially around the tourist areas do speak English but if you take the trouble to even learn just a few phrases, the Thai people will appreciate it and quickly offer you friendship, informing you of the better places to go and give advice as to how to enjoy them best. It has even been known for street vendors to give discounts to ‘Thai speakers’.

The Thais are proud of the fact that they have their own unique language and appreciate that westerners can find problems with it due to it being tonal. A tonal language, such as Thai, Lao and Chinese, is a language that can say the same word in different tones to give that same word different meanings. For example, the word glai, when spoken in a mid-tone, means ‘far away’, whilst the same word written with a tonal notification above the first vowel (glâi) meaning it is to be spoken in a falling tone, means ‘near’.

Thais know that westerners can make common mistakes with these tones and will just ignore or laugh off any mistakes they may make.

The Thais are also proud of their history, especially the fact that as Siam, it was the only country in South East Asia, never to have been colonized by any European power. They are also proud of their monarchy system, which is similar to Britain’s and of their current monarch who, in 1942 was crowned King making him the longest ruling monarch in the world.

In fact the King is so revered that it is illegal to disrespect him by stepping on his image, a law the Thais take very seriously and as his image is on every Thai coin and banknote, it is illegal to step on any Thai money.

Thailand has become South East Asia’s most popular tourist destination, which is understandable given the Thai people’s friendly nature and the wide variety of different places to enjoy in the country. Most visitors, regardless of the main reason they choose Thailand for their holiday destination, will take a day or two to visit the magnificent Buddhist Temples in the capital Bangkok, most though, then go on to spend time on one or other of Thailand’s beautiful beaches.

Even though your main intention may be to soak up the sea, sun and sand, you will have plenty of choices of where exactly you do that. You can choose the more popular beaches like Pattaya which is known for its nightlife or opt for the tranquility offered by one of Thailand’s many islands.

Then of course you could choose a bit of both by opting for Phuket or Ko Chang which, whilst still being islands, have undergone some major developments in order to cater to tourists.

We would recommend you try to learn at least some of the language prior to your visit, to be curtious if nothing else. As this is a difficult language for westerners to generally pick up; we suggest looking into online resources which will teach you how to learn Thai.

Visiting Thailand

One of the reasons why Thailand has become the most popular tourist destination in South East Asia, is because its people are always friendly and obliging. That fact alone though of course would not make it as popular as it is but that combined with the lot of exciting and exotic locations it has to offer, seems to be. Some of the more popular locations that people like to visit in Thailand are on the coast and have magnificent beaches.

More recently though, some of the Thai Islands have also become popular by those tourists seeking a tropical island get-a-way. Two of the most popular destinations on the coast are Pattaya which is well known for its exciting night life and Ko Pha Ngan with its seemingly endless beaches, made famous as being the home for the Full Moon party. Phuket was the original tropical island destination and whilst now having become well developed, still attracts large crowds.

More recent popular island escapes are Ko Samet because of its location close to Bangkok, the capital and Ko Chang which, once a quiet island is now becoming more developed.

Although the sun and the sand are perhaps Thailand’s most sought after features, there are plenty of attraction for visitors like Bangkok with its impressive Buddhist Temples and Buddha statues, Ayutthaya which was once the capital when Thailand was known as Siam and so has some magnificent ruins.

Other places inland that many find worth visiting are Kanchanaburi which has some WW11 museums and is famous for being the home of the Bridge on the River Kwai and Khao Yai National Park where you can go deer spotting on a 4×4 safari or visit spectacular waterfalls.

Any foreign country that you visit seems to have some strange laws and perhaps the strangest in Thailand is that it is illegal to step on any Thai money, notes or coins.

Although perhaps strange, this law is taken very seriously as on every coin and note are images of Thailand’s King who, having been crowned in 1942, is the world’s longest ruling monarch, a fact that the Thai people are proud of and they all seem to love him.

The Thai also love their language which they are proud to be able to say is unique and they are very appreciative when visitors either already know it or are prepared to try and learn it.

Even if you only speak a few words of Thai they will appreciate your effort and very easily become your friend, leading you to have a much better experience than you may have had had you not known any.

Some of the street vendors will even give you a discount I you speak Thai. The Thai language though can give westerners problems though as it is a tonal language, having several meanings for the same word, if spoken in a different tone.

Don’t worry though, as the Thai’s are used to westerners making some mistakes and will just laugh off any you may make.

Thailand the New Siam

Thailand today is the most popular tourist destination in South East Asia, a fact that the Thai people are rightly proud of but they are equally proud of their history and as the country once known around the world as Siam.

During the years of Europe’s domination of the world, Siam was the only country in South East Asia not to have been colonized by any of the European powers.

The Thai people are equally as proud of their own unique language which is known to be one of the oldest in South East Asia. Now the official language of the country, the Thai language uses many words from older languages such as Sanskrit and although it sounds similar to Lao, it has its own script.

Both Thai and Lao, as well as some other languages spoken in South East Asia, are thought to have their origins in ancient China as they, along with Chinese, are what are known as tonal languages.

A tonal language differs from Western languages as it can change the meaning of a word by saying it in a different tone.

This of course makes it a little more difficult for westerners to learn to speak but provides even more difficulty in learning to write it as there are tonal notifications to be added to certain words.

An example is the word glai, which when written as shown and therefore spoken in a mid-tone, means ‘far away’. Yet when the same word is written with a tonal notification above the ‘a’, like this – glâi, it is spoken in a falling tone and means ‘near’.

To make it even more difficult for translators, many of the Thai words are joined together as can be seen in the capital Bangkok’s ceremonial name.

The ceremonial name for Bangkok, in English, would be “City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s Behest” but in Thai it has far less words and is “Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit”.

To be fair to the Thai people though, even they do not often refer to Bangkok with its full official name, usually shortening it to Krung Thep Maha Nakho.

As unusual or even strange as the Thai language may seem to most westerners, it would be to their advantage to at least try and learn some before departing to Thailand on vacation.

Not because English isn’t understood as it is, especially around the more popular tourist destinations but because the Thai people fully appreciate any effort you may make to do so.

As mentioned the Thai’s are proud of their language and show gratitude to any foreigner that takes the effort to at least learn some.

This gratitude is even shared financially by the street vendors that will usually reserve a special low price for who they call ‘Thai speakers’, others will just become instant friends.

Why learn to read Thai?

The Thai language is spoken by around 80% of the Thai population. English is also taught in many Thai schools as the second language.

This makes the need for tourists to speak Thai somewhat diluted. Many westerners will visit the country unable to say anything other than some very basic phrases; and some even nothing at all.

Others that do make the effort find that they are welcomed into more of the country and by the locals. They receive not exclusive, but perhaps favourable treatment due to the effort they have made.

You can really get more out of your visit to Thailand, and indeed many countries by learning the language. It makes communication so much more easier, and can enhance your experience. Just consider trying to order food, or booking a taxi; or how about trying to stay in a hotel. Not to mention asking for directions which is something I do all too often.

If you have a translator then it is not a problem; but failing that speaking the language is a huge positive.

However speaking the language is not always enough.

Being able to read the words is another challenge altogether.


So is it necessary?

It really depends on how much you want to achieve out of your trip; and also how much support you are looking to ask for.

If you visit areas the likes of Bangkok, you will find that the need to read Thai is not essential; partly due to how many people speak English. As well as the fact that menus and such like that do not include the english language, tend to have pretty descriptive imagery.

However throughout the country the ability to read Thai will no doubt benefit your visit, and allow you more independence.

This is certainly the case when it comes to street signs so you can locate your desired destination. Pricing of items can also include text as well as the numeric value. So understanding exactly what is included and added onto your purchase is key.

Even signs that include directions to things like toilets, ATMs and information points will be in Thai, so being able to recognise these and act appropriately can be extremely important.

I would not go as far as saying it is essential to be able to both speak and read Thai prior to your visit. However it can certainly make your stay smoother and less complicated.


So do consider before making your trip to Thailand, setting some time aside prior arriving. So that you can learn how some key phrases are written down.

Learning Thai with a Tutor

The very first time I traveled abroad, I used a tutor to aid me in learning the language. If you have absolutely no foundation in Thai, this avenue may be the best for you. Note that there are many different types of tutors, and that the experience, will quite rewarding, may be expensive.  You should be able to find a tutor who matches your budget.


Types of Tutors

Professional Tutors

This will be the most expensive option. The minimum fee per hour hovers around $ 50.00. You will obtain the tutor through a business. It could be a group business, or the tutor could actually have incorporated him or herself. This means the group will have to adhere to certain regulations, which will protect you as the consumer.

You will meet on the terms you agree to in the contract. It could be face-to-face or could be online. You will probably buy a package of sessions, and note that if you miss a session, you are usually charged for that missed session.

You will get expert and personal attention. The sessions will be geared toward your needs and your entry-level skills. You will have all you need to learn the language through readings, conversations, evaluations, audios, and other important acquisition tools. Ask your travel agency whom they recommend that you use. Always read the reviews and references before you commit via contract.


  • Teacher Tutors

Many times, teachers will work as tutors in the evening and on the weekends. They are qualified, but because they do not operate under an umbrella of a business. They can charge you less. Their fees usually begin around $ 35.00 an hour. However, they do not have to follow certain rules and regulations that a business does. There is also the element of working with a complete stranger. You can ask your friends who they may have used in order to feel more secure in the person you are hiring.


  • Graduate Students

The next least costly method to use is the graduate student. I was able to employ a graduate tutor for $15.00 an hour for a four-week span. We worked in the evening when she had completed her university obligations for the day. We met at a local coffee shop for the lessons. They are incredibly qualified, but without a teacher’s certificate or a business license, they charge less. They also may have a more restrictive available schedule since they need to work around their university obligations.


  • Peer Tutors

The last recommended type of tutor is called a peer tutor. These tutors are usually free as the school pays them in community service or intern hours. If they do charge the fee will be minimal. They may have fewer qualifications, but if they are the tools that best fit your budget, then go for it. You can check university newsletters, websites, and bulletin boards to find and hire your peer tutor. This tutor will be a student and will also have some schedule restrictions during the school year.

Your guide to foreign languages