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If you are a first time traveler to Thailand, greeting locals with the term sawat-dee can be the beginning of a future friendship. Although it's only a three-syllable word, there's a lot to explore about this Thai "hello".

Sawat-dee means goodness, beauty or success. In fact, this term is used for both meeting and parting.

Pronouncing Sawat-Dee

Actually, there's no need to pronounce foreign words like a native as long as you're able to get around while traveling. Nevertheless, since Thai is a tonal language, foreign accents can totally change the meaning of certain Thai words. One can turn to be a clown in a second when saying words off key. Thus, getting the tone right is really important in speaking Thai most of the time.

Here you can listen to the phrases in this post:

This is how to pronounce sawat-dee correctly.

Pronounce sa as the "sa" in the word "Sarah".
Pronounce wat as the way you say a "wad" of cotton.
Pronounce dee simply as the English letter "d".

Pronounce the three syllables in one go while making the last syllable longer than the first two.

Krap And Kha

Adding the word sir or ma'am in English gives it a polite touch. The Thai language works the same way. Adding krap or kha at the end of any word, phrase, or sentence makes for politeness.

Pronouncing Krap & Kha

Males use krap while females use kha. The words don't really mean anything, but they make whatever you say sound gentle and polite. Kap is short for the formal term krap, but most Thais don't pronounce the letter r clearly. This makes the r silent. Thus, kap is more commonly used than the correct term krap.

You can pronounce krap as a combination of "kr" plus "up", but with a soft "p". Kha shares the same "a" sound as "pa" in the word "papa". Just make the "a" softer and a bit longer. That way, you'll get the right tone.

Sawat-Dee And Wai

Learn to wai and say sawat-dee kha in Thai
In Western countries people say hello and shake hands. In Thailand we say sawat-dee and wai each other. Gently put your palms together in front of your chest while bending your head down toward your hands. Keep your fingers close together. Wai is pronounced like the word "why" in English.

Many of you might be more familiar with the Japanese gesture of bending when saying thank you or "Arigato Gozaimasu". Thais however, don't bend the head as much nor as often as the Japanese. Thais bend the head by lowering the neck, while the Japanese bend the whole upper body (from the waist and up).

Types Of Wais

There are different levels of wai, based on how much one lowers the head. This depends on who we're greeting. The more respect we have for the person or the more senior the person is, the more we bend the head.

These are general guidelines on how much we should bend the head while greeting. They form the three basic wais that Thais have used until today:

1. Don't bend the head at all. Just put your hands together in front of your chest by putting your left palm flat against your right palm. We make this gesture when someone who's junior or younger wai us.

2. Follow the process in 1 and bend your head down until the tip of your nose touch the tips of your index fingers. We do this to elders or more senior people.

3. Follow the process in 1 and bend your head down until the tips of your thumbs touch the area between your eyebrows. When greeting monks, women do this gesture after lowering the body by bending the knees while men lower the upper body and wai.


In spoken language, wat-dee is short for sawat-dee. It's used for casual meetings, and shouldn't be used when greeting more senior people.

New Year Greeting

Thais wish each other Happy New Year by saying sawat-dee pee mai (krap or kha). This greeting conveys good wishes for good health, wealth, happiness and all the beautiful things in life.

After all, a greeting is a gesture of goodwill. When saying sawat-dee krap or sawat-dee kha, we shouldn't get carried away with the pronunciation. The essence is to be sincere.

Suggested Reading:   Excuse Me   Saying No!

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