Thai language Thai letters

Thai language overview and useful tips to navigate Thailand

Thai language overview: learn more about Thai language and get useful tips for your visit/stay in Thailand.

Thailand is one of the top travel destination globally, but Thai language is not nearly as wide spread as English, Spanish, French or Mandarin. What language do Thai people speak? how should you prepare before making a visit? find out more below.

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What language do Thai people speak?

People in Thailand speak, read and write Thai – an official & national language of Thailand. Thai language is said to have been derived from older languages like Pali and Sanskrit.

The characters and vocabularies also share some similarities to languages used by our neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia (Although I could barely make sense of characters while traveling in Cambodia).

Language similarities also extend to English where many of commonly spoken Thai vocabularies are borrowed from English. Some potentially useful borrowed vocabularies will be shared below in the tips section below.

Thai language_language comparison

English language proficiency in Thailand

While Thai language is dominant, Thais learn English as part of the school curriculum from primary school until college. Having said that, locals still have low English language proficiency relative to other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Thai language English proficiency

English Proficiency Index ranking from Education First.

Thailand has a “very low” proficiency rating according to Education First – in fact among the lowest in Southeast Asia. You would naturally have no problem in countries with high to very high proficiency ratings like Malaysia or Singapore. Personally, I have had little troubles navigating countries with lower ratings like Vietnam and Indonesia as well.

This information looks at countries as a whole, but you will find a more English proficient population in big or touristy cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and many more. Do not let the number deter you just yet because we will further examine Thailand as a travel destination in more detail.

Thailand is a top tier travel destination

Many Thais only speak basic English, just enough to help visitors to get by on day-to-day activities. You may find some activities inaccessible without speaking Thai, however there are still plenty to enjoy.

Thailand is among the top tourist destinations despite its low English proficiency. 2019 data from World Tourism Organization put Thailand as the 7th most popular destination globally with 40 million arrivals. The country has been serving more than 10 million visitors annually since the 2000s, and this makes tourism the key industry for Thailand.

Thai language_Thailand tourism ranking

You will face some language barriers without speaking Thai language, but Thai people are very much used to interacting with visitors. Shops and businesses in big, touristy cities have English websites, menus and signs. Most hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities would have English (or translated) information prepared – ask if you do not see one.

Adding to the above, Thai people are friendly like every Southeast Asians. So if you are patient enough to communicate, you can eventually get the information you are looking for. 

Thai language barrier: what to look out for?

You can anticipate a certain degree of communication challenges but most tourism related activities in big or tourist-friendly cities are likely to be prepared for non-Thai speakers. Large operators (of places like shopping malls, hospitals or apartments) also offer communications in English which make extended stay in Thailand possible.

Thai language apartment mobile app

English options are available in some restaurant menus and mobile applications.

So where can you expect to face the Thai language barrier?

Rural Thailand

You can expect a lower level of English proficiency in the more rural parts of the country. Getting by with English will be less of an issue in cities like Bangkok and other touristy cities like Chiang Mai.

Small mom-and-pop and street side shops

Street side vendors or “hole in the wall”-style mom and pop shops are generally less prepared to serve non-Thai speakers. Some shops may be equipped just enough to tell you that you are purchasing chicken, but you may not get the remaining details like it is a “grilled chicken marinated with cumin served with sticky rice”.

Local markets

Thailand is famous for street food and night markets. Chatuchak market and Train night market are both famous and the vendors are used to serving non-Thai speaking customers. However, other local markets in Thailand are not as ready to serve non-Thai speaking customers. 

Thai language local market

Public buses

We recommend avoiding public buses in general (a combination of Thai language constraint and safety concerns). BTS and MRT trains are a lot more well equipped to serve foreign visitors. Taxi is also a valid alternative, some drivers are used to serving non-Thai customers even when their English proficiency might be very basic. It would still be a good idea for you to know how to pronounce your destination in Thai or have a map (or Google Map!) opened when getting on a taxi. 

Tips and tools to help with the Thai language barrier

Get a local tour guide

Getting yourself a local tour guide is probably the most effective way to overcome the language barrier in Thailand. Some guides also come with a private car and this would be the most convenient way to get around.

Thai locals are friendly so you should not be reserved about asking for communication assistant. For example, if you are having difficulty talking to a shop keeper, trying asking local youth for help.

Make use of Google Map and Facebook

Google map and Facebook pages contain a lot of information on shops and restaurants. You can look at their menu along with review & rating by checking Google or Facebook ahead of your visit. This popular noodle spot for example, has their whole menu in Thai, English and Chinese which is clearly posted on their Google map page.

Install Google translate

While using Google translate sounds like a no brainer, you would be surprised by the accuracy of the Thai language pronunciation produced by Google translate.

Thai language google map

Learn useful words in Thai language that are borrowed from English

Learning Thai is the most effective way to overcome the Thai language barrier. However, this may be too time consuming if you are not planning to stay in Thailand for an extended period. Having said that, you will have a much easier time by learning some Thai vocabularies. Thai people understand “Thai” vocabularies that are borrowed from English!

  • Beer
  • Computer
  • Charger
  • Chocolate
  • Card
  • Golf
  • Kilogram
  • Kilometer

Should Thai language deter you from visiting Thailand?

No! do not let the language barrier deter you as there is still plenty to enjoy in Thailand. You can have a much better experience by doing some preparation ahead of time. You should also note that traveling has since changed due to coronavirus so be sure to check out Thailand’s latest travel restrictions as part of your preparation.

Planning your first trip to Southeast Asia but have language barrier concern? You can consider other countries like Singapore, Indonesia or the Philippines as your first destination (But do not forget Thailand!).

Other materials for Thailand travel preparation:

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Thailand travel restriction Featured

Thailand travel restriction during Coronavirus pandemic

Understand the latest of Thailand travel restriction measures during Coronavirus pandemic

Despite the Coronavirus situation, Thailand still welcomes visitors who want to enter the country. But obviously, travelling there will not be as easy as before. You will need to prepare a checklist for entry approval, Coronavirus swab test, yada yada.. before you travel. And upon arrival, you certainly will need to undergo quarantine instead of heading straight to your destination, unlike how it was in the pre-Coronavirus era. Here you will find summary of Thailand travel restriction, tips for travelers entering Thailand and the latest update on travel arrangement for vaccinated travelers.
Updated review using Thailand Pass as of December 2021 can be found here.

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Thailand travel restriction during Coronavirus pandemic for foreign visitors

Thailand allows foreign visitors to come both for leisure and business purposes during the Coronavirus period as long as you have the relevant visa and satisfied all of the country’s restrictions. 

There are certainly restrictions in place when you come to visit Thailand. The best place to check what travel restrictions you need to adhere to is the Thai embassy website from your place of departure. The website will include the most updated information about restrictions for travelers from that country. For instance, if you are in London, you can check the website of Thai Embassy in London for official travel information.

Before you travel to Thailand, there are several things in your checklist that you need to prepare:

  1. Passport and the right visa for your stay
  2. Medical certificate with a lab test result showing that Covid-19 is not detected, using RT-PCR test, issued 72 hours or less before departure
  3. Certificate of Entry (COE)
  4. Medical insurance 
  5. Booking of alternative state quarantine (ASQ) on arrival date

What to expect at the airport? travel document check, health declaration, and transportation from the hotel waiting for you. Thailand country reopening initiative reduced quarantine period to 7 to 10 days depending on whether you are vaccinated. However, the quarantine period is now back to 14 days due to the latest Coronavirus wave.

Preparing for visa, certificate of entry, quarantine in Thailand and what-not

Visa and starting your COE application

Thailand has just extended tourist visa for some countries that are eligible for visa exemption from 30 to 45 days. Once you confirm that you have the right visa for your travel into Thailand, start your COE process. The process should take less than 30 minutes, but it may take 2-3 days for you get preliminary approval. Pro tip: DO NOT book and upload any supporting documents such as flight or hotel booking until you receive this preliminary approval. You can start your COE process here.

Official video for the COE registration process.

Book flight, Alternative State Quarantine hotel, and medical insurance

After getting the COE approval email, you can proceed to book a flight, ASQ, and medical insurance. You can check the Thai embassy website for your country/city for available flights. For ASQ, you can book your quarantine hotel in Thailand via travel aggregator like Agoda or directly via the hotel website. Agoda is a great place to compare prices if you do not have any place in mind yet, or you can also use this sheet that has info compiled by a government agency. You will also need to purchase medical insurance with a minimum coverage of US$100,000 covering Covid-19 treatment in Thailand. You can check out and purchase medical insurance online via the Thai General Insurance Association here

Get printable version of your approved COE

Now, you can upload confirmation documents for flight, ASQ and insurance to the COE portal to obtain a printable version of the final COE which you will need during your travel. It would be a good idea to ensure that any details on your COE are aligned to your actual travel date, flight/ASQ booking. If you change your travel date or time, re-visit COE portal again – however when our flight was canceled, we had to go to the Thai embassy to do the info update (which took less than 30 minutes).

Thailand travel restriction COE sample

Book Coronavirus test

After you are done preparing for the COE, you should book the Coronavirus RT-PCR test. You will need to take this test no longer than 72 hours before departure.

Other useful tips: 

  • Get all the documents ready before your travel to Thailand. Also, print this T8 form so that you can fill it in and present it to the officer upon arrival
  • Download AOT Airport application, Thailand Plus application before flying
  • Some airlines may have their own special document requirement at check-in, be sure to check with your airline beforehand

Travel restriction and quarantine in Thailand

Officers at the airport will check the above-mentioned documents upon your arrival. The ASQ hotel will arrange transportation for you so keep an eye out after collecting your luggage and come out at the arrival hall. You will be restricted from making a stop or detour and will be escorted directly to your booked ASQ venue. You will need to take a Coronavirus test upon arrival and during your quarantine period. The regulation will not allow you to leave your room during the quarantine, however some hotel may set aside an on-premise relaxation area for you so do check with your hotel. After completing the quarantine, you will get an official quarantine/coronavirus test certificate and you will be good to go!

If you are curious about what’s Thailand quarantine experience is like, feel free to check our Thailand quarantine review.

Arrangement for vaccinated traveler / vaccinated passport

Vaccine passport has been a hot topic among travelers, however we may need to wait for some time before we can travel using this. Right now vaccination will only help to reduce your quarantine period when traveling to Thailand. There is a road map to removing quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers in October 2021, however this is subject to change. 

Our verdict on Thailand travel restriction

Thailand travel restriction during coronavirus time may be confusing to many people. So many documents and approval to prepare for, and such requirement can change anytime depending on the decision by the government. Based on our own experience, this gets easier with a guide or a checklist hence we hope you find this piece of content useful. Lastly, with quarantine requirement in Thailand (and potentially in your own country on the way back), a longer trip to Thailand would be more worthwhile.

If you are planning on staying in Thailand for an extended period, check out other resources below:

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Thailand quarantine ASQ room

Thailand quarantine experience during Coronavirus

Thailand quarantine: a review of my travel during Coronavirus in 2021

As Coronavirus situation improved earlier this year, I decided to fly back home from Hong Kong. It has been more than 12 months since I last flew. Many things have changed including fewer flights, travel restrictions and quarantine requirement. I will be sharing my Thailand quarantine experience for anyone who is looking to fly to Thailand during Coronavirus pandemic.

Updated review using Thailand Pass as of December 2021 can be found here.

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Traveling to Thailand during Coronavirus pandemic

I am a Thai national, but Thailand is still welcoming foreign travelers so flying there is possible. However, be sure to check Thailand travel restrictions and special requirements before you make any decision.

Foreign travelers will need to obtain an approval, take Coronavirus test, purchase medical insurance, and undergo quarantine in Thailand.

The Hong Kong International Airport was barely recognizable as the airport was really empty. This was a rare sight even during very early morning or late at night before Coronavirus outbreak.

Upon arrival at the Suvarnabhumi airport, all travelers will need to go through a document checking and health declaration process. The whole airport was divided into sections where officers would come, process and tag travelers. For example, I was tagged as a Thai national who had opted for Alternative State Quarantine or ASQ in short. ASQ is a self-booked hotel quarantine and is the only option available for foreign visitors. The whole process was controlled and done in small groups to ensure social distancing. Immigration and luggage collection process was mostly normal, and it took about 60 minutes from landing for me to finally get out to the arrival hall. I was later approached and escorted directly to the quarantine site by hotel staffs.

Process at the Suvarnabhumi international airport and hotel arranged private transportation to the quarantine site.

Thailand quarantine experience at an alternative state quarantine hotel

Alternative state quarantine hotels are hotels that, in partnership with local hospitals officially operate as quarantine sites. These hotels can be found via websites like Agoda and Locanation. I have personally used Locanation to do research as it offered extra details such as deposit amount and hospital partnership.

Locanation screenshot Apr21

Locanation offers detailed information as well as many useful filters.

I chose Courtyard by Marriot Bangkok as my ASQ hotel mostly because I had stayed with Marriot before.

The 14-day Thailand quarantine experience started off with a swab test for Coronavirus. The quarantine duration has since been reduced to 7 to 10days!

The check-in process came after the test and it followed a strict social distancing measure. No visitor of any kind was allowed through the quarantine.

The quarantine room

I was provided with a 35 sqm. room, which I considered spacious having just flown in from Hong Kong.

Some other spacious alternatives include ASQ service apartments. You can find rooms as large as 60 sqm. (some with balcony) at a similar price tag.  Staying at a hotel however, gave some peace of mind on service quality since I will be stuck there for 14 days.

My quarantine room came with hand gel, face masks, a thermometer and dish washing detergent/sponge outside of standard equipment. Yoga mat and weight equipment were also offered as add-ons for anyone who are looking to do exercise.

Thailand quarantine ASQ room

Food and beverage during quarantine in Thailand

Thailand quarantine experience was special due to (delicious) food and beverage selection. Daily meal included breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every meal was made up of an appetizer/salad, a main dish,
a desert and a cup/can of juice and soda. You have about 3-4 Thai/international options to choose from in each meal, one of which would be vegetarian.

Food quantity was generous, not quite comparable to the U.S. portion size but would still be filling for most guests. You can also make special requests to the hotel during order submission. Some of my personal requests were:

  • Soda replacement with a cup of coffee
  • Food to be served hot
  • Meal replacement with a bowl of salad
  • Extra seasoning

Courtyard staffs were kind enough to accommodate all of my requests.

The food was great and the room had ample supply of water bottles, tea bags and instant coffee. You can also choose to pay extra to have a Nespresso machine. You are, however not allowed to order food from outside so no GrabEat (UberEat equivalent).

What to do if anything is missing? you can order food from the dinning menu or ask the hotel to make a run to convenient stores.

Thailand quarantine food

Meals were served with plastic utensils until the result of the first swab test came out.

Daily quarantine routine

Every day fell roughly into a similar routine during my stay at Thailand ASQ. I kept myself busy with work, but outside of work hour the room came equipped with a smart TV (with Netflix available. The hotel can also lend a HDMI cable for laptop connection (for free), Playstation 4 was also available but at a fee.

I had to submit meal order (once per day) via Google form and measure /submit temperature reading (twice per day) via a mobile app.

Guests were not allowed outside of the room in general. However, I got to step out of the room briefly during the 2nd and 3rd Coronavirus tests. Guests were invited to take turn at relaxation area after their 2nd test came back negative (their rooms will be cleaned in the meantime).

 

The verdict on ASQ quarantine in Thailand

Thailand quarantine using ASQ was extremely comfortable, but it also came at a monetary cost. Thailand has shortened the quarantine period from 14 days to 7-10 days, however this is not being implemented right now due to an on-going third wave of Coronavirus.

If you are looking to travel to Thailand during Coronavirus pandemic, make sure to do your research about your quarantine site and prepare yourself accordingly (for example bring your caffeine fix, your favorite books, sauce/seasoning from your home country, laundry powder etc.). Apart from Coronavirus quarantine measure, feel free to check our other posts about Thailand safety tips.

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