Travel Like a Local: Know Your ‘Kam Mueang’
As a traveller, we all know that it takes a little more than a cute smile to win the locals’ hearts. To get yourself out of that ‘I’m just a tourist’ space and start to really explore and live through the eyes of the locals, you need to get connected.
When travelling up in the northern part of Thailand, the one thing that you need to appreciate is that the northern charm is not only expressed through their culture and way of living, but is also reflected in their dialect, known as ‘Kam Mueang’.
Kam Mueang is the softest-spoken dialect in Thailand, with its own unique words and expressions that are not used anywhere else. It pays to learn a few of these local phrases because they will not only make you appear absolutely adorable to the locals, but will also save you a few bucks, and plenty of time that might otherwise be spent on crazy hand gestures.
One crucial distinction in the language that you need to remember first is gender. Men and women use different words to refer to themselves, to address the person they are speaking to, and to construct the sentences they wish to use.
First Tip: If you are a woman, remember to add in the word ‘JAO’ at the end of every sentence and for men, the equivalent is ‘KRUB’. These two words are used to show politeness and respect towards the person you are speaking to.
Without further ado, let’s go through 15 of the most used words and sentences that will save your life and get you to ‘oo’ (speak) Kham Mueang right:
- Hello = ‘SA-WAD-DEE-JAO’ for women | ‘SA-WAD-DEE-KRUB’ for men.
- Thank you = ‘KHOB-KHUN-JAO’ for women | ‘KHOB-KHUN-KRUB’ for men.
- You = if you are talking to a man, refer to him as ‘AI’ and if you are talking to a woman, refer to her as ‘PEE’. It is a sign of respect to assume that they are more senior than you in terms of age even though they might not be.
- Numbers 1 – 19 are pretty standard if you google them on the internet, however, ‘20’ in Kham Mueang is pronounced ‘SAAO’ instead of ‘YEE-SIP’. So, when you get on any public transport, especially the ‘red trucks’, make sure to hand over the right bill when they ask you for ‘SAAO Baht’.
- How can I get to [name of location]? = [Name of location] ‘PAI-TANG-DAI-JAO?’ Literally translates to ‘to go where’?
- Can you drop me off at [name of location]? = ‘PAI-SONG-TEE’ [name of location] ‘DAI-KOR-JAO?’ This translates to ‘drop me at … possible’?
- What is this? = ‘UN-NEE-A-YOUNG-JAO?’ Translates to ‘what is this item/object?’
- How much is this? = ‘TAO-DAI-JAO?’
- Can you recommend your menu speciality? = ‘MEE-MENU-NAE-NUM-KOR-JAO?’ A life saver sentence if you want to have the real taste of northern cuisine.
- If the food is good, you have to give your compliments! Delicious is ‘LUM’. If something so delicious that you just can’t get enough, simply add in the word ‘KANAD’ to express the magnitude of the mind-blowing flavours. ‘KANAD’ can be added to any word to give it that extra ‘oomph’; e.g. very pretty/beautiful is ‘NGAM KANAD’.
- If you want some more of whatever you are having, all you have to ask is ‘KOR-UN-NEE-HAM-DAI-KOR-JAO’. ‘DAI-KOR-JAO’ means ‘is it possible?’
- Excuse me/I’m sorry = ‘SU-MA-TER-JAO’.
- No worries = ‘BOR-PEN-YOUNG-JAO’. ‘BOR’ means ‘no’, so you can combine it with other words to say ‘BOR-AO’ = I don’t want it, or ‘BOR-PED’ = Not spicy please!
- If you like something, and this can be anything, not just food, you can also use the word ‘MUCK’ which means to like or to prefer. If you really like something, you can say ‘MUCK KANAD’. If you LOVE something you can say ‘HUCK KANAD’.
- It’s always sad to say goodbye, so we will settle for ‘l will see you soon’ = ‘WAI-PA-GUN-JAO’.
And there we are! The 15 most useful words and phrases (in our opinion) that should get you going on your next trip up north. Once you have mastered these, it will not take you long at all to pick up new words and phrases that the locals will be more than happy to teach you. Bon Voyage!