Thai is the official language of Thailand. Words consist of one syllable and are spoken in a variety of tones - low, middle, high, rising or falling. One word can have several meanings, depending on how it is pronounced. For example, sua (rising) means "tiger," sua (falling) means "shirt" and sua (low tone) means "mat." There are also regional variations in the language. The main regional dialects are Northern Thai, Northeastern Thai, Central Thai and Southern Thai. Like English, Thai is written from left to right, but without punctuation or capital letters. The alphabet originated in India and is similar to the Burmese and Lao alphabets.

Whereas in English, people use "Sir" or "Ma'am" depending on the sex of the person they are addressing, in Thai, terms of respect depend on the sex of the speaker. A man will say krap and a woman ka at the end of a sentence, regardless of the sex of the listener. These terms denote respect for the person addressed.

Body language is important. Thais regard the head as the most sacred part of the body. As a result, it is considered an insult to pat someone on the head. Younger people also try to keep their heads lower than those of older people to avoid giving the impression of "looking down" on them.

The wai is a gesture used by Thais to say hello or goodbye, to show respect or gratitude or to apologize. Palms are held together in a prayer-like gesture. The head may be bent so that the tips of the fingers touch the chin or forehead. The movement of the head depends on the relative status of the two people involved. Younger people will bend so that their heads touch their fingers when greeting older people, who respond by placing their hands below their chins, but keeping their heads straight.

   Did you know?
Although Thais like to give and receive presents, it is considered rude to open a gift in the presence of the giver. Thais put the gift aside and open it when they are alone.
Originally, Thais were known by a single name only. In 1913, the king required all Thais to take a surname. However, Thais still prefer to be called by their first name or by a nickname. Khun can be used before the name to address both men and women, whether married or single. Family ties are important and specific titles are given to each relative. For example, the paternal grandmother is called yah, the paternal grandfather pou, the maternal grandmother is yaiy, and the maternal grandfather is ta.

   Did you know?
When two strangers meet, they begin by establishing who has the higher status. Questions such as "How old are you?" and "How much do you earn?" are not considered rude.

  English Thai
  Hello (from a man)   Sawatdee krap
  Hello (from a woman)   Sawatdee ka
  How are you?   Sabai deerue?
  Very well, thank you   Sabai di, khopkhun
  Excuse me   Kaw toht
  Yes   Chai
  No   Mai chai
  Foreigner/Westerner   Farang