What Is “Thai Time”? Unraveling the Cultural Mystery

What is Thai Time? We hear this question so often that we decided to tackle it head-on in this complete guide to navigating time in Thailand. There are two dimensions to the answer to this question. The first is the cultural dimension of “Thai time” that you may have heard about from other travelers. The other is the practical aspect of telling the time in Thailand. 

In this blog, we answer both questions to help give you the complete picture!

What is Thai Time?

Thai time is, for the most part, a casual response to the passage of time. Many locals would say “Mai pen rai,” meaning “don’t worry” to somebody not showing up on schedule or anything that doesn’t start or finish on time. 

Furthermore, in opposition to popular belief, this is not to say that Thais are generally not punctual. It is merely that in Thailand, they use a different method of telling time than the rest of the world.

The idea of “Thai time” can regularly leave us outsiders scratching our heads in absolute confusion. For what reason do they say 9:00 AM when they don’t mean 9:00 AM? We should recognize that Thais perceive time differently than Western people and that this is perfectly normal for their culture. Thai, unlike Western people, do not associate time with earning income. Instead, they will live their lives with a “Mai pen rai” attitude. This is noticeable in traffic jams, cafes, and, in any case, for Thai instructors in a classroom environment.

If you’re a foreigner traveling to Thailand, you absolutely must be aware that not everything runs on time here, and you must adopt a laid-back attitude similar to that of the locals! Adjusting is the only way to cope.

Recommended reading: 10 Tips Guaranteed to Make Dating in Bangkok Easier

How to Tell Time in Thailand

The majority of us believe that everybody reads a clock in the same way. Since the military and other parts of the world use the 24-hour clock rather than the 12-hour clock we’re used to, it’s easy to work it out with a little math. However, many people are unaware that Thais have their unique method of reading a clock. 

Thais use the 12 and 24-hour clocks for certain things, but they mostly keep track of time in Thai time. For foreigners accustomed to a 12-hour clock categorized into AM and PM, the Thai method of communicating the time may be confounding. The reason for this is that Thailand uses a 6-hour clock as its standard time system. Besides that, there’s a 12-hour clock and a 24-hour clock, the latter used by government offices and for train and transport times on some occasions, but it’s the 6-hour clock that’s commonly used in everyday discourse. 

It’s essential to understand the difference because when a Thai individual speaking in English says 2 o’clock, they could mean 2:00 PM in the afternoon or mean “sawng thum”, which translates to “2:00 at night”, which is 8:00 PM! As a result, it’s always prudent to clarify. Guests must respect the Thai system of communicating time to comprehend how this uncertainty occurs.

Customarily, Thai individuals partition the 24 hours of a day into four segments of 6 hours. Each division is given a defining word to help determine what time of day it falls, with nightfall and noontime getting their own words, much like in English. The words “chao” and “bàai” are used to define morning and afternoon, respectively, in the times mentioned below. The words utilized among dusk and dawn are “dtee” and “thum.” This is taken from when night gatekeepers would use sticks or iron bars to strike each hour from nightfall to first light (dtee in a real sense implies beat or hit). To make things easier for you, check out our full guide below. You can even take a screenshot to make sure you can access it at any time.

First segment of 6 hours:

  • 12 AM or Midnight – “thiang kheun”
  • 1 AM – “dtee neung”
  • 2 AM – “dtee sawng”
  • 3 AM – “dtee saam”
  • 4 AM – “dtee sii”
  • 5 AM – “dtee haa”

Second segment of 6 hours:

  • 6 AM – “hok mohng chao”
  • 7 AM – “jet mohng chao”
  • 8 AM – “paet mohng chao”
  • 9 AM – “gao mohng chao”
  • 10 AM – “sip mohng chao”
  • 11 o’clock AM – “sip-et mohng chao”

Third segment of 6 hours:

  • 12 PM or Midday – “thiang”
  • 1 PM – “bàai mohng”
  • 2 PM – “bàai sawng mohng”
  • 3 PM – “bàai saam mohng”
  • 4 PM – “bàai sii mohng”
  • 5 PM – “bàai haa mohng”

Fourth segment of 6 hours:

  • 6 PM – “hok mohng yen”
  • 7 PM – “neung thum”
  • 8 PM – “sawng thum”
  • 9 PM – “saam thum”
  • 10 PM – “sii thum”
  • 11 PM – “haa thum”

Another helpful word to keep in mind is “kreung,” which means half. For instance, 7:30 PM translates to “neung thum kreung.”

Then again, on the off chance that you end up getting mistaken for the 6-hour clock, yet you know the Thai numbers somewhere in the range of 1 and 24, you can generally swear by the 24-hour clock utilized by government workplaces at train and transport stations. Simply add the word “naa-li-gaa”, in a real sense meaning clock or watch, after the number. For further reference, check out the samples below!

  • 1 o’clock – “neung naa-li-gaa”
  • 9 o’clock – “gao naa-li-gaa”
  • 12 o’clock Midday – “sip-sawng naa-li-gaa”
  • 13 o’clock – “sip-saam naa-li-gaa”
  • 18 o’clock – “sip-paet naa-li-gaa”
  • 00:00 Midnight – “yii-sip-sii naa-li-gaa”

What Can You Do About It?

If you intend to live in Thailand, find a Thai partner, and be welcomed by the Thai community, it’s almost certainly essential that you learn the language and its culture. You’ll need at least a basic level of understanding to communicate with other people, and Thai time is one way to do this.

Since there’s nothing you can do to change the culture, the best you can do is try to grasp it. Listed below are five more reasons why learning Thai is relevant, either in terms of language or for communicating time.

1. Develop a Greater Understanding of Thai People and Culture

Learning Thai allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the culture. For instance, how Thai people communicate with one another, how they pass on Thai time, the phrases they use, how different articles are arranged, and how people are treated. You will undoubtedly begin to grasp essential aspects of their way of life through basic phrases. The more you learn, the more you can understand Thai people and the simpler it will be for you to settle into society, allowing you to make Thai friends and learn the local language.

2. Effectively Communicate With Your Thai Partner

On the off chance that you’ve effectively met your better half, learning Thai time should be a necessity rather than a challenge for you out of regard and interest in your partner’s way of life. This is essential, especially when you’re setting up a time for your first date, and if you’re fortunate, many more dates to come. Miscommunication is often the source of disagreements, offense, and, sadly, separation. Going the additional mile and learning the language can save a ton of stress and misery.

3. Avoid Getting Lost in a Foreign Nation

Life in a different country with a unique alphabet system can be difficult in various situations, such as reading the label on food packages or figuring out the time when shops open. Consider the case where there’s no male or female sign on a lavatory: will you be able to tell the difference between male and female bathrooms using the Thai alphabet? Take a day to learn the Thai alphabet and how to communicate Thai time because it will come in handy while you’re living in Thailand and spending time with your significant other.

4. Boost Your Employment Prospects

Foreigners emigrating to Thailand will, sooner or later, search for jobs. Knowing how to communicate in Thai would be a huge asset in every profession because it means you’ll be able to communicate with clients and colleagues who don’t speak much English. For instance, as an instructor, you would want to communicate with parents and develop a stronger bond with your students. As an organization’s employee, you will be able to attend scheduled meetings with Thai employees on time.

5. Avoid Being Uncertain

There may be a few instances when you believe Thai people are constantly chit-chatting about you in your presence. This is then the most suitable time to learn the language and get rid of the neurosis! Aside from strange jokes, they may be having an unpleasant conversation about you without your knowledge. We know it’s a little paranoid, but wouldn’t it be great if you could understand what was being said? Grab a Thai language book for dummies or learn online so you can have a grasp at conversations! 

In Conclusion

There’s a generalization of Thai individuals that recommend they don’t stress over time-keeping or being prompt. Everything’s done in Thai time. Sure, there are unquestionably times when the relaxed Thai method adjusts to this picture, and showing up later than expected is practically anticipated. However, don’t count on it all of the time because not everyone in the world views time in the same way. The Thai people have a diverse culture, so take a moment to appreciate it and make the most of your time here!

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