Learn to speak Thai
Learn to speak Thai

Chapter 4: Counting and Bargaining

If you ever walked on the crowded street of Silom at night time, you would’ve known that it is one of the most hectic and spectacular shopping spots in Bangkok. Besides the countless skyscrapers, hotels in diverse size and quality, shops and restaurants, nightclubs and bars, Silom also houses thousand of stall boasting various products from men and lady clothes to beachwear, bags and accessories, paper mache lamps, paintings and handicrafts, toiletries and spa products, and err… piles of pirated DVD. All in all, Silom is a miniature avatar of Jatujak weekend market only that it opens at night. Among innumerable colorful and bizarre objects, there might be something that catches your eye making you want to pay for it. But what would you do if you cannot speak Thai? Will you just go straight asking “How much?” and give your money right away?

No, don’t do that. Everyone knows to get a better price, you’ll have to negotiate. And when I say negotiate, I mean counting number and bargaining price. So, today you’ll learn about how to ask for price/quantity and counting number in Thai – all of which relate to figure and number. But don’t be afraid. This has nothing to do with mathematics nor calculation. You don’t have to be Einstein or an egghead to understand all these. All you have to do are memorizing some words and making sense of a new numeral system. The rest depends on your wits and the personal tactics you will use to win the best deal.

But first of all, let’s explore this situation together…

Imagine you are Tom, an American tourist flying to Bangkok for the first time. He has heard of Silom night market’s reputation and decided to explore the area one night. While strolling along the footpath lined with savory food, souvenirs, clothes and colorful goodies, his eyes caught on a pair of Thai boxing shorts that looked exactly like the one the champion Buakhao wore in his last match. Tom decided that he must own these shorts, so he walked up to the stall…

Tom: “Hi, Sawasdee krab. Kang-keng tua nee ra-kha tao-rai?” Tom tried the Thai sentence he had learned from a mobile app during his flight to Thailand.

Mae-kah: 300 baht ja,” answered Mae-kha or the female seller.

Tom: “300 baht paeng pai. Lod noi dai mai krab”. Tom tried to negotiate.

Mae-kah: Lod dai nid noi. 250 baht, okay?”

Tom: “Oh… that’s still expensive. Lod eik nid dai mai krab.” Tom kept trying. He thought if he persisted, the seller would give him more discount.

Mae-kah: “No, I can’t. Lod mai dai leao.”

Tom: “What if I buy kang-keng song tua”. Tom pointed his finger at another pair of white shorts with Red Bull logo.

Mae-kha: “480 baht then,” said the mae-kah while stuffing those two shorts into a plastic bag before Tom changed his mind.

So, what have you learned from this situation?

One thing for sure is do not buy anything at its first price – not until you try negotiation. Secondly, buying things in large quantity costs less which means you can save a lot of money if you buy in bulk. Last but not least, Mae-kha will always be faster than you. Like a psychic, once you offer a good deal, she will grab the opportunity and close the deal before you realize, leaving you standing there with a question in your head why you have to pay that much.

So, how can you make a bargain and avoid paying rip-off prices?

Well, I’ll tell you how. Let’s start with these essential words and sentences…

Chapter 4: Vocabulary

Tao-rai (adv.): “Tao-rai” means how much and how many. This word can be used for asking price and asking for quantity. However, when it comes to price, people sometimes ask “Ra-kha tao-rai” which can be literally translated to how much does it cost, for example, “Kang-keng tua nee ra-kha tao-rai?”.

Kang-keng (n.): “Kang-keng” means trousers. Thais have various kinds of kang-keng such as “kang-keng kha-san” (shorts), “kang-keng kha-yao” (trousers), “kang-keng nai” (underpants), “kang-keng lae” (fisherman pants), etc.

Mae-kha (n.): “Mae-kha” means female seller or vendor. For male vendor, we call him “Phor-kha”

which makes sense because “Mae” means mother and “Phor” means father.

Bath (n.): Baht” or “Thai baht” is the currency of Thailand. The currency code for Baht is THB and the currency symbol is ฿. Currency, 1.00 US dollar can be converted to 34-35 baht. Thai baht coin is “Rean”. It comes in four denominations starting from 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht. The subunit of baht is “Satang” but it’s rarely used. Thai banknotes or “Tanabat” are available at 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 baht, each of which represented by green, blue, red, purple and gray color respectively.

Paeng (adj.): “Paeng” means expensive. It is opposite to “Thuk” which means cheap.

Lod noi dai-mai: “Lod” (v.) or “Suan-lod” (n.) means discount, “Noi” or “Nid-noi” (adv.) means a little bit. “Dai-mai” is a question word, used to ask if the listener is capable of doing something or seek permission of doing something and usually put at the end of the sentence. In short, “Lod noi dai-mai” means could you give me a discount.

Lod dai nid noi: “Dai” acts like yes in English. It’s used to show permission or acceptance. To negate this word, you can place “Mai” in front of it. “Mai dai” simply means no or cannot. “Lod dai nid noi” means yes, I can give you a discount.

Lod eik nid dai mai: Similar to “Lod noi dai-mai”, this sentence is used for bargaining. A bit difference is that we add the word “Eik” or “Eik nid” which means a bit more. “Lod eik nid dai mai” means could you give me more discount.

Lod mai dai leao: “Lod mai dai leao” is a negative form meaning I cannot give you the discount. In here, “leao” is a particle, added to make the phrase sounds more subtle.

These are common words and sentences you can use for shopping and bargaining. Once you know how to negotiate, you’ll find out that bargaining price on the streets of Thailand is fun and worthwhile in many ways. Next, let’s delve deeper into the grammar…

Asking Price

Unlike English language, when it comes to asking price and amount/quantity in Thai, “Tao-rai” can be applied to both singular and plural, countable and uncountable nouns. To make a question out of this word, you can put it at the end of the sentence. You can also ask “Ra-kha tao-rai” instead of

“Tao-rai” when you want to know the price of something:

Question: Kang-keng tua nee ra-kha tao-rai(How much are these pants?)

Answer: Kang-keng tua nee ra-kha 250 baht(These pants are 250 baht.)

Question: Kra-pao song bai ra-kha tao-rai(how much are two bags?)

Answer: Kra-pao song bai ra-kha 1,000 baht(Two bags are 1,000 baht.)

Question: Rod khan nee ra-kha tao-rai(how much is this car?)

Answer: Rod khan nee ra-kha neung lan baht(This car is one million baht.)

To answer this kind of questions, you can replace the word “Tao-rai” with the price of the referred object.

Asking for Amount/Quantity

Unlike how much and how many that must be used specifically and separately with the uncountable noun and countable noun, Tao-rai” is more flexible and can be used for general purposes:

Question: Song buak song pen tao-rai(What is two plus two?)

Answer: Song buak song pen see(Two plus two equals four.)

Question: Khun mee ngern tao-rai(How much money do you have?)

Answer: Phom mee ngern 100 baht(I have 100 baht.)

Question: Khun ar-yu tao-rai(How old are you?)

Answer: Chan ar-yu yee-sib-song pee(I am twenty-two years old.)

When used in an affirmative sentence, “Tao rai” has a different meaning. It means rarely or not exactly, for instance, “Phom pood pa-sa-thai dai, tae mai khoi dee tao-rai”. In this case, the speaker meant his Thai language is not exactly good.

However, when it comes to countable nouns, we’re likely to use “Gee + Classifier” to make a question instead of “Tao-rai”. This might be compared to the how many question in English. For example, “How many pens do you have?” can be translated to “Khun mee pak-ka gee damin Thai. You can answer this question by saying “Chan mee pak-ka nueng damwhich means I have one pen – just put the number after classifier and you’ll get the answer. (For those who are not familiar with the linguistic term, Wikipedia said a classifier, or sometimes called a counter word, is a word or affix that is used to accompany nouns and can be considered to “classify” the noun depending on the type of its referent.) Let’s take a look at these examples:

Question: Mee nak-rean gee khonnai hong-rean (How many students are there in the classroom?)

Answer: Mee nak-rean yee-sib khonnai hong-rean (There are 20 students in the classroom.)

Question: Khun mee pee-chai gee khon(How many brothers do you have?)

Answer: Chan mee pee-chai sam khon( (I have three brothers.)

Question: Khun sue CD gee phan(How many CDs did you buy?)

Answer: Phom sue CD 12 phan(I bought 12 CDs.)

You can see that “Khon” and “Phan” are classifiers. Unlike English language, Thai doesn’t have the plural form for nouns, so we use Amount + Classifier to demonstrate the plurality of a noun instead. Sometimes,“Tao-rai” and “Gee” can be used interchangeably. For example, the question “Khun mee ngern tao-rai”, which means how much money do you have, can be replaced by “Khun mee ngern gee baht” and “Kang-keng tua-nee ra-kha tao-rai”, which means how much are these pants, can be asked another way as “Kang-keng tua-nee ra-kha gee baht”. A slight difference is when you use “Gee”, it will always come with a classifier or a counter word.

Here is the summary of using “Tao-rai” and “Gee” in Thai…

English Asking Price (Thai) Asking for Quantity (Thai)
How much Tao-rai / Ra-kha tao-tai Tao-rai
How many Gee baht Gee + Classifier

Regarding the classifier, Thais have thousands different words to remember depending on the object of the referent. Let’s take a look at some frequently-used classifiers in the table below:

Noun (Thai) Noun (English) Classifier
Nang-sue Book Lem
Toh Table Tua
Gao-ee Chair Tua
Ban House Lang
Pak-ka Pen Dam
Din-sor Pencil Dam
Dok-mai Flower Dok
Ton-mai Tree Ton
Rod Car Khan
Geao Glass Bai
Ta-na-bat Banknote Bai
Rean Coin Rean
Com-pu-ter Computer Krueang
Suea Shirt Tua
Kang-keng Trousers/ Pants Tua
Rong-tao Shoes Khu
TV TV Krueang
Nam Water Kuad / Geao
Noun (Thai) Noun (English) Classifier
Nok Bird Tua
Neck-tie Necktie Sen

Counting Number

Hooray! now we get to the heart of the lesson – counting number. You won’t be able to bargain efficiently if you don’t know how to count, right? To learn a new numeral system, you have to start from the basics – meaning you have to speak it out loud and try to memorize each like a parrot.

Zero to Ten

Arabic Numerals Thai Numerals Pronunciation
0 Soon
1 Neung
2 Song
3 Sam
4 See
5 Ha
6 Hok
7 Jed
8 Pead
9 Gao
10 ๑๐ Sib

You might be wondering what the heck it is in the middle column?!! They are neither alien language nor secretive Illuminati symbol. They simply are Thai numerals. Similar to other symbolic systems from the ancient era, these numbers are being forgotten. You may come across them in official government documents, coursebooks for elementary students and stone plaques engraved with temples’ history. For everyday use, Arabic numerals are more prevalent in Thailand as well as in other parts of the world.

Eleven to Ninety Nine

Unlike the English language that has specific words for two-digit numbers such as twelve for 12 and thirteen for 13, counting number in Thai is quite straightforward. In Thai, 12 is “Sib-song” which is ten-two and 13 is “Sib-sam” which is ten-three. Every multiple of ten is a combination of “X + Sib”, for example, 30 is “Sam-sib”, 40 is “See-sib”, 50 is “Ha-sib” and so on. Other numbers that do not end with zero consist of a multiple of ten and the last digit. As such, 32 is “Sam-sib song”, 45 is “See-sib ha” and 99 is “Gao-sib gao, etc.

Every two-digit number beginning with two is exceptional. In this case, the two (2) is read “Yee” instead of “Song”. So, 20 would be “Yee-sib”, 22 would be “Yee-sib-song”, and 23 would be “Yee- sib-sam”. The number one (1) at the end of two-digit numbers is read “Ed”, not “Nueng”. So, 11 would be “Sib-ed”, 21 would be “Yee-sib-ed” and 31 would be“Sam-sib-ed” and so on. Please take a look at the table to get a clearer picture.

Arabic Numerals Thai Numerals Pronunciation Thai Numerals Arabic Numerals Pronunciation
10 ๑๐ Sib 20 ๒๐ Yee-sib
11 ๑๑ Sib-ed 21 ๒๑ Yee-sib-ed
12 ๑๒ Sib-song 22 ๒๒ Yee-sib-song
13 ๑๓ Sib-sam 23 ๒๓ Yee-sib-sam
14 ๑๔ Sib-see 24 ๒๔ Yee-sib-see
15 ๑๕ Sib-ha 25 ๒๕ Yee-sib-ha
16 ๑๖ Sib-hok 26 ๒๖ Yee-sib-hok
17 ๑๗ Sib-jed 27 ๒๗ Yee-sib-jed
18 ๑๘ Sib-paed 28 ๒๘ Yee-sib-paed
19 ๑๙ Sib-gao 29 ๒๙ Yee-sib-kao

Hundred to Million

To count number from 100 onwards, Thais usually omit “Neung” at the beginning. It’s normal that “Neung-roi” would be “Roi”, “Neung-phan” would be “Phan” and “Neung-muen” would be “Muen”. Since the hundreds are formed by combining “Roi” with the tens and ones values, 225 is “Song-roi / yee-sib / ha” and 999 is “Gao-roi / gao-sib / gao”. Numbers with more than three digits can be counted the same way — 1,215 is “Phan / song-roi / sib-ha” and 2,560 is “Song-phan / ha-roi / hok-sib”, for example. Below is how to count hundred and beyond in Thai.

Arabic Numerals Pronunciation
100 Roi
1,000 Phan
10,000 Muen
100,000 Saen
1,000,000 Lan
10,000,000 Sib-lan
100,000,000 Roi-lan
Arabic Numerals Pronunciation
1,000,000,000 Phan-lan
10,000,000,000 Muen-lan
100,000,000,000 Saen-lan
1,000,000,000,000 Lan-lan

You’ve learned everything you need to know about counting number from zero to trillion. Now, let’s do some exercise! Can you count these following numbers? Do not take a look at the answers in the right column.

Arabic Numerals Pronunciation
25 Yee-sib ha
51 Ha-sib ed
95 Gao-sib ha
894 Pead-roi gao-sib see
1,858 Neung-phan paed-roi ha-sib paed
10,902 Neung-muen gao-roi song
2,010,500 Song-lan nueng-muen ha-roi
15,000,000 Sib-ha-lan

Are you ready to win the best deal? Maybe or maybe not. One thing for sure is that you’re likely to be overcharged if you’re a tourist. So, try bargaining at least 30-40% lower from the first asking price. You’ll also get a bigger discount if you buy multiple items but that is not easy if you go shopping alone. And if you’re still not sure if you get a good deal, you can try this tactic – saying “Mai ao krab/ ka” and walk away. By doing so, you’re taking the risk and might lose what you want. But like people always said the best is yet to come, you might find the same thing with cheaper price in the next stall.

Bye for now and good luck with your shopping!

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