Learn to speak Thai
Learn to speak Thai

Chapter 6: Telling Time and Making Appointments

If you’ve been staying in Thailand for a while, you might’ve noticed this — most Thais are never on time. Whether it is family gathering, social event or business deal, we’re likely to show up L-A-T-E. Some might blame Bangkok’s infamous traffic but I think it’s got something to do with our easy-go- ing state of mind and the “Mai pen rai” (It doesn’t matter) attitude. Most people feel okay with the lateness as long as they’re not the person who waits.

While we cannot tell for sure if it’s bad traffic or bad habit that is the cause of this carelessness, the best way to avoid getting into this unpleasant situation is to add up the special “30 minutes” to every appointment you make. If you want to have dinner with Thai friends at 7.00 p.m., you should tell them to meet up at 6.30 p.m. This way, you will be able to have dinner on time. But if you’re in need of a plumber or other kinds of the repairman, this special addition should be doubled to 60 minutes the least!

However, what I’m going to teach you is not how to discipline your Thai friends and improve their punctuality because you’ll never win. But it is a requirement for all Thai beginners to learn Thai clocking system because it’s very different from that in English and could be very confusing to non- Thai speakers. The knowledge you’re going to learn together with the harmless trick I’ve told you will enable you to make appointments with Thais properly and wisely and even save you from be- ing left… W-A-I-T-I-N-G.

Let’s start with this vocabulary…

Chapter 6: Vocabulary

Na-li-ga (n.): This time-telling device could come in any forms, big or small, on the wrist or on the wall. If it’s invented for this purpose, we call it “Na-li-ga”, meaning clock or watch.

Chua-mong (n.): This word means hour. The time in Thailand is as universal as in other countries — we have 24 hours in one day and 60 minutes in one hour. This word is used to tell the length of time, for example, “Chan yuen yu trong-nee ma song chua-mong laeo” means I’ve been standing here for two hours.

Na-thee (n.): “Na-thee” means minute. “Neung chua-mong mee 60 na-thee” means one hour has 60 minutes. When used for time telling, we simply put it after the numeral, for example, six o’clock and seventeen minutes (6.17 o’clock) is“Hok mong sib-jed na-thee”.

Mong (adv.): This word is used to specify the hour from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. We used it the same way English speakers use o’clock. To say we will arrive at 7 o’clock, Thais would say “Puak- rao ja pai tueng jed mong”.

Toom (adv.): Though the meaning is similar to “Mong” (o’clock), this word is used to specify the hour at nighttime starting from 7.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m. However, funny is that from 7.00 p.m. on- wards, Thais will start counting at one again. So, we say “Nueng toom” when it comes to 7.00 p.m. and “Song toom” when it comes to 8.00 p.m.

Tee (adv.): Unlike “Mong” and “Toom”, “Tee” is aways placed before the hour and used only with the nighttime from 1.00 a.m. to 5.00 a.m.

Chao (n., adv.): “Chao” is time modifier meaning in the morning. It’s used with the time between 6.00 a.m. to before 12 p.m., functioning like a.m. in the English language. For example, if we say “Hok mong”, it could be either 6.00 a.m. or 6.00 p.m.; but if we say “Hok mong chao”, it will defi- nitely be 6.00 a.m.

Bai (n., adv.): “Bai” is used for the same purpose indicating the time between 1.00 p.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. If we say “Juer gan bai sam mong” (see you at 3.00 o’clock), it will definitely be 3.00 p.m. or 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Yen (n., adv.): “Yen” means in the evening used to modify the time from 4.00 p.m. to before 7.00 p.m. “Hok mong yen” means 6.00 p.m. or 6 o’clock in the evening.

Thieng / Thieng-wan (n.): When it comes to 12.00 p.m., we call it “Thieng” or “Thieng-wan” mean- ing noon.

Thieng-kuen (n.): We use “Thieng-kuen” for midnight or 12 a.m. At this point, you may notice the opposite words – “Wan” means day and “Kuen” means night.

I know this is quite complicated. Not only expats are confused with this time-telling system, Thais also have the disagreement on trivial things such as should 4.00 p.m. be considered afternoon or evening? While the end of“Bai” may still be in doubt, other modifiers and the time-telling system can be explained as follows:

01.00 a.m. – 12.00 p.m.

01.00 a.m. – 05.00 am Tee + Hour 06.00 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. Hour + Mong + Chao
01.00 a.m. Tee + nueng 06.00 a.m. Hok + mong + chao
02.00 a.m. Tee + song 07.00 a.m. Jed + mong + chao
03.00 a.m. Tee + sam 08.00 a.m. Paed + mong + chao
04.00 a.m. Tee + see 09.00 a.m. Gao + mong + chao
05.00 a.m. Tee + ha 10.00 a.m. Sib + mong + chao
11.00 a.m. Sib-ed + mong + chao
12.00 p.m. Thieng / Thieng-wan

01.00 p.m. – 12.00 a.m.

01.00 p.m. – 3.00 p.m. Bai + Hour + Mong 04.00 – 06.00 p.m. Hour + Mong + Yen
01.00 p.m. Bai + mong 04.00 p.m. See + mong + yen
02.00 p.m. Bai + song + mong 05.00 p.m. Ha + mong + yen
03.00 p.m. Bai + sam + mong 06.00 p.m. How + mong + yen
07.00 p.m. – 12.00 p.m. Hour + Toom
07.00 p.m. Nueng + toom 10.00 p.m. See + toom
08.00 p.m. Song + toom 11.00 p.m. Ha + toom
09.00 p.m. Sam + toom 12.00 a.m. Thieng-kuen

Now you know how the clock works in one day for the Thais. But if it still looks confusing to you, the tip is to remember 3 points:

1. We have 3 words for o’clock, used for different periods of time and placed in different orders:

Mong: 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
Hour + Mong + Chao
Toom: 7.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.
Hour + Toom

** From 7.00 p.m. onwards, we will start counting at one (1) again.

Tee: 1.00 a.m. to 5.00 a.m.
Tee + Hour

2. We use“Chao”, “Bai” and “Yen” to modify time like English speakers use a.m. and p.m. We also use other modifiers such as “Kham kham”, “Sai sai”, “Thieng Thieng”, “Bai Bai”, “Yen Yen”, to tell rough time (in Thai, word repetition is used to show estimation) but for telling the hour, these three words are normally used:

Chao: 6.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m.
Hour + Mong + Chao
Bai: 1.00 p.m. to 3.00 p.m.
Bai + Hour + Mong
Yen: 4.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m.
Hour + Mong + Yen

3. Noon and midnight are exceptional, we don’t need to specify the hour here:

Thieng-wan: 12.00 p.m.
Thieng-kuen: 12.00 a.m.

All these should cover the very basics of telling time in Thai? If the minute involves, what you have to do is adding the numeral and the word “Na-thee” at the end of the above given structures:

09.05 a.m.: Gao + mong + ha + na-thee

10.10 p.m.: See + toom + sib + na-thee

03.15 a.m.: Tee + sam + sib-ha + na-thee

02.22 p.m.: Bai + song + mong + yee-sib-song + na-thee

Regarding 15 minutes and 45 minutes, we have no equivalent to the English words “quarter to” and “quarter past”, so we literally translate them to “sib-ha na-thee” and “see-sib-ha na-thee” re- spectively. For 30 minutes, we use the word “Krueng” to identify half an hour:

12.30 a.m.: Thieng-kuen + krueng

08.15 p.m.: Song + toom + sib-ha + na-thee

04.45 a.m: Tee + see + see-sib-ha + na-thee

03.30 p.m.: Bai + sam + mong + krueng

And what about second…? Well, this is similar to the English language, you do the same placing the numeral and the word “Wi-na-thee”, meaning second, at the end following the hour and the minute:

12:30:30 : Thieng-kuen + sam-sib + na-thee + sam-sib + wi-na-thee

08:15:12 : Song + toom + sib-ha + na-thee + sib-song + wi-na-thee

04:45:20 : Tee + see + see-sib-ha + na-thee + yee-sib + wi-na-thee

03.30:05 : Bai + sam + mong + sam-sib + na-thee + ha + wi-na-thee

From the examples, you may notice that “half” is changed into the number. The truth is not so many people need to know time in such details. If you come across the word “wi-na-thee”, chances are that the speaker is in a formal situation. In that case, the indicators “Mong”, “Toom” and “Tee” will be replaced with the word“Na-li-ga” and the 12-hour clock system will be switched to the 24- hour system:

12.30:30 : Soon + na-li-ga + sam-sib + na-thee + sam-sib + wi-na-thee

08.15:12 : Yee-sib + na-li-ga + sib-ha + na-thee + sib-song-wi-na-thee

04.45:20 : See + na-li-ga + see-sib-ha + na-thee + yee-sib + wi-na-thee

11.01:31 : Sib-ed + na-li-ga + nueng + na-thee + sam-sib-ed + wi-na-thee

Other words like “Thieng” and “Thieng kuen” will be converted to number as well while time modi- fiers “Chao”, “Bai” and “Yen” will be dropped out. This time-telling pattern is very straightforward so it is easy and effortless for non-Thai speakers to remember. However, chances to use this time- telling pattern is rare. You may come across it in live TV broadcast when PM Prayuth came out to announce something critically urgent or on the radio every 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. when the na- tional anthem is played.

Having said that, if you’re foreigner coming to Thailand for the first time, you’ll be surprised at our reaction to the song. No matter what we’re doing, we’ll stop, get up and stand still to pay respect to the song and the country. If you’re in hectic downtown, this would be a strange experience. Seeing everyone suddenly freezes in place is like seeing the world stops moving for a while. And when being in public places, you’re expected to do the same. Walking through the crowd while the na- tional anthem is played is considered rude and disrespectful.

Now, let’s get back to our lesson. What would you say if you are the inquirer?

To ask “What time is it?”, you can say “Gee mong laeo” in Thai.

You’ve learned about “Gee” in Chapter 4 [link to Ch4] already. It means “how many” used to seek answer about amount and quantity. “Gee mong” or “Gee mong laeo” can be literally translated to “how many hours” but in this case, they simply mean “What time?” You can also be more specific by asking “Ton-nee gee mong laeo” meaning “what time is it now” in English.

To tell time efficiently and naturally, you should know these following words and phrases:

English Thai
Day Klang-wan
Night Klang-kuen
Early morning Chao-mued, Rung-sang
Morning Chao, Chao-chao
Late morning Sai, Sai-sai
Noon Thieng, Thieng-wan, Thieng-thieng
Afternoon Bai, Bai-bai
Evening Yen, Yen-yen
Early night Kham, kham-kham
Late night Duek, duek-duek
What time Gee mong, Gee mong laeo
Now Ton-nee
Later Tee-lang, wan-lang
Stop (doing something) Lerk
Half Krueng
Appointment Nad, Nad-juer
Meet Phob
See you later Laeo juer gan (unofficial)

At this point, going back to review Adverbs of Time [Link to Ch3] in Chapter 3 will be very useful.

Next, let’s learn how to make an appointment with the Thais. This conversation will show you how to apply what you’ve learned to real life and help you to better understand the nature of Thais.

…Alex is an expat living in Thailand for 3 years now. He works in the same department with Thai girl named Ping. After working together for almost a year, they found that they have something in common – which is the passion for good food. So, they joined Sunday cooking class and now be- coming good friends.

Ping: Gee mong laeo?, I’m so boring. No one calls in today,” blurted out Ping while yawning lazily.

To answer this question, Alex looked at his wristwatch and said: “See mong yee-sib na-thee. It’s about time…”

Ping (confused): “Time of what?”

Alex: “Time to finish work, of course! Rao lerk ngarn hok mong yen, don’t you remember?

Ping: “It’s almost song chua-mong before hok mong yen. I could die of boredom.”

Alex: “No, you won’t. You’ve got nothing to do?”

Ping: “Not really… I just submitted a summary report to client A but cannot start the next project for client B until we get raw materials from suppliers. So no, I’ve got nothing to do,” wearily admitted Ping.

Alex: “What about after work? What would you do this evening?” Alex asked in a cheerful manner.

Ping: “Watching rerun episode of Glee, I guess.”

Alex (looked disappointed): “That sounds even more boring. Why don’t having dinner with us? I will go to the new Chinese restaurant near Ratchada night market with Oliver and Joyce… You re- member them? The Canadian guy and Taiwanese girl we met at Thai cooking class last month.”

Ping: “Ah… yes, I remember. They’re pretty nice. Khun nad puak-khao gee mong? I want to go home to change my cloth and maybe put on some make up…”

Alex (interrupted): “Phom nad puak-khao way-la hok mong krueng. We don’t have enough time.”

Ping: “But we don’t need to hurry right? I mean today is Wednesday, so the traffic is not very bad. And it’s close to night market. They can shop while waiting.”

Alex: “Yes, but you can’t keep them waiting forever – sib or sib-ha na-thee is okay but not more than that. See you at hok mong see-sib-ha na-thee, okay?”

Ping: “Okay. Laeo juer gan

Ping got back to her Solitaire game, feeling satisfied with her small victory. In the meanwhile, Alex went to the pantry. He made coffee for himself and made a phone call to Joyce. “Hey! It’s me. Alex. About our dinner tonight. It turned out that I finish my work sooner than expected. So yes, I can meet you guy sooner. … Great! So, see you guys at Ratchada station at 7.30 p.m. Bye. ”

Alex might be a bit tricky but he did that because he knows the nature of the Thais and most im- portantly – the W-O-M-A-N.

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