Telling the Time: Thai Style

21 07 2010

This post is the latest in our specials for Travelfish.

When I first came to Thailand one of the many new things I had to get my head around was the way they tell the time here.

Unlike ‘The West’, where the twenty-four hours of the day are conveniently divided into two equal halves of twelve hours called a.m. and p.m., the twenty-four hours of Thailand’s day are split into five nominal groups covering a variety of numbers of hours. That means five different ways of saying “o’clock” (and of course two extras: midday and midnight).

The five periods are:
The morning: เช้า cháo
The afternoon: บ่าย bàai
The evening: เย็น yen
The part of the night before midnight: ทุ่ม tûm
The part of the night after midnight: ตี dtee
Midday is เที่ยงวัน tîang wan, and Midnight is เที่ยงคืน tîang keun

To tell the time you’ll also need โมง mohng (which roughly translates as o’clock, but is only used for some of the time periods) and the numbers 1 to 59 (easy to find if you don’t already know them with a quick Google search).

This is how they are used:

Cháo
เช้า cháo begins at 6:00 a.m. and runs through to 11:00 a.m.
The construction is number-mohng-cháo.
So, hòk mohng cháo = 6 a.m., jèt mohng cháo = 7 a.m. and so on until sìp èt mohng cháo = 11 a.m.

Bàai
After midday, we flip to บ่าย bàai, which runs from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m. is called bàai mohng, then after that the construction is bàai-number-mohng.
So, bàai sŏng mohng = 2:00 p.m., and so on.

Yen
For 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. we use เย็น yen.
They are hâa mohng yen and hòk mohng yen respectively.

Tûm
From 7:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. we use ทุ่ม tûm.
You have to be careful here because the numbers reset to 1. That is to say 7:00 p.m. becomes “one at night”. This is said tûm nèung
After tûm nèung, the construction becomes number-tûm
So, sŏng tûm = 8:00 p.m., săam tûm = 9:00 p.m. and so on until hâa tûm = 11:00 p.m.

Dtee
Finally, after midnight, we reach the wee small hours and the term ตี dtee is used. This runs from 1:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m.
The construction is dtee-number
So, dtee nèung = 1:00 a.m., dtee sŏng = 2:00 a.m. and so on until dtee hâa = 5:00 a.m. after which it all starts again at hòk mohng cháo.

To indicate divisions within the hour you just add a number from 1 to 59 after the constructions as outlined above. For example bàai sŏng mohng yêe sìp = 2:20 p.m., dtee hâa săam sìp jèt 5:37 a.m. and so on.

It is interesting to note that originally it was much simpler, and the Thai day was divided into six equal sections. However, somewhere along the way things evolved into what we use now. In fact occasionally, particularly out in the rural parts of the country, one still finds people using the old style and variations on the style outlined herein.

For a comprehensive account of the twenty-four hours of the Thai clock, along with a table with all the possible convolutions of times in Thailand, have a look at this Wikipedia article.

And finally, if this is all too much to take in, be comforted by the fact that most people understand military time/twenty-four hour clock. For this just say the number followed by the word นาฬิกา naa-lí-gaa (which just means ‘clock’). So, sìp săam naa-lí-gaa = 13:00 hours = 1:00 p.m.

Here is some quick reading practice.

หกโมงเช้า

ตีสามยี่สิบ

สองทุ่มสี่สิบห้า

บ่ายสามโมงห้าสิบเจ็ด

เที่ยงวันสิบเอ็ด

Now try making up some of your own.

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3 responses

22 07 2010
rikker

Nice post. Here are a few notes for those who have the basics down:

4:00pm is also ‘4 mohng yen’. In Bangkok at least, ‘4 mohng yen’ seems to be more common than ‘bàai 4 mohng’. 3:00pm can also be ‘3 mohng yen’, but ‘bàai 3 mohng’ is more common. I’ve even heard people use both words at once, like ‘bàai 3 mohng yen’, though that’s not really correct.

Midnight is sometimes referred to as ‘6 tûm’.

In the ‘traditional’ system of morning time-telling, which is becoming less common, 7:00am = ‘1 mohng cháo’, 8:00am = ‘2 mohng cháo’, up through 11:00am = ‘5 mohng cháo’. You’ll still hear people use this, so don’t be confused if someone says to meet them at ‘3 mohng cháo’ — they mean 9:00am.

In actual practice you virtually never hear the ‘wan’ in ‘tîang wan’. It’s just ‘tîang’. For example, ‘tîang kreung’ = 12:30pm. There’s not really any confusion because people will say ‘tîang keun’ if they mean midnight.

And though it’s not used to tell time, another period in the day is สาย ‘săai’ = ‘late morning’. (The same word is now used to mean ‘late’ in general, regardless of the time.) Usually ‘săai’ is around 10-11am. It’s usually inexact, so often you’ll hear ‘săai săai’, which means ‘sometime in the late morning’.

22 07 2010
Global Voices in English » Thailand: Understanding the time, Thai style

[…] Tweet Yourself Thai provides instructions on how to understand and read the time in Thailand, in Thai style. […]

27 09 2010
tweetyourselfthai

Rikker from Thai101.net (and above comment) features on the Bangkok Podcast talking about Thai-style time telling. Check it out http://www.bangkokpodcast.com/thai-language/telling-time-in-thai/

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