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 for 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 with a quick Google search).
This is how they are used:
เช้า cháo begins at 6:00am and runs through to 11:00 am.
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.
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. etc.
For 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. we use เย็น yen.
They are hâa mohng yen and hòk mohng yen respectively.
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.
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, very occasionally out in the rural parts of the country, one still finds people using the old style.
For a comprehensive account of the twenty-four hours of the Thai clock, along with a table with all the possible convolution of times in Thailand, have a look at this Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_six-hour_clock
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.
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Thisis very useful -Thank you for sharing. One of my colleagues was in Bangkok for 9 months working and he attendeda Thai language school for a short whileto get the basics and pronunciation , the rest he picked up on the streets soto speak but he already speaks 4 other languages so it probably was easier forhim than it is for the rest of us!
Here is a nice post with a selection of Thai languageschools in Bangkok that have already been tried and tested!
Yeah, this element makes it more difficult for getting times straight in Thailand. But given it's complexity, for tourists who are by nature transient, the easier manner that Thais also understand is the 24 hour clock like the military. I will use it when I want to be sure someone uderstands what time I am talking about. If you do that you can use โมง mohng and then a time in the 24 hour clock.