It can be confusing at times about telling the time in Thailand. I remember my first conversations with local people who often had the habit of translating literally from Thai to English when they arranged a time to meet or go somewhere. If a Thai person tells you that the bus will leave at two o’clock, then don’t presume that he means 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He could mean 8 o’clock in the morning. Others might tell you that they want to meet at 1 o’clock to watch a movie. But, they could mean 7 o’clock in the evening. I was often baffled when my students used to tell me that they went to bed at 3 o’clock. Were these primary 6 students really night owls, out dancing all the night? No, they meant that they went to bed at 9 p.m.
In newspapers and on television, the 24 hour system is often used in telling the time. Even big posters advertising events will show the time using the 24 hour system. But, in every day conversations, Thai people will use a system that divides the day into four blocks of six hours each. Once you get used to this idea, it does kind of make sense. Here is a list to help you better understand:
The first block is “chao” which means morning.
6 a.m. – hok mong chao (6 hour morning)
7 a.m. – mong chao (hour morning)
8 a.m. – song mong chao (2 hour morning)
9 a.m. – sam mong chao (3 hour morning)
10 a.m. – see mong chao (4 hour morning)
11 a.m. – haa mong chao (5 hour morning)
12 p.m. – tiang wan (noon)
The next block is “bai” which is early afternoon and “yen” which is late afternoon. The word “yen” means “cold” and Thai people often translate 4 p.m. as being in the “evening” when speaking English. So, don’t be surprised if they say “good evening” to you at that time.
1 p.m. – bai mong (afternoon hour)
2 p.m. bai song mong (afternoon 2 hour)
3 p.m. bai sam mong (afternoon 3 hour)
4 p.m. – see mong yen (4 hour late afternoon)
5 p.m. – haa mong yen (5 hour late afternoon)
6 p.m. – hok mong yen (6 hour late afternoon)
The next block is “toom” which is the evening.
7 p.m. – neung toom (1 evening)
8 p.m. – song toom (2 evening)
9 p.m. – sam toom (3 evening)
10 p.m. – see toom (4 evening)
11 p.m. – haa toom (5 evening)
12 a.m. – tiang keun (midnight)
The last block is “dtee” which is the Thai word for “hit”. This is probably due to the gong being beaten to mark the hour during the night.
1 a.m. – dtee neung (strike 1)
2 a.m. – dtee song (strike 2)
3 a.m. – dtee sam (strike 3)
4 a.m. – dtee see (strike 4)
5 a.m. – dtee haa (strike 5)
Hopefully you will now have a better understanding of telling the time in Thailand. However, don’t expect any Thai person to turn up on time. There is another factor that I like to call “Thai time”. When I arrange to meet someone, I always ask whether the time of the meeting will be “Thai style” or “Western style”. When I was brought up, we were always taught to be punctual for meetings. Before I came to Thailand, I would obsess about setting off at the agreed time or rushing across town to meet someone at the appointed time. Something which is not easy with Bangkok’s infamous traffic. To say “Thai time” really means we will leave when we leave. If you are stuck in a taxi in the middle of a traffic jam, there is no point in getting all steamed up like most Westerners. You need to have a more relaxed “mai ben rai” attitude of not worrying and just saying to yourself, “I will get there when I get there”. Life is too short to be worrying about making appointments on time. However, you must never forget that Western educated Thai people or even fellow Europeans will probably expect you to turn up on time!