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Saying "Hello" in Southeast Asian Countries

Saying "Hello" in Southeast Asian Countries

A distinctive feature of Southeast Asia is its cultural diversity.  It is a region of enormous linguistic diversity where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of languages are spoken. Traveling in Southeast Asian countries is always exciting, and of course, at the same time needs a bit our your time to learn a bit of their languages, even though English is widely spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, while basic English is well-understood 

Burmese is a member of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages, which also include many of the languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Thailand, Laos, Burma and southern China; Indonesian, Malay and Tagalog belong to the family of Austronesian languages, which are spoken throughout the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines and many of the Pacific islands; Thai is the most important representative of the Tai group of languages, which also includes Lao and Shan, a language spoken in eastern Burma. Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian), while only distantly related, belong to the Autro-Asiatic or Mon-Khmer family, which also includes the Mon language, once spoken over a wide area of Thailand and Burma, but now confined to a small part of Burma with a tiny handful of communities remaining in Thailand, and many other minority languages spoken in isolated pockets across the whole of mainland South East Asia.*

Indonesian balinese | Anantara Vacation Club
Indonesian balinese | Anantara Vacation Club

Of course, you really don't have to be able to speak the languages, but knowing how to say a polite "hello" is essential for a good experience in Southeast Asia. Not only is greeting people in their own language polite, it shows that you are interested in the local culture rather than only a cheap vacation experience.

Different countries have unique customs for greeting people; use this guide to avoid any potential cultural faux pas. Never forget the most important part of greeting someone in Southeast Asia: a smile.

Saying Hello in Thailand

The standard greeting used any time of day in Thailand is "sa-was-dee" offered with a wai gesture.

Men end the hello by saying "khrap," which sounds more like "kap" with a sharp, rising tone. Women end their greeting with a drawn out "khaaa" dropping in tone.

People of Laos | Explore Laos
People of Laos | Explore Laos


Saying Hello in Laos

Laotians also use the wai - the same rules apply. Although "sa-was-dee" is understood in Laos, the usual greeting is a friendly "sa-bai-dee" (How are you doing?) followed by "khrap" or "kha" depending on your gender.

Saying Hello In Cambodia

The wai is known as the som pas in Cambodia, but the rules are generally the same. Cambodians say "Chum reap suor" (pronounced "chume reab suor") as the default greeting.

Vietnamese culture |

Saying Hello in Vietnam

The Vietnamese do not use the wai, however, they do show respect for elders with a slight bow. The Vietnamese acknowledge each other formally with "chao" followed by a complex system of endings depending on age, gender and how well they know the person.

The simple way for visitors to say hello in Vietnam is "xin chao" (sounds like "zen chow").

Saying Hello in Malaysia and Indonesia

Indonesians and Malaysians do not use the wai; they typically opt to shake hands, although it may not be the firm handshake that we expect in the West. The greeting offered depends on the time of day; gender and social standing do not affect the greeting.

Typical Greetings include:

  • Good Morning: Selamat pagi (sounds like "pag-ee")
  • Good Day: Selamat sore (sounds like "sore-ee")
  • Good Afternoon: Selamat siang (sounds like "see-ahng")
  • Good Evening/Night: Selamat malam (sounds like "mah-lahm")
  • Good Night to Someone Going to Sleep: Selamat tidur (sounds like "tee-dure")

Indonesians prefer to say "selamat siang" as a greeting in the afternoon, while Malaysians often use "selamat tengah hari." 


Saying Hello in Myanmar

In Myanmar, the easygoing Burmese will certainly appreciate a friendly greeting in the local language. To say hello, say "Mingalabar" (MI-nga-LA-bah). To show your gratitude, say  "Chesube" (Tseh-SOO-beh), which translates to "thank you". 

Filipinos | Travel Authentic Philippines
Filipinos | Travel Authentic Philippines

Saying Hello in the Philippines

In most casual contexts, it's easy to say hello to Filipinos - you can do so in English, as most Filipinos are quite adept at the language. But you can score points by greeting them in the Filipino language. "Kamusta?" (how are you?) is a good way to say hello, for starters.

Welcome to Southeast Asia. 



Most of this article was first published on written by  (Southeast Asia Travel Expert) tittled "How to Say Hello in Southeast Asia: Customary Greetings and Being Polite Across Southeast Asia"


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