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Thai Language Thai Culture: How Many Rainy Seasons are You?

Thai Language

How many rainy seasons are you?…

I was watching TV the other day and the announcer came on and told us that His Majesty the King was 83 พรรษา /pan-sǎa/. I did a little guessing as we all need to do when picking up a foreign language and figured that they were telling us the King’s age, 83 years old. I knew the Thai word พรรษา /pan-sǎa/ as the word for the Buddhist lent (or rainy season). So I figured that someone who is 83 years old has lived through 83 rainy seasons. It isn’t the word for “year” that I was familiar with (ปี /bpee/) so I guessed that it was one of those special words used with royalty.

Here are some various Thai words for “year” just in case this language isn’t confusing enough:

ปี /bpee/ (the one we are usually familiar with)
ศก /sòk/ (poetic)
พรรษา /pan-sǎa/ (used with royalty and monks)
ชันษา /chan-sǎa/ (another royal word)
ขวบ /kùap/ (used specifically with young children)
ศักราช /sàk-gà~ràat/ (literary) – see below

Buddhist years and Christian years…

Buddhist era, B.E. พ.ศ.: พุทธศักราช /pút-tá~sàk-gà~ràat/
Christian era, C.E. ค.ศ.: คริสตศักราช /krít-dtà~sàk-gà~ràat/

The way to calculate B.E. and C.E. is to add 543 to the C.E. year to give you the B.E. year and vice versa.

Example: 2011 C.E. + 543 = 2554 B.E.


Normally the question “how old are you?” is อายุเท่าไหร่ /aa-yu tâo-rài/ (how much age). And since the Thais are so laid back you could probably get away with using this with just about anyone, children and royal princes included. But sometimes when we want to impress our Thai friends a bit we can ask their child’s age by saying “ลูกกี่ขวบ /lôok gèe kùap/ (how many child-years). And they would answer something like ห้าขวบ /hâa kùap/ (five child-years old). But be careful as the word ขวบ /kùap/ is only used with young children.

There are some other age related Thai words that we will encounter frequently. The word วัย /wai/ means age or period of time. It is used in the following age-related words:

Childhood: วัยเด็ก /wai-dèk/ (child: เด็ก /dèk/)
Teenage: วัยรุ่น /wai-rûn/ (adolescent: รุ่น /rûn/)
Middle age: วัยกลาง /wai glaang/ (middle: กลาง /glaang/)
Senior: วัยทอง /wai-tong/ (gold: ทอง /tong/)

Senior Citizens…

Another word used for older people and senior citizens – much better than old person: คนแก่ /kon gàe/ – is the one I use when I go to the golf course and ask for their senior discount. It is ผู้สูงอายุ /pôo-sǒong-aa-yú/ or “the person with the high age”.

And there are others. Once I was asked to join a group of older golfers who called their golf club กล้วยไม้ /glûay-máai/, the Thai word for orchid. I thought that was a cute name until I was later told that they were really playing one of those sophisticated Thai flip-flop words games on me (you take the first letter of the first word and flip it with the first letter of the second word and then reverse the order of the words). กล้วยไม้ /glûay-máai/ after the flip flop becomes ใกล้ม้วย /glâi múay/. ใกล้ /glâi/ (close to), and ม้วย /múay/ (a poetic word meaning death). So I was joining the “Close to Death Club”. Thanks for the invite.

A good Thai word to use in referring to us old fogies, and one that I use often, is คนเกษียณแล้ว /kon gà~sǐan láew/ (one who is already retired).

How old are you?…

Sometimes it is a little awkward to directly ask a person how old they are. But age relationships are quite important in Thai society so for people when they just meet (especially when you look of a similar age) it is important to know who is the พี่ /pêe/ (older sibling), and who is the น้อง /nóng/ (younger sibling).

A good way to find out indirectly (without being crass enough to ask how old they are) is to ask someone “what year were you born?” คุณเกิดปีอะไร /kun gèrt bpee à~rai/. But the answer you would be looking for is not the number of the year. That would be the same as asking someone how old they are. What you would be looking for is for them to tell you what year of the zodiac they were born under. A Thai asked this question would know that.

If you know you were born in the year of the rat and they were born in the year of the ox then you would be the older sibling or พี่ /pêe/. If they were born in the year of the pig then most likely you would be younger or น้อง /nóng/. This works of course unless the other person looks extremely young (or old) for their age. If that is the case, you would have to ask something like what year they graduated from school. In the end the Thais always seem to get the age relationship down correctly.

The Zodiac…

If anyone asks you how old you are, use the below to tell them what “year” you were born.

Rat: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008
Ox: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009
Tiger: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
Rabbit: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
Dragon: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
Snake: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Horse: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014
Ram: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1980, 1991, 2003, 2015
Monkey: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1981, 1992, 2004, 2016
Rooster: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2017
Dog: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1983, 1994, 2006, 2018
Pig: 1293, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1984, 1995, 2007, 2019

You would think that the year of the rat would be ปีหนู /bpee nŏo/ (rat, mouse: หนู /nŏo/). But nooooo! It is really ปีชวด /bpee chûat/. When talking about the animals in the zodiac there are completely different words than the common ones we are used to. As we said above “just in case this language isn’t confusing enough” here are the different animals of the Thai zodiac. I was born in the year of the dog, ปีจอ /bpee jor/. How about you?

Zodiac animal names (year of the…):

Rat: ปีชวด /bpee chûat/
Ox: ปีฉลู /bpee chà-lŏo/
Tiger: ปีขาล /bpee kăan/
Rabbit: ปีเถาะ /bpee tòr/
Dragon: ปีมะโรง /bpee má-rohng/
Snake: ปีมะเส็ง /bpee má-sĕng/
Horse: ปีมะเมีย /bpee má-mia/
Ram: ปีมะแม /bpee má-mae
Monkey: ปีวอก /bpee wôk/
Rooster: ปีระกา /bpee rá-gaa/
Dog: ปีจอ /bpee jor/
Pig: ปีกุน /bpee gun/

Common animal names:

Rat: ปีหนู /bpee nŏo/
Ox: ปีวัว /bpee wua/
Tiger: ปีเสือ /bpee sĕua/
Rabbit: ปีกระต่าย /bpee grà-dtàai/
Dragon: ปีงูใหญ่ /bpee ngoo yài/
Snake: ปีงูเล็ก /bpee ngoo lék/
Horse: ปีม้า bpee /máa
Ram: ปีแพะ /bpee páe/
Monkey: ปีลิง /bpee ling/
Rooster: ปีไก่ /bpee gài/
Dog: ปีหมา /bpee măa/
Pig: ปีหมู /bpee mŏo/

Hugh’s fun Thai word for the month…

To remove, to pick up and set down: ยกลง /yók long/

I like this word because translated it literally it means “to raise down”, an interesting concept.

To lift, to raise: ยก /yók/
To go down: ลง /long/

As in: ยกลงจากเตา /yók long jàak dtao/ “remove from the stove” – translation from a recipe in I Get English, issue #7

The word isn’t so strange when you find out that there is also a ยกขึ้น /yók kêun/ – to raise or lift something up (to go up: ขึ้น /kêun/). You might hear a stickup man say this to his victims, ยกมือขึ้น /yók meu kêun/ “hands up”.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

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Hugh Leong loves explaining things. And during his 40 plus years of trying to learn Thai and its culture, he learned to love the cross-cultural aspect of living in a foreign country and speaking its language. His series, Thai Language Thai Culture, covers various aspects of learning Thai, and how the Thai culture influences how we say things.


  1. Great post Hugh! Apparently, I was born in the year of the Rooster. Sounds about right as I do have a habit of waking before dawn and making loads of racket.

  2. Thanks Hugh, I like the way you put these articles together; they tend to be memorable afterwards. It would be great if there were books for learning the Thai language that used this approach.

  3. ยกลง /yók long – what a neat word! Makes perfect sense when you think about it, if you pick something up, the odds are, you’ll be putting it down eventually.

  4. I laughed out loud when I read that you had joined the Close to Death Club.

    And I really enjoyed meeting you at graduation and discussing this post! I feel like I got a special insight or preview! Because, just yesterday one of my students brought in her daughter. After class I could hear my students discussing her age – haa kuap.

    Thanks to you I knew what they were talking about!

  5. Lani,

    Wow! ห้าขวบ /hâa kùap/. I feel now that all my efforts have paid off. Thanks for letting me know.

  6. Helpfor Yourenglish

    March 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    That’s a very interesting and informative post, but I wish I hadn’t been born in the year of the rat! :-(

  7. At least you aren’t a rooster (I detest chickens… they are noisy at all the wrong times)

  8. I was born in 1952 which is supposed to be the year of the Dragon (same as Bruce Lee) but since my birthday is Jan 10th it actually falls into year of the rabbit….I’m presuming the year changes at Chinese New Year and not on Jan 1st.
    Theravada monks in Thailand (of which i am one) count their seniority in pansaa…..how many rains-retreats they have been ordained ….continuously without disrobing.

  9. ท่านพระ Fred,

    You are absolutely right. The zodiac year begins on Chinese New Years. But since the date changes every year I just gave the general year to get in the ballpark (Here’s a calculator that I just found if you want to be really accurate http://www.chinesezodiac.com/calculator.php).

    I didn’t realize how the monks counted the years since they were ordained. Thanks for that. So how many pansaa since you were ordained?

  10. Hi Hugh….one pansaa but less than one year…..I ordained as a novice in May then as a monk in July last year :)

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