Traditional Vs Modern: Measurements In Thai

November 27, 2020

Every so often, you will need to pick up a ruler and take some measurements. Nowadays, we take our modern systems for granted, but have you ever thought about how other countries handled measurements in the past? Well, in Thailand, until the early last century, they had their very own traditional measurement system in place. In fact, you will still see some of it in use today in some places alongside the modern system.

For the curious among you, we will be looking into the old Thai system and how to say centimeter, meter, and kilometer measurements in Thai.

Does Thailand Use The Imperial Or Metric System?

As with most other countries, Thailand used the Metric system for measurements, not the Imperial system. As a refresher, the Metric system is made up of evenly split measurements, such as centimeters, meters, kilometers, and so on. Meanwhile, the Imperial system of measurements is much less structured. Examples include inches, feet, and miles.

Here’s a fun fact: only three countries still make use of the Imperial system. They are the USA, Liberia and, Thailand’s neighbor, Myanmar. Some countries like the UK may sometimes use a mixture of the measurement systems, but officially they support the Metric variety.

Since 1923 (or 2466 in the Thai calendar), Thailand has been using the Metric system. That means road signs are in kilometers and the temperature is measured in degrees Celsius. This does beg the question, however: what system did Thailand use before then for weighing and measuring mass, area, distances, and length? This is where things do get a bit more completed.

They never used the Imperial system like some other countries, instead of using their own Thai system of measurement. It is not the easiest to understand, but if you have spent some time to learn Thai and are already familiar with numbers in the language, then you are ready to use them. Don't worry about remembering them all, but it would be great if you could at least be familiar with them.

The Traditional Thai Measurement System

Did you know that the currency of Thailand, the Baht, was originally (and still is, I guess) used as a way to weigh gold when trading? There are lots of interesting callbacks to this traditional system seen in the modern-day.

I don’t think it is too common for a country to seemingly has its own measurement system in place. However, that seems to be the case in Thailand. They had a pretty elaborate system in place before reforming it.

As mentioned before, most of these have fallen out of use, though some are still used quite widely. In particular, the area is commonly measured using the old system. Here are the names of traditional measurements in Thai which you can use as a reference.

Knowing measurements in Thai will come in helpful at the markets

Measuring Lengths And Distance

Before the arrival of the Metric system, it seems that Thailand had a pretty interesting way of measuring lengths and distances. Some of them use the body, such as a quarter of a finger to get an idea of how long something is. Of course, these were standardized at some point, so even people with smaller hands would be able to measure properly.

NameThaiReferenceMetricImperial
krabiatกระเบียด0.52 cm0.2 in
nioนิ้ว4 krabiat2.08 cm0.82 in
khuepคืบ12 nio25 cm9.84 in
sokศอก2 khuep50 cm1.31 ft
wahวา4 sok2 m6.56 ft
senเส้น20 wa40 m43.74 yd
yotโยชน์400 sen16 km9.94 miles

What Much Area Is A Rai? Measuring Area In Thailand

You will see many signs in Thailand advertising land to rent that often include the area measured in Rai. So how much is a Rai worth and what other ways of measuring area are there in Thailand?

NameThaiReferenceMetricImperial
tarang wahตารางวาA square wa4 m²43.05 ft²
nganงาน100 tarang wa400 m²4,305.56 ft²
raiไร่ngan1,600 m²1,913.58 yd²

Weight Measurements In Thai

Weight is another common thing to measure. There were a couple of different units used to measure weight in Thai.

NameThaiReferenceMetricImperial
saluengสลึง3.75 g0.13 oz
bahtบาทsalueng15 g0.53 oz
tamluengตำลึงbaht60 g2.12 oz
changชั่ง20 tamlueng1.2 kg2.65 lb
hapหาบ50 chang60 kg132.28 lb

Volume Measurements

Here you will also find some interesting origins. Cartloads, coconut shells, and pinches all played a part in how volume was traditionally measured.

NameThaiReferenceMetricImperial
yip mueหยิบมือ7.81 ml0.26 fl oz
kam mueกำมือ4 yip mue31.25 ml1.06 fl oz
fai mueฟายมือ4 kam mue125 ml4.23 fl oz
thananทะนาน8 fai mue1 l33.81 fl oz
thangถัง20 thanan20 l21.13 qt
satสัด25 thanan25 l26.42 qt
kwianเกวียน100 thang2 m³528.34 gal

Metric Measurements In Thai

Now that we have covered the traditional measurement system of Thailand, we can look at Metric measurements in Thai. Just as the whole system was made to be standardized, it seems the names are as well. It mostly involves taking the English word and saying it using a Thai accent. Do note that the 'er' sound at the end of these words is silent when said in Thai.

MeasurementsTransliterationThai
Millimeter (mm)mil lee metมิลลิเมตร
Centimeter (cm)cen dti metเซนติเมตร
Meter (m)metเมตร
Kilometer (km)gi loo metกิโลเมตร
Milligram (mg)mil lee gramมิลลิกรัม
Gram (g)gramกรัม
Kilogram (kg)gi loo gramกิโลกรัม
Milliliter (ml)mil lee litมิลลิลิตร
Liter (l)litลิตร

Cultural And Functional Learning

Looks like we covered quite a lot today. Now we should all know more about the traditional measurements in Thai, and how they still exist today alongside the Metric system. Thankfully, the Thai words for measurements are very close to what they are in English. Hopefully next time you reach for the ruler, you can read out the measurements in your head using Thai. Any practice is good practice, after all.

If you want to continue learning topics such as this, give the Ling app a try. It may just become your language learning app of choice. 

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