Have you ever heard the Thai phrase ‘sabai sabai’? Maybe you have seen it written on a sign as the name of a massage shop or something similar. The concept of ‘sabai’ in the Thai language is quite interesting. There are many uses of it in the Thai language. If you have ever visited the country, then you have likely heard it being used in some situation. That is why I wanted to look into it today, and explain how you can understand the meaning of ‘sabai sabai’ in Thai.
Directly translated into English, the word ‘sabai’ (สบาย) means comfortable. In Thai, repeating a word twice will put more emphasis on that word or intensify its meaning. For example, if someone says the Tom Yum is ‘ped ped’, you should know that the dish is particularly spicy. In the case of ‘sabai sabai’ (สบายสบาย), it can therefore be understood as ‘very comfortable’. However, it is fair to say that this phrase has a deeper meaning than this translation lets on.
It is similar to the concept of ‘Gemütlichkeit’ in German, essentially a way to express a feeling of overall comfort or coziness. Essentially, it can be seen as a strong feeling of peacefulness. You could go on to say that ‘sabai sabai’ is a reflection of Thai culture, conveying this particular feeling. So, next time you are sitting on one of Thailand's amazing island beaches, you will know how to describe the feeling you have.
There are a number of different ways in which ‘sabai’ is used in different expressions and everyday sayings. Some are quite well known, while others you may not have heard before.
This is the phrase you have most likely heard when visiting Thailand. Of course, ‘sabai dee mai’ (สบายดีไหม) is the greeting used to ask ‘how are you?’. If you break the phrase down and translate it more literally, you start to see what is ‘actually’ being asked.
So first we have ‘sabai’ (สบาย) which we have already looked at, meaning comfortable. This is followed by the word ‘dee’ (ดี), which can be translated from Thai to mean good. ‘Mai’ (ไหม) doesn’t really translate into English, as it is a particle that is added to make it into a question.
Therefore, you can understand ‘sabai dee mai’ as meaning something along the lines of ‘comfortable good?’. While this would be a weird thing to ask, I think it does offer a small but interesting glimpse into the Thai language and its culture.
As mentioned earlier, สบาย (sabai) means 'comfortable' and ดี (dii) means 'good'. สบายดี (sabaidee) can be literally translated as 'well comfortable'. The phrase is used to answer the question 'สบายดีไหม' (How are you?) in Thai.
If you feel good, then you reply ‘sabaidee khrap’ (สบายดีครับ) for males or ‘sabaidee ka’ (สบายดีค่ะ) for females. If you don’t feel so good, then you would say ‘mai sabai khrap’ (ไม่สบายครับ) or ‘mai sabai ka’ (ไม่สบายค่ะ) for male speakers and female speakers respectively.
‘Yen sabai’ (เย็นสบาย) is a phrase you would use to say that the weather or temperature you feel is pleasantly cool. Or should I say, comfortably cool. This one is probably a bit less commonly used, but it can be a good reply when someone asks if you are feeling too hot - ‘ron mai?’ (ร้อนไหม) - or too cold - ‘nau mai?’ (หนาวไหม).
While Thailand is usually hot, there are situations where this phrase would be useful. For example, many shops and malls will have on their air conditioning, which can get a bit cold sometimes but is generally quite a pleasant change from the outside heat. If you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you may even feel a pleasant breeze as you sit in the shade outside.
For reference, ‘yen’ (เย็น) can be translated as cool or cold. You would use the same word when ordering an iced coffee or ‘kafae yen’ (กาแฟเย็น).
These are just a few ways in which ‘sabai’ is used in the Thai language. It really is an interesting word and case study that offers a quick look into the Thai language. Otherwise, it is a word that will turn up a few times as you continue on your journey of learning Thai. From important phrases like ‘sabai dee mai’ to less common phrases such as ‘sabai sabai’, you should now know how versatile this word can be.
If you want to find more interesting Thai words like sabai, you can start using the Ling Thai app. With many different categories to study, you will be prepared for almost any situation you face in Thailand.