Thailand | Culture
Mai Bpen Rai

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Mai Bpen Rai

Mai Bpen Rai


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Thailand - Mai Bpen Rai



Translating Thai to English, or English to Thai, is rarely straightforward because the structure of the languages is different.

ไม่เป็นร (mai bpen rai)

The word mai means not, no, none, nothing, don't, etc. The Thai word for 'want' is 'ao', but 'don't want' would be 'mai ao.

'Bpen is one of the Thai verbs 'to be'. 'Rai' means how, what or when, or possibly the 'rai' in this expression is a contraction of 'arai' which means what, something, anything.

'Bpen rai' can be a question meaning, "What is it? What's the problem?" A Thai doctor will ask you this if you are ill. As a statement, not a question, the meaning is that the subject (whatever it is) is something.

When you negate this with 'mai' it turns into, "It's nothing." This is the literal meaning.

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In Thailand you hear this phrase every day, several times a day. It is so common that all foreigners seem to know it, including those that have no idea whatsoever about Thai cultural behaviour.

Most of the time it is equivalent to the English, "It's nothing, don't worry," and it is a good phrase to use, but I don't like it when it is used in one particular way.

It's often said that 'mai bpen rai' is a defining characteristic of the Thais, but I think that another characteristic of Thai cultural behavior defines Thais far more accurately.

If someone thanks you, you can reply 'mai bpen rai' just as an English speaker would reply, "Don't mention it, it's nothing, no worries," etc. It is the same if someone apologies to you for something.

It is also used after an event in the same way that an English speaker would use the phrase, "It's no use crying over spilled milk." We can't turn the clock back and there's nothing we can do to change what has already happened. Mai bpen rai.

Using this expression to say that something doesn't matter or as the equivalent of not crying over spilled milk is fine. However, I don't like it when Thais use this expression to indicate apathy or a disregard for potential danger.

For example, if I tell someone who is letting his or her children play in the street that it is dangerous because of crazy drivers and they reply, "Mai bpen rai."

Thais generally do not think about the future. They don't think about what might happen in the future and therefore they don't do anything that might avoid a problem in the future. They also have a tendency to always take the path of least resistance which mean, in most cases, not doing anything.

Therefore, when someone points out a possible problem in the future that the Thai hasn't thought of and doesn't want to do anything about, the simple solution is just to discount it - mai bpen rai.


This phrase is probably the most uttered phrase in the Thai language. You will hear it a lot in Thailand and it is good to know when to use it.

Basically, when it is used for anything that has happened in the past it is fine. If you fail an exam, if someone says thank you, or if someone apologises for stepping on your foot, saying, "Mai bpen rai," is quite appropriate.

However, when it is used for something that hasn't yet happened it takes on a different meaning. If we genuinely know that an event in the future won't cause a problem, we can say, "Don't worry."

However, my experience in Thailand is that Thais never think about the future, never worry about the future, and never anticipate anything untoward happening in the future.

If you point out a potential problem that might occur in the future the answer, invariably, will be "Mai bpen rai."

I have only ever missed a flight once in my life and that was when my Thai taxi didn't arrive as scheduled. I kept calling for the taxi and each time I was told, "Mai bpen rai." The Thai attitude towards the future is always that there won't be a problem, but if your gut feeling tells you that there might follow your own heart and don't listen to the, "Mai bpen rais."

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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

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