Sea and Ocean in Thai

Update on:
sea and ocean in Thai

Let’s learn something about the words related to the sea and ocean in Thai.

The first week of this month, I went to สมุทรสาคร (samùt sǎa-khɔɔn) Samut Sakhon province for a whale-watching trip. I was expecting to see วาฬบรูด้า (waan bruu-dâa) Bryde’s whales swimming in อ่าวไทย (ʔàaw Thai) the Gulf of Thailand.

วาฬ (waan) means whale. In the past, Thai called whale ปลาวาฬ (plaa-waan), which literally means fish whale. It’s the translation of the word walvis, which means whale in Dutch. The word vis is translated as fish.

Nowadays, Thai people have stopped calling it ปลาวาฬ (plaa-waan) because we now know that whales are not fish. We dropped the word ปลา (plaa), which means fish.

But sometimes I still say ปลาวาฬ (plaa-waan), actually many times, because I have been so used to saying it since I was a kid.

Bay, Sea, Lake, and Ocean in Thai

อ่าวไทย (ʔàaw Thai) is a part of ทะเลจีนใต้ (thalee ciin tâay) South China Sea, which is a marginal sea of มหาสมุทรแปซิฟิก (mahǎa-samùt pææ-sí-fìk) the Pacific Ocean.

อ่าว (ʔàaw) means gulf, bay

There is no record of the origin of this word, but I found that it sounds similar to the word bay in other languages, which are 澳 (ào) in Middle Chinese, អាវ (‘aaw) in Khmer, and ອ່າວ (ʔaːw˧) in Laos.

ทะเล (thalee) means a sea

The word ทะเล (thalee) is believed to come from the Khmer word ទន្លេ (tŭənlei), which means large river. However, Thais use this word to refer to the sea.

The word ทะเล (thalee) is also a part of some other words, such as อาหารทะเล (ʔaahǎan thalee) seafood, ทะเลทราย (thalee saay) desert, and ผีทะเล (phǐi thalee) ghost sea.

The term ผีทะเล (phǐi thalee) is usually used by a woman to refer to a flirtatious man. It sounds more cute and playful when a woman says this to a man.

มหาสมุทร (mahǎa-samùt) means an ocean

This is a compound word.

มหา (mahǎa) is a borrowed word from Sanskrit महा (mahAn) which means great, large.

สมุทร (samùt) is also from Sanskrit word समुद्र (samudra), which means sea.

Altogether, มหาสมุทร (mahǎa-samùt) means the great sea.

You may hear the word มหา (mahǎa) in other words such as มหาวิทยาลัย (mahǎa wítthayaalay) university or มหาบัณฑิต (mahǎa bandìt) a holder of master degree.

มหา (mahǎa) means large and วิทยาลัย (wítthayaalay) means college. The direct translation of this word means a large college.

บัณฑิต (bandìt) means a graduate. Therefore, มหาบัณฑิต (mahǎa bandìt) literally means a great graduate.

The word สมุทร (samùt) also appears in the name of some provinces including สมุทรสาคร (samùt sǎa-khɔɔn) Samut Sakhon, สมุทรสงคราม (samùt sǒŋkhraam) Samut Songkhram, and สมุทรปราการ (samùt praakaan) Samut Prakan.

These three provinces are attached to the อ่าวไทย (ʔàaw Thai) the Gulf of Thailand.

Since this article has the words อ่าว (ʔàaw), ทะเล (thalee), and มหาสมุทร (mahǎa-samùt), I’ll add one more related term which is ทะเลสาบ (thalee sàap) a lake.

ทะเลสาบ (thalee sàap) means a lake

It is also a compound word. Now that you know ทะเล (thalee) means sea. We need to find out what สาบ (sàap) means.

สาบ (sàap) means tasteless. It is also another word we borrowed from the Khmer. The original term is សាប (saap), which means bland, not salty, tasteless.

Therefore, ทะเลสาบ (thalee sàap) in the Thai meaning is a tasteless sea.

As many of you already know, I did not see วาฬบรูด้า (waan bruudâa) Bryde’s whales this time. I did not take the whale’s photo in this article. I bought it (555). Wish me luck next time (If there is one next time).

Wrap up

Here are the focus words in this article.

วาฬ (waan)

อ่าว (ʔàaw)
bay, gulf

ทะเล (thalee)

มหาสมุทร (mahǎa-samùt)

ทะเลสาบ (thalee sàap)