Although learning the local language while traveling is usually optional, knowing at least the basic greetings in Asia will enhance your experience. Greeting people in their own language at least shows that you're interested in the local culture — and that you acknowledge their effort to learn English, a difficult language in many ways.
Even if you manage to mangle the pronunciation, knowing how to say hello in Asia is a great way to break the ice with local people. Who knows, you may even get invited to someone's home to see what other tourists don't get to see!
Each country in Asia has its own customs and ways of saying hello. Thai people wai each other while Japanese are bowing. Many languages incorporate honorifics to show respect and allow for saving face. The potential for a committing a cultural faux pas seems high, but not if you arrive prepared!
01 of 10
The standard greeting in Japan is konnichiwa (pronounced "kone-nee-chee-wah") and is usually offered with a slight bow.
Shaking hands is now always an option in Japan, so you may as well learn how to bow the right way. Not returning someone's bow is considered rude. Although seemingly simple, bowing follows a rigid protocol based on age and social status. Companies even send employees to classes to learn proper bowing!
Japanese business etiquette and Japanese dining etiquette are full of formalities and nuances that have filled many a Western executive with dread before a banquet. But unless a big deal is on the line, your new Japanese friends will rarely make a big deal over your fumbles.
Konnichiwa is primarily used during the day and afternoon. Konbanwa (pronounced "kone-bahn-wah") is used as a greeting in the evening.
- Learn more ways to say hello in Japanese.
02 of 10
The easiest way to say hello in China is with ni hao (pronounced “nee haow”). Ni has a tone that rises, while hao has a tone that falls then rises. You'll hear ni hao offered between Mandarin speakers throughout the world.
A way to show more respect to elders and superiors is to use nin hao (pronounces "neen haow”) instead. Adding ma to the end of your hello (ni hao ma) is useful for asking friends "how are you?"
Tip: Increasing the volume of your voice and repeating the same thing isn't a good way to help Chinese people understand you better! You should definitely learn these useful phrases in Mandarin before going to China.
Because of the many different dialects, a Chinese system of finger counting comes in really handy — particularly while negotiating in noisy local markets.
With the exceptions of funerals and apologies, bowing is less common in mainland China. Many Chinese opt to shake hands, although it may not be the firm handshake expected in the West.
- Read more... about how to say hello in Chinese.
03 of 10
The standard greeting and conversation closer in India is namaste (pronounced "nuh-muh-stay").
Often heard — and mispronounced — in the West, the Sanskrit expression roughly means "I bow to you" and is symbolic of lowering your ego before others.
Namaste is accompanied with a prayer-like gesture similar to the wai in Thailand but lower.
The infamous-and-bewildering Indian head wobble is also used as a silent way to say hello in India. You'll sometimes be acknowledged by a busy waiter with a simple head wobble rather than a formal namaste.
- Read more about how to say hello in Hindi.
04 of 10
The basic greeting in Hong Kong and Cantonese-speaking regions in China is slightly different from the usual ni hao.
Neih hou (pronounced "nay-ho") is used in Hong Kong, although saying a simple "hello" (same as in English) is extremely common. The pronunciation of hou is something between "ho" and "how."Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Anyong Haseyo (pronounced "ahn-yo ha-say-yoh") is the most basic way to say hello in Korean.
Greetings in Korean are not based around the time of day. Instead, ways to say hello follow the honorific rules of showing respect to people that are older or of higher status than yourself.
Korean is not a tonal language, so learning how to say hello is just a matter of memorization.
06 of 10
Knowing how to say hello with good pronunciation in Thailand is very useful. You'll almost always get a smile and better treatment.
The Thai language is very tonal, but your greeting will be understood because of the context, particularly if you add a respectful wai (holding the palms together in front of the face with a slight bow).
In Thailand men say: sawasdee khrap (pronounced "sah-wah-dee krap!"). The ending khrap has a sharp rising tone.
In Thailand women say: sawasdee kha (pronounced "sah-wah-dee kah"). The ending kha has a drawn out falling tone.
- Learn more about how to say hello in Thai.
07 of 10
Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia, is similar to Malay: greetings are offered based on the time of day.
Good Morning: Selamat pagi (pronounced "suh-lah-mat pah-gee")
Good Day: Selamat siang (pronounced "suh-lah-mat see-ahng")
Good Afternoon: Selamat sore (pronounced "suh-lah-mat sor-ee")
Good Evening: Selamat malam (pronounced "suh-lah-mat mah-lahm")
With simple, predictable rules of pronunciation and a lack of tones, learning the basic Indonesian greetings for each time of day is easy.
- See more about how to say hello in Indonesian based on the time of day.
08 of 10
As with Indonesian, Bahasa Malaysia lacks tones; greetings are also based on the time of day.
Good Morning: Selamat pagi (pronounced "pahg-ee")
Good Afternoon: Selamat tengah hari (pronounced "teen-gah har-ee")
Good Evening: Selamat Petang (pronounced "puh-tong")
Good Night: Selamat Malam (pronounced "mah-lahm")
Tip: Before going to Malaysia, you'll want to know these 10 useful phrases in Malay.
Despite the similarities between the languages, some basic greetings are different in Malay. Although the way to say hello differs by region, you'll be understood in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia.
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
- See how to say hello in Malay
09 of 10
Vietnamese is a tonal language with lots of honorifics (titles of respect), but your simple hello will be understood because of the context.
The easiest way to greet people in Vietnam is with xin chao (pronounced "zeen chow").
10 of 10
Burmese is a complex language, however, you can learn a quick way to say hello. Again, the language is very tonal, but people will understand your basic greetings without tones because of the context.
Hello in Burmese sounds like "ming-gah-lah-bahr" but pronounciation varies slightly by region.
- See more about how to say hello in Burmese.