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Sanook Culture in Thailand & The Thai Word for Fun

Previously I talked about the Thai word for love, rák (รัก), and the feelings it evokes compared to the word for love in other languages. With the Thai New Year’s festival of Songkran upon us, I thought it a good time to discuss the word for fun in Thai, which is sànòok (สนุก).

Like the word for “love” (rák), the Thai word for “fun” (sanook) ends with a “k” sound via the pronunciation of the Thai letter “ko kai” (ก). It seem appropriate that the Thai words for “love” and “fun” share a similar sound, because if you had to choose two words in the Thai language that best reflect the spirit of the Thai people, “rak” and “sanook” would be the choice of many!

In Thailand, “fun” isn’t something to be experienced once in a while. It’s instead both a virtue and a way of life — a contributing factor to that famous Thai smile that is known throughout the world.

The Etymology of the Thai Word for Fun

The Thai word for fun (sanook) is derived from the ancient Khmer word “saranook” (ស្រណុក), which means “easy” or “comfortable”. While the Thai and Khmer languages come from two different families of languages, Thai shares around 30% similar words with Khmer — the Khmer Kingdom having ruled over much of modern day Thailand from around the 9th century to the 13th century.

The fact that the Thai word “sanook” has its origin in the Khmer word for “easy” makes a lot of sense, when one considers how the Thais view “fun” as essential to making the labors of life easier and more enjoyable — whether it be at school or at the workplace.

Thais are sometimes criticized by “farangs” (Westerners) for their overemphasis on fun. Success and advancement in their minds relies on being serious and determined. However, when you look at Thailand’s quality of life, and its culture of harmony, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they have wrongly assessed the best path of life.


Khmer Influence on Thai Culture and Language
The Khmer civilization left behind not only temple ruins like Phra That Phu Phek in Sakon Nakhon (Thailand). They left behind thousands of Khmer words adopted into the Thai language.

How to Pronounce Sanook

The first syllable of the Thai word “sanook” (also spelled sanuk) is pronounced like the “su” sound in “support,” while the second syllable is pronounced like the English word “nook,” as in “nook and cranny”.

If you would like to ask a Thai person if they are having fun, you might say, “Sànòok máai?” (สนุกมั้ย). And if someone should ask you if you are having fun in Thailand, you respond not with the Thai word for “yes” (chai) but by confirming with the word “sanook”.

Another common fun phrase that you might like to put in your Thai language arsenal is: Khŏr hâi sànòok ná! (ขอให้สนุกนะ), which means “Have fun!”

And for those interested in learning the Isaan language of Sakon Nakhon and Northeast Thailand, when something is very fun, you might exclaim, “Muan ee-lee!” (ม่วนอีหลี)

David Alan