Although learning the local languages while traveling is usually optional, knowing at least the basic greetings in Asia is polite, fun, and shows that you have an interest in the culture.
Even if you butcher every other word in the local language, knowing how to say hello in Asia is a great way to break the ice with a local and will invariably produce a smile! Using the correct greeting in Asia is directly tied in with the concept of saving face.
Each country in Asia has its own customs and ways of saying hello. Use this guide to avoid potential faux pas such as offering a handshake in the wrong country.
1. How to Say Hello in Japanese
The standard greeting in Japan is “konnichiwa” (pronounced "kone-nee-chee-wah") and is usually offered with a slight bow.
Shaking hands is rarely an option in Japan, and to not return someone's bow is considered rude. Although seemingly simple, bowing follows a rigid protocol based on age and social status.
While konnichiwa is primarily used during the day and afternoon, "konbanwa" (pronounced "kone-bahn-wah") is used as a greeting in the evening.
2. How to Say Hello in Chinese
The basic way to say hello in China is with “ni hao” (pronounced “nee haow”). Both words have a tone which falls then rises in the middle. As a sign of respect to elders and superiors, use “neen haow” instead. Adding “ma” to the end of your hello (ni hao ma) is optional but more suited for conversing with friends.
Outside of funerals and apologies, bowing is less common in mainland China. Many Chinese opt to shake hands now, although it may not be the firm handshake we expect in the West.
3. How to Say Hello in India
The standard greeting -- and conversation closer -- in India is 'namaste' (pronounced 'nah-meh-stay'). Sometimes used in the West, the Sanskrit word roughly means 'I bow to you' and is used as a way to lower your ego before others.
Namaste is accompanied with a prayer-like gesture -- similar to the wai in Thailand.
4. How to Say Hello in Hong Kong
The basic greeting differs slightly in Hong Kong and Cantonese-speaking regions from the rest of China. “Neih hou” or “lay hou” replaces “ni hao” in most instances.
- Read more about Cantonese language basics.
5. How to Say Hello in Korea
Greetings in Korean are not based around the time of day. Instead, ways to say hello follow the 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 easy!
6. How to Say Hello in Thailand
Thai people are very friendly and welcoming to foreign visitors; you're bound to get more smiles there than you can return!
Although the language is tonal, you can easily learn the basic hello (it differs between men and women) and ask people how they are doing.
- Learn how to say hello in Thai.
7. How to Say Hello in Indonesia
Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia, is similar to Malay: greetings are offered based on the time of day.
With simple, predictable rules of pronunciation and a lack of tones, learning the basic Indonesian greetings is easy.
8. How to Say Hello in Malaysia
As with Indonesian, Bahasa Melayu lacks tones and greetings are offered based on the time of day.
Despite the similarities between the languages, some basic greetings are different in Malay. You'll be able to offer these simple 'hellos' in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and in Indonesia.
- See how to say hello in Malay