The Thai way of telling the time was created when telling the time was the duty of the temples who kept track of the time so the common people could focus on their work.
In newspapers, on television and for official announcements, the 24 hours military time system is often used in telling the time. But, in every day life conversations a different and uniquely Thai system is used instead. Once you get used to this idea, it does kind of make sense.
The easiest way to approach it is to recognise that the Thai clock is divided up into roughly 4 blocks of 6 hours each rather than 2 of 12, and that each of these blocks of time is referred to in a different way.
The reason why there are three different words for telling the time like “mooŋ (โมง), thûm (ทุ่ม) and dtii (ตี)” is because three different bells were used by the temples to let the people living close by known the time.
This was similar system as in West where the bell of the church told everyone what time it was. However, the Thai system was more advanced: they used three different types of bells to tell the time, the loudest bell was used most of the day and it sounded like “moong (โมง)”, the second loudest bell made a sound of “thûm (ทุ่ม)” and the most quiet bell made just a small “dtii (ตี)” sound, which was only used at night time to avoid keeping everyone at the villages awake by the sound of the loud “moong (โมง)” bell. And its use here comes from the ancient custom of a night watchman striking a bell on the hour throughout the night to reassure village residents of their safety.
Now a days, from the sound of these bells, come the three different words still used to tell the time.
- What time is it ?
- gìi mooŋ (lɛ́ɛw) khráp/khá
- กี่โมง (แล้ว) ครับ/คะ