I believe that you have heard this proverb before. Many of you might even try to say it yourselves, right? When a foreigner would like to explain how good his/her Thai is, it’s pretty common to hear “พูดภาษาไทยงู ๆ ปลา ๆ” /pôod paa-săa Thai ngōo-ngōo bplāa-bplāa/
งู /ngōo/ means snake and ปลา /bplāa/ means fish. It’s quite strange to hear people say “snake snake fish fish” to refer to ‘not well or unskillfully’
Actually, you might notice that there are so many expressions about fish in Thai language, such as กินข้าวกินปลา /gīn kâaw gīn bplāa/, ในน้ำมีปลา ในนามีข้าว /nāi nám mēe bplāa nāi nāa mēe kâaw/, and ข้าวปลาอาหาร /kâaw bplāa āa-hăan/. It implies that fish and rice have been our main food since King Ram Khamhaeng’s reign (c. 1237/1247 – 1298).
Among many kinds of fresh-water fish, the Asian swamp eels are easily found everywhere in Thailand. Thai people have known and eaten them since the ancient time. The famous dishes are “ต้มปลาไหล” /dtôm bplāa-lăi/ or commonly called “ต้มเปรต” /dtôm bprèd/, spicy eel soup, and ผัดเผ็ดปลาไหล /pàd pèd bplāa-lăi/, spicy stir-fried eel.
The Asian swamp eels, also known as the rice-field eels or the swamp eels are native to Asia. They have elongated, snake-like bodies with tapering tails and blunt snouts. They don’t appear to have any fins. Their scaleless skins are darker green or brown on the top. They can grow to a length of three feet long and weigh up to one pound. They are sometimes mistaken for snakes.
Back to the topic, “งู ๆ ปลา ๆ” /ngōo-ngōo bplāa-bplāa/ is assumed that it is from going fishing in a canal or a rice field. If you are not experienced, you might not see the differences between swamp eels and snakes. That’s why, we call “งู ๆ ปลา ๆ” /ngōo-ngōo bplāa-bplāa/.