Luang Prabang, Laos 2009

When I went to Vang Vieng Laos during a Christmas holiday, my friend and I saw something truly original, a row of street vendors selling the exact same thing. Four or five ladies with their carts very close together selling French baguette sandwiches on what appeared to be a darkish empty street devoid of anyone but tourists occasionally walking by.

β€œDo you see any difference?” He said as he leaned over to me, his eyes still on the vendors.

I scanned the menus carefully, β€œNo. Do you?”


We looked at each other then back at them. Then continued walking.

β€œWhy don’t they spread out or something?”

β€œWhy do they sell the same exact thing?!”

We would experience this repeat performance with more baguette sandwiches and roti stands as we walked around town.

Back in Chiang Mai, I overheard a conversation not too long ago in the work room, where my colleagues were discussing how Thais copy everything like music and fashion from the Koreans or the Japanese. In other words, they lacked originality.

Since I have been only here a year, I’m no expert on Thai originality and whether it exists or not. But I would imagine Korea’s burst into insane popularity didn’t just happen one day, with say, Girls’ Generation or Rain. They probably, dare I say, copied and emulated from their *gasp* Japanese neighbors and the wild wild west before they saw their name in lights.

The Japanese used to make fairly crappy electronic products before they hit their stride and took over the world wide IT department. And they did it by copying from the US first. Now the US can’t be bothered with making quality products and Made in Japan no longer holds the Made in China title.

That said, I do feel Thailand is on the verge of pop culture change and excitement. Thailand is already world renown for it’s Muay Thai and culinary genius so I think we can credit them with some originality. But I do understand what my colleagues were saying especially in light of my Laos experience and from what I’ve heard about Vietnam too.

Southeast Asian cultures seem to posses this group mentality that we Westerners find mind boggling. For Americans we pride ourselves on being original, unique, special and independent. We’re business minded, me-first, I’ve staked my claim here kind of people so when we see a row of the same thing we’re like, β€œWhat?!”

We’re used to seeing the same products, rows of them but each product tries to stand out in it’s own way: lower pricing, better quality, generic vs name brand, mom & pop vs factory made, etc. So this idea of everyone is equal like in a communistic way makes us wonder how do you get ahead? Well, you don’t and that’s the point.

8 replies on “Does Thailand lack originality?

  1. I've always had this bad rebellious streak. If everyone else is going one place I'll want to go somewhere else. In the past I would develop snobbishness towards anything considered popular – viewing it only suitable for plebs. I used to think that this was a good way to live but these it feels more like a mental disorder. I sort of admire the Thai group mentality. It is tiring to be always trying to go against the flow.


  2. Yeah, I know what you mean. I had a hard time accepting being different or going against the grain of society but now I pride myself for it.At the same time, I think Westerners could learn a thing or three from the East re: working together, being part of a group, etc. It's about a balance and for some reason we human beings have a really horrible time finding middle ground…perhaps because it might be considered boring.


  3. Very interesting. I have often wondered why I see so many vendors along the roads in Thailand selling the exact same thing. Whether it's pineapples or watermelons, umbrellas or wood products, sellers of the same or similar items invariably cluster together. Being American I would try to stand out, try to capture more customers. I would try to get ahead. I'm a typical westerner I reckon.Your last statement explains this curious behavior so well: You don't try to get ahead, that's the point.Thanks.


  4. “Repeat after me: We are all individuals!” still rules.In Thailand, more than 80% of the top 40 richest people are of full or partly Chinese descent (Source Forbes, Wiki)and it is being said that in fact 80% of Thai wealth is owned by people of the same minority. (14%/15%). Buddhist or not and wether one likes it or not, I'm sure that one day the distribution of wealth will spread and will force people to take more initiative.Unfortunately then the sabai, sabai days will be no more 😦


  5. Lani, it's the same in Brunei, Malaysia, etc. If a vendor is doing a good trade in rubber balls then the street will soon be lined with ball sellers until no one is making enough to scratch by. So yeah, Thailand is not very original.


  6. I hear ya. Reminded of the situation in Lamphun…someone made money with longan and then everyone planted longan trees and now we have a town full of longan trees!!!!!!


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