Thai Ingenuity

If you’ve been to Thailand for any amount of time you’ve seen countless instances of Thai ingenuity, some barely noticeable and some quite blatant. Most are simple fixes that you wouldn’t have thought of and some clever enough that you wish you would have thought of.

The one thing all cases of Thai ingenuity have in common is money. I mean, why buy a mouse trap when you can build a better one, or at least one that will fit the bill without costing you a satang. For some reason on my last trip I noticed the Thai ingenuity everywhere I went from Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom and decided to document some of it.

Central Pier information desk bell Closeup of information desk bell

The first one I will present to you today I came across while waiting for the riverboat taxi at the central pier in Bangkok. They have a information desk there that is sometimes unmanned for various reasons. Now, in a western country this problem is easily fixed by installing a small bell for the customers to ring when they need service and no one is around. Bells cost money and why buy a bell when you have soda cans and string?

Makeshift downspout in Thailand Closeup of Thai downspout

Our next submission also comes in from the central pier riverboat taxi stand. It seems the downspout for the roof had disappeared at one corner or there was a hole in the gutter and the water was coming down directly on customers. Now, you could go buy a length of downspout or PVC to fix the problem but that would incur expense. Why spend money when someone has already bought and discarded a completely useful plastic bottle or two. And if you haven’t already noticed they killed two birds with one stone on this one…they placed a potted plant beneath the makeshift downspout so they wouldn’t have to waste time watering it.

Big rain...big umbrella

Speaking of rain…If you know it’s going to rain it’s nice to have an umbrella with you so you don’t get wet. Unfortunately on this day there was no sign of rain in sight and I got caught at the exchange booths at CareFour in Pattaya. While waiting out the rain I was wishing I had an umbrella because this downpour lasted a good hour. Now, a normal umbrella wouldn’t have helped that much as the rain was coming down in buckets. If I had just had the Thai ingenuity factor going for me I would have been prepared and very dry. Big rains call for big umbrella’s.

mysterious piece of Thai ingenuity

My last submission for the day confused me for a good 10 minutes as I stood and stared at it. It wasn’t until the shop owner next door came out and explained it to me that I truly understood the genius of this one. At first I thought it was yet another downspout fix…admittedly one that would require attention every few minutes. When I was told what it was for I had to laugh. I’m going to leave this one for you guys to figure out and if you don’t (high probability) I might just let you in on the secret. Unfortunately it didn’t save the business it served but I bet it helped out a great deal on rainy days.

And the answer is: The store this funnel was in front of used to be a store that sold aquarium fish and tadpoles for eating. They saved money when it rained by hanging plasic bags under the funnel to fill up with rain water and they would then place the fish or tadpoles in the bags when they were sold. I guess it didn’t rain enough for them to save money as they went out of business.

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11 Responses to Thai Ingenuity
  1. Catherine
    May 21, 2009 | 8:05 pm

    What an fabulous post! No one in Thailand is left untouched by the ingenious ways the Thais fix the things around them.

    And because we live with it every day, I’ll bet more than a few Thai bloggers (me included) are now saying, ‘why haven’t I written a post focusing on Thai ingenuity?’

    Now thinking of all the times I’ve grinned at Thai ways has made me smile.

    And you made my morning :-)

    Catherines last blog post..Chris Pirazzi at

  2. Mike
    May 21, 2009 | 9:49 pm

    Interesting post and so true. I don’t know about you, but i have started to do similar things.

    Before living here I would have probably replaced an item, now I try and come up with a fix that is not always conventional.

    BTW can’t figure out the last one!

    Mikes last blog post..Thailand Time.

  3. Martyn
    May 21, 2009 | 11:01 pm

    I think the ingenuity really does go cap in hand with the lack of satang. Most of us could probably fix or make better broken items rather than replace them and Thai’s are masters at this. Your posing question has got me stabbing in the dark but I’m gonna go for and be completely wrong….a carwash.

    Martyns last blog post..Meet The Boys

  4. Arun
    May 22, 2009 | 5:05 am

    he he.. The plant under the water really had me. :)

    It is a tough guess to make.. Some thing to catch rainwater? But can’t reason it out really. Can’t think of anything else.

    Aruns last blog post..Thursday Travel Photography: Remember to Crop the Picture

  5. Eric
    May 22, 2009 | 6:29 pm

    Great post. I cannot figure out what that last one is for. I hope not drinking water…

    Erics last blog post..All Teared Up

  6. iWalk
    May 23, 2009 | 1:06 am

    Oh, yeah, Interesting post!

    I never notice so many interesting cases! I can’t image what use of the last one but I think it’s not use for catching rainwater.

    iWalks last blog post..Requiem For WenChuan Earthquake Anniversary

  7. Catherine
    May 23, 2009 | 1:53 am

    ‘Unfortunately it didn’t save the business it served but I bet it helped out a great deal on rainy days’

    As the water is slightly brown, it couldn’t be for drinking water, could it?

    When I lived on Borneo, the Thais at the only decent Thai restaurant there would collect rain water.

    They would then boil the rain water with pandang leaves to mask the taste and kill any bugs lurking.

    The first time I tasted pandang water I wasn’t too sure. After, I requested it over bottled water.

    The taste is quite distinct and very pleasant once you get used to it.

    Yet another Thai fix…

    • Talen
      May 23, 2009 | 3:20 am

      I think the water was brown because nobody was there to swap out bags anymore.

      Some good guesses and confusion….exactly how I felt when I was looking at the funnel in person.

      Answer posted above.

  8. Pete - FrogBlogger
    May 23, 2009 | 7:56 am

    Ingenious post about Thai ingenuity! Glad I read your answer about the plastic bag first. I immediately had this image of Thai workers being caught short while doing some building work higher up, and using this contraption to ensure passers-by didn’t get an unwelcome shower.

    Shows how my mind works :-(

    Pete – FrogBloggers last blog post..That old chestnut… farang men, Thai girls

  9. Dorami
    May 24, 2009 | 9:59 pm

    Another nice example: a Thai friend of mine who owns a guesthouse has a huge fan in the bar, but if you touch it you’ll get electrified. After a few of the guests asked him to fix it, he took a can of pink paint and wrote on the fan: Do not touch!

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