Tale of Two Thailands

The unique MahaNakhon in Bangkok, signs of wealth in a city also filled with street vendors and lined with small shacks

Next on our #SEAtheworld visit is five days in Bangkok. We visited the glass factory of Carabao, an energy drink and snack foods company, Ookbee, a e-book and digital media tech company, and SCG, Siam Cement Group. My personal experience was slightly different from the rest of the group’s as I had the chance to re-connect with a Thai friend of mine. This friend was educated in the US, and was able to share a unique perspective that influenced this part of the trip.

The visit to Ookbee was exciting. We met with the well-known Founder and CEO, Moo Natavudh. Moo shared his thoughts about Ookbee and the state of the startup ecosystem in Thailand. Moo also communicated to us the importance of scrappiness and that it isn’t a bad thing to copy a successful idea from another country (i.e., make a fast clone and sell to the bigger player). We all left the talk feeling very optimistic about technology’s impact on growth in Thailand. We also had the chance to visit two factories, a glass bottle plant and a cement factory.

After reflecting more on this visit, our time at SCG and Carabao, and my time spent with my Thai friend, I began to notice a striking discrepancy between tech and successful manufacturing. It finally dawned on me why some had described Thailand as being “stuck” before we left for our trip. There are many ways in which the country has leapfrogged development, but without better infrastructure and far less traffic, goods can’t get around – ultimately a society can only be so digital.

So in my mind there are two Thailands: the vision of Thailand presented by Ookbee, where digital, internet, and platforms transform the country to a creative and services based economy. But there also exists a strong manufacturing industry that makes the goods required by its growing consumer class. Which Thailand will prevail and define the country for the decade to come?

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