Famous Thai people

  • Posted onMay 16th, 2014

I recently had a debate with a friend over who was the most famous Thai person, as in best known around the world rather than best known within Thailand. We decided not to include the King or royalty, and to be honest, we didn’t come up with the huge number of names you many other large nations around the world, but there were a few candidates we debated over.

So I thought I’d bring our results to you, and give you my list of the most famous Thai people (still alive):

James Wattana

Most Americans or people outside of Europe will have no idea who James Wattana is, in fact most European and Thai people won’t even know. But to those of us who are fans of Snooker, James Wattana will be a very familiar name.

Back in the late 1980’s when snooker was totally dominated by British players, along came a quiet, young, long haired Thai boy by the name of Wattana Pu-Ob-Orm, who took a lot of the top names by  total surprise, winning his first major tournament in 1986, at the age of 16. Wattana’s career peak around the mid-90’s where he rose to number 3 in the world, but his presence in the game certainly paved the way for other Asian players who now compete at the highest level, and helped snooker gain in popularity here in Thailand. While he’s not exactly a huge global name, and even some snooker fans may have forgotten him, he still has some infamy with those who watched the sport avidly in the 80s and 90s.

Paradorn Srichaphan

Another famous sportsman, and perhaps better known globally, is Paradorn Srichaphan, a professional tennis player who broke into the world’s elite. In 2003 Paradorn was rank as one of the world’s top 10 players, amongst the likes of Sampras, Agassi, Hewitt, and Federer.

As well as being known for his sporting achievements, Paradorn’s celeb value increased in 2005 when he married Russian supermodel Natalie Glebova, who was Miss Universe in 2005. They divorced in 2011, the year before which he retired from professional tennis, and so faded out of the world spot light. However, Paradorn still remains something of a Thai celeb, making occasional guest appearances on TV shows and sports programs.

Tony Jaa

Thailand’s answer to Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa is an accomplished Muay Thai fighter and martial artist, stuntman, and action movie star. Known in Thailand as Jaa Panom, he rose to fame in 2003 with the fast-paced action flick ‘Ong Back’, one of Thailand’s most successful films, internationally. Several sequels and spin-off films followed with varying success, but Jaa’s status as Thailand’s top action actor was by now undisputed

Though Tony Jaa has yet to make a big name for himself outside of Thailand, at one stage choosing to put his acting career on hold to spend time practicing as a Buddhist monk, he is set to make his Hollywood debut in 2015, in the blockbuster Fast & Furious 7.

Thaksin Shinawatra

Love him or hate him, Thaksin Shinawatra’s political movements and business dealings over the past 8 years have seen him gain some international fame for a number of contrasting reasons. From ousted prime minister to chairman of Manchester City Football club, Thaksin has certainly made a name for himself in the global news headlines.

Today of course, he is best known for his involvement in the current political protests, which were partly started when his sister (Yingluck), tried to pass a law allowing Thaksin to re-enter Thailand with previous allegations and convictions of corruption squashed.  There probably isn’t a single adult in Thailand who doesn’t know who Thaksin is (and have a strong opinion about him).


Tata Young

It would be wrong not to include at least one Thai female in this list, and when it comes to ‘who is the most famous Thai female’ it was much harder to come up with many names. If we were talking about famous females within Thailand I could name many, with the likes of Aum Patcharapa and Sonia Couling immediately coming to mind, but outside of Thailand I’d say it would be between singer Tata Young and supermodel Pancake.

For the sake of this list I’m going to that say Tata Young just edges it. While she might not be a household name in the Western world, she has had a great deal of success elsewhere in Asia,  with several chart topping albums and singles reaching number 1 in countries such as Japan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong.


I’m sure there are a few big names I’ve missed out here, including boxer Khaoosai Galaxy and violinist-come-Olympic skier, Vanessa Mae (though technically she was born in Singapore and raised in Britain). So are there any famous Thai people you’d also include?

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