Thai Sunflowers Resist the Sun

Sunflower fields in Thailand

This article was originally posted on

  • Get your FREE Thailand Cheat Sheet ​by entering your email below. The ​Sheet, based on ​our experience with living and working in ​Thailand for 10+ years, shows you how to ​save time and money and ​gives you the tools the thrive in Thailand.

Thai sunflowers don’t follow, they resist the sun…

When running around Thailand with K.Pi and K.Ph, a small event will often take over our conversation. As I’m interested in learning about all things Thai, it usually involves a mix of Thai culture, history, and language.

In our field before the perfect field adventure, this time K.Pi’s discovery of a rogue sunflower set us off.

The Thai word for sunflower is ดอกทานตะวัน /dòk taan dtà-wan/, which roughly translates as flower resisting the sun, or the flower that resists the sun. Something like that.

ดอก /dòk/ flower
ทาน /taan/ resist
ตะวัน /dtà-wan/ sun

Sunflower fields in Thailand I look at sunflowers as following the sun, not resisting/opposing. After grilling K.Ph from as many angles as I could (diagrams included), seems this is a cultural difference between westerners and Thais. And if sunflowers were following the sun, like westerners view them, then they’d be just the opposite (more further down).


When I brought up the discussion with Thai Skype teacher Khun Narisa, she explained it further. Apparently, Thais feel that since the sunflower never turns her face away from the sun, then sunflowers are not scared of the sun. Therefor, sunflowers resist the sun.

I found the difference in mindsets quite surprising.

As an aside, K.Ph also mentioned that ทาน /taan/ comes from ทนทาน /ton taan/. And like many Thai combo words, ทนทาน /ton taan/ was shortened because it sounds nicer tripping off the tongue.

ทนทาน /ton taan/
Resist, endure, bear, stand, be durable

A Rogue Sunflower in Thailand…

Whether you believe sunflowers are resisting or following, a maturing sunflower will turn to face the sun. This is due to a phototropic response called heliotropism (sun turning).

Sunflowers in Thailand

hăn nâa hâi prá aa-tít
Turn to face the sun.

dòk taan dtà-wan hăn nâa hâi prá aa-tít
The sunflower turns to face the sun.

หันหน้า /hăn nâa/
To turn one’s head, turn to face

ให้ /hâi/
Auxiliary. To give, offer.

พระอาทิตย์ /prá aa-tít/

Wandering around taking photos, K.Pi found a sunflower doing just the opposite. And standing in a sea of yellow heads pointing to the sun, the thrill was similar to finding a four-leaf clover in a clover covered field!

(granted, I’m easily amused)

A Rogue Sunflower in Thailand

hăn lăng hâi prá aa-tít
Turn one’s back to the sun.

dòk taan dtà-wan hăn lăng hâi prá aa-tít
The sunflower turns its back to the sun.

หันหลัง /hăn lăng/
Turn on one’s, turn one’s back towards

We walked around the rogue sunflower to check if it’d been pushed in some way (no) damaged (no) dying (no). And it was the same height and health as the other tall sunflowers.

When I got back home I found information suggesting that this sunflower could be slightly more mature (?) than the others. So if that’s true, then it was standing still, getting ready to dry.

Turning one’s back on Thai society…

I’m not going to get into Thainess, but to be Thai is all about belonging to the group. Conforming. Curious, I asked Khun Narisa for a more phrases Thais would use for the rogue sunflower in the photo. We sort of got there, but I do have more questions.

Sunflower fields in Thailand คนหัวแข็ง /kon hŭa kăeng/
A person with a strong head = a headstrong person.

หัวแข็ง /hŭa kăeng/
head + strong, hard, solid
Stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, headstrong

คนหัวอ่อน /kon hŭa òn/
A person with a soft head = a follower, not a leader.

หัวอ่อน /hŭa òn/
Head + soft
Obedient, docile, tractable, pliable, submissive

ดอกทานตะวัน (ดอกนี้) สวนกระแส
dòk taan dtà-wan (dòk née) sŭan grà-săe
This sunflower is going against the trend.

สวนกระแส /sŭan grà-săe/
To go against, be opposed to, be averse to
To go against the trend (slang).

สวน /sŭan/
Pass in the opposite direction, cross, come in the opposite direction

กระแส /grà-săe/
Trend, course, flow, way

sŭan grà-săe săng-kom
To go against society.

สังคม /săng-kom/

Btw – K.Pi, never one to miss a moment for hilarity, piped up with:

kăo sài grà bprohng yaao sŭan grà-săe săng-kom
She wears long skirts so she’s going against the trend.


For more than you wanted to know about sunflowers: Sunflowers: interesting facts, their history, their cultivation and commercial use.

And did you know that there’s an official International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day? Guerrilla gardening, gardening without permission, looks to be growing in popularity. Bangkok sort of had a Guerrilla gardener. Does anyone know if he’s still at it?

Comments are closed.