Each year, a certain full moon keeps most of Thailand awake. The Loy Krathong festival takes place on the Thai lunar calendar’s 12th month, and people are invited to float krathong on bodies of water, a gesture signifying the release of bad luck. These circular candle-lit vessels are typically made with banana leaves and decorated with flowers; sometimes, they even include pieces of a person’s hair and nails.
The tableau is plucked right out of a glimmering Disney film. Look closer and you’ll see a 10-year-old Aokbab marveling at the scene, searing its details into a memory that remains vivid nearly two decades on. “That night in Bangkok was incredibly beautiful for me. A lot of traffic, a lot of people. Vendors came there. A lot of markets and a lot of joyful times that night,” she recounts with a big smile.
For the actress and model, growing up in Bangkok was “like chaos,” not unlike a bustling night at the festival. When asked what her favorite pastimes were as a child, she says that the “first thing that came up to me is my family. I feel like I am very fortunate to have grown up with my family, my parents and siblings who care for me and guide me all the time.”
Aokbab Chuengcharoensukying goes by the mononym Aokbab. It translates to “design” in English, and was given to her by her father. “Actually, everyone in the family has a nickname that starts with either A or O, which are single consonants in the Thai language,” she explains.
Her older sister is named Omsin, which translates to “saving,” and her older brother’s name is Aneung, meaning “furthermore” or “in addition to.”
That’s just one in a web of threads that bind Aokbab’s family. She offers another: many of them are STEM majors. Her father and brother are engineers, her sister is an architect, and multiple relatives are doctors. As a teen, Aokbab didn’t have strong aspirations to a single career, but was eventually inspired to explore psychology after her cousin told her tales of becoming a doctor. Then an opportunity to model came at 15, when a student her senior invited her to a casting. “Once I started working in the entertainment industry, I didn’t want to go back,” she shares. “Now I can proudly say that I’m a full-time actress.”
Aokbab has lived many lives in the past decade. She was a cyberbullied high school athlete, scheming star student, disturbed insomniac, and, most recently, an ambitious young chef. In 2017, she became the first Thai to win the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award at the 16th New York Asian Film Festival, for her breakout role as the anti-hero Lynn in Bad Genius. She has also worked with acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai and starred in the 2023 Netflix film Hunger.
Her plate is full, but I ask anyway: what is Aokbab hungry for right now? “New roles,” she declares without missing a beat, “movies or series that are far from who I am and offer something differently.”
Examining the characters she’s portrayed, the actress is humored by the observation that none of them have had happy endings yet. “That’s funny, I don’t know why. In each character there are many different emotions and feelings. I can’t think too much, I have to let go and let it out. Emotions express my true self,” she reveals.
Her true self may as well be her at this moment, during our call. In a white t-shirt, silver hoop earrings, and cheeks dusted with light peach blush, Aokbab looks stripped of costume, a canvas that’s content in its simplicity. Perhaps it can be credited to Buddhism, the religion that has allowed the actress to find contentment and grounding in letting go, mentally and emotionally. (“I think every obstacle can be small, if you think it’s small,” she says.) It has also allowed her to appreciate the intangible finer things in life.
“When I was younger, luxury meant expensive things,” she narrates. “Right now it’s about time and happiness. Having some free time for myself, or finding small moments of happiness every day, has turned into something of luxury.”
Expanding horizons seems to be a recurring theme in Aokbab’s life. “My perspective on the world I think was not wide enough,” she reflects on her younger self. Without realizing it, the sensibility she gathered from her roles as a sister, daughter, and friend has informed the way she thinks, speaks, and interacts with the world. She has noticed, for instance, how the once-rigid standards of beauty have softened at the edges. “I really… love that it’s changed,” sighs the model, shoulders dropping at the pause.
She sees herself expanding in filmmaking too, and not just in acting. One day, she wants to learn how to write the script.
It’s interesting that you want to write, I tell her. “Yeah,” she replies, a smile already forming on her lips, “because I have something to tell.”
By TICIA ALMAZAN. Photographs and Styling by ARMAND DICKER and ANTHONY DANE HINRICHSEN. Beauty Direction and Makeup by NICK BAROSE.