BANGKOK — Unicorns with rainbow manes, a giant sugar skull, and even a smiling penis are among the Maneeporn Puangla’s piñata creations.
Maneeporn Puangpla is one of few custom piñata makers in Thailand. She has been practicing her craft for a decade now, mostly creating special orders for her foreign clientele.
Maneeporn, 33, started making piñatas when a Canadian friend suggested she try her hand at the craft.
“I’d never heard of them before, so I had to search on the Internet how to make them,” she said.
Piñatas are a decorated paper container filled with candy or other treats. Associated with Mexican culture but also popular throughout North America, piñatas are hung at parties where people put on blindfolds and try to hit the piñata to release the sweets inside.
As Mexican restaurants and Spanish-speakers in Bangkok proliferated, so did her orders and client base.
“Ten years ago, there was only one Mexican restaurant, Sunrise Tacos. They were my first and only clients for a long time,” she said. “They’d buy some piñatas to decorate their shop and maybe resell to some customers.”
At her lotus pond-ringed, paper-filled quiet house in Bang Khae, Maneeporn hangs piñatas-in-progress from sticks and rafters to dry in the Bangkokian sun. “They take really long to dry in the rainy season,” she said, gesturing to a drying horse piñata.
A meter-tall sugar skull can take days to make, while smaller pieces can be completed within a day, drying time notwithstanding.
Her work even won the endorsement of the top Mexican in the kingdom.
“Once my piñatas decorated an event the Mexican ambassador went to,” she said. “He told me they weren’t bad!”
Her biggest clients are parents and children from international schools, who purchase princess and cartoon-shaped ones for birthday parties and the like. Maneeporn sells her piñatas without candy, since her clients are often particular about their sweets.
Disney princesses, Pokeballs and Pikachus rank among her top-requested piñatas recently.
“Sometimes children cry when the princess piñatas are smashed at birthday parties, though,” she said, laughing. “So when someone requests a ‘Frozen’ princess, I recommend they get an Olaf piñata instead.”
Maneeporn decided to make piñatas full time about six years ago.
“At first, I used balloons as the frame, but that limited me to making round piñatas. Now I know how to create my own frames,” said Maneeporn, who prides herself on making virtually any shape requested.
But a lack of crafting resources in Thailand still limits her creations.
“Overseas, they sell hundreds of shades of paint, but here there’s only seven that I can use. Mixing the colors myself ends up losing profit,” she said.
Also, the crepe paper Maneeporn decorates the outside of her piñatas with are only available in a limited number of colors.
“One client needed a Totoro piñata, but there was no gray crepe paper available, even though I searched all over for it. They ended up bringing me crepe paper from Japan so I could complete their project.”
Holiday piñatas are popular, such as ones for Halloween, Christmas and birthdays. She has also received requests for erotic piñatas, which she happily supplies.
One of her most memorable orders was placed by a wealthy Sikh man who, she said, ordered a bundle of penis-shaped piñatas for an adult party. Another order was a crotch and butt piñata with a specific request for extra hairiness. One time a Western woman ordered a naked man piñata, with a “large bulge” requested.
“I don’t really get it, but I guess they’re for some adult parties,” she said, laughing. “But I make any shape that is commissioned.”
Her Thai clients are people with international school children who are familiar with piñatas. However others are unfamiliar, and cultural misunderstandings ensue.
“Some Thai clients don’t get what a piñata is, that it’s not supposed to be completely neat and perfect,” she said. “My client just rejected a completed order for a Barbie doll because she said all the details weren’t there.”
Depending on the size, she sells small pinatas for 200 baht, with larger creations going for 900 baht or higher.
Maneeporn sells her creations online at Manee Piñatas.
Correction: The headline of an earlier version of this story mistakenly indicated Maneeporn was the only custom piñata-maker in Thailand. In fact, Jantasuda Jamjod, owner of Que Pasa Mexican Restaurant in Nonthaburi has been doing so since 2003 and sells them at Arya Piñata.