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A beginner's guide to mapping a third world city: Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand.


Ubon Ratchathani, or simply Ubon, is a province in the northeast or Isan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) region of Thailand bordering both Laos and Cambodia (Fig. 1.). At 15,745 [km.sup.2] it is the fifth largest of Thailand's 76 provinces (including Bangkok) in terms of area (1), and with 1,795,453 people in December 2008, it is the third largest in terms of population (2) (Dept. of Prov. Admin., n.d.).

All Thai provinces are named for their capital cities, and in almost all cases, including that of Ubon, the capital is the largest city in the province. 'Ubon' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means lotus, 'ratcha' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), like the Hindi 'rajah', derives from Sanskrit and means royal, and 'thani' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means city. Thus the city name translates as 'Royal Lotus City', and the city and provincial seals feature a lotus flower. Ubon's total urban area has a population of about 200,000, making it about the 8th largest urban area in Thailand. (3)

Ubon has been an important administrative and trading centre in Northeast Thailand for several centuries. The city sits on the left (north) bank of the Mun River, the major river of Isan, which flows eastwards into the Mekong. In 1922 the Royal Thai Air Force established an airmail run to Ubon from the railhead at Khorat (now Nakhon Ratchasima), and the state railway reached Ubon in 1930 (Young, 1995, 32; Whyte, 2010, 57-58). Plans to extend the railway into Laos never eventuated, despite Japanese surveys during WW2. The town was the site of a Japanese POW camp late in the war, housing Allied prisoners who had previously worked on the Burma railway. During the Vietnam War, USAF and RAAF units were based at Ubon's airport, and a Cambodian refugee camp was situated in the city's northwest during the Khmer Rouge period. Since then the town has grown rapidly in area and population, due both to Thailand's natural population increase and to the rural-to-urban migration typical of developing countries.


On the south side of the Mun River directly opposite Ubon city is the town of Warin Chamrap (or simply Warin), home to a Thai army base, and the railhead since 1930. A wide flood plain on the south side of the river separates the business districts of Warin and Ubon, somewhat like Albury and Wodonga are separated by the Murray River's flood plain in Australia (Fig. 2.).

Both cities are now circumscribed by a 50km-long ring road, although the urban area is already sprawling beyond this, particularly in the northwest.

While now forming a single urban area, Ubon and Warin are separately administered municipalities, and belong to two separate districts (amphoe, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the second-order administrative division below that of province. Ubon is in the capital district, Amphoe Mueang (4), and Warin is in Amphoe Warin Chamrap. Only in recent years has any attempt at unified planning been made, and this is still in its infancy, due to the limited capabilities of the various sub-districts (tambon, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and municipal sub-districts (thetsaban tambon, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) affected by Ubon's sprawling growth.

Ubon has very little industry, and is basically a service centre for lower Isan. The northeast as a whole is Thailand's poorest, least industrialised and most heavily populated region, and many Isan people migrate to Bangkok to find work as maids, taxi drivers or labourers.

Ubon is also very limited in terms of tourist attractions. While there is an annual Candle Festival at the beginning of the Buddhist Lent in July, during which each local Buddhist temple carves a giant wax candle for a parade and competition, this is of mainly domestic interest. The WW2 and Vietnam War history of the town, of much greater interest and accessibility to foreign tourists, is barely recognised, even by the local branch of the National Museum, which instead concentrates on laterite and sandstone temple sculptures and rural handicrafts. Tourism officials place emphasis on Ubon's location relative to various national parks along the borders with Laos and Cambodia, but lack of public transport, exorbitant fees imposed on foreigners, park staff without foreign language skills, and the lack of maps, tracks and interpretive information limit visitors mainly to those on bus tours who are taken to the prehistoric cliff paintings beside the Mekong River at Pa Thaem, or the 'bicoloured river', the confluence of the Mun and Mekong Rivers at Kong Jiam.


Foreign tourists do come to Ubon, but mainly to transit on the way to or from southern Laos. Several trains run from Bangkok each day, and Ubon's airport is connected to Bangkok (only) by up to seven flights per day on three carriers, although recent economic conditions spasmodically reduce this to three flights on two carriers.

Ubon is populated mainly with local Isan people, who speak a dialect of Lao as their mother tongue, but are educated, and literate, in the central Thai dialect. There is a reasonable proportion of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese in the city, a small Muslim community of Pakistani origin, and a handful of Sikhs. There are various subcultures of foreign residents, including Filipinos employed as English teachers in local schools, western and Asian missionaries (including some American Mormons assisting at the local LDS church, as well as various protestant groups), occasional Peace Corps and other NGO workers, mainly based outside the city, a few American ex-servicemen who settled after the Vietnam War, and a number of western men in relationships with local women.


Few large scale maps are obtainable in Thailand, and those that do exist are usually very inaccurate. For obvious reasons the most readily available and up-to-date maps are bilingual or in English, and cover popular tourist areas, such as central Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Few other areas are mapped at all well, and certainly not for local, rather than tourist needs (i.e. they cover the town centre, not its outlying suburbs). Upon the author's arrival in Ubon in 2006, available maps of that city included:

--PN Maps (n.d.) Map Ubon Ratchathani. An undated folded sheet map, with a 1:350,000 provincial road map on one side, and a 1:20,000 city plan of Ubon and Warin on the other (Figs. 2&3.). This bilingual colour map features government offices, schools, temples, etc., with point symbols. However, apart from the most major roads, it is very inaccurate, showing roads that do not exist, not showing other main roads that do, and often indicating incorrect road alignments for others. The extents of the air force and army bases are not indicated, and so restricted roads within the compounds are depicted as if they were normal city streets. The main advantage of this map was its cheapness (70 baht = A$2.35), folded sheet format, and its wide availability, including internationally.

--Thinknet's (2007) Thailand Deluxe Atlas. A spiral-bound 25 x 35 cm bilingual road atlas of the country, with 38 maps at 1:550,000 and 105 town plans, including a full-page for Ubon (but not Warin) at 1:20,000 (Fig. 4.) The maps appear to be derived from GIS datasets, so are quite accurate in terms of alignments and roads shown. Point symbols indicate hotels, restaurants, markets, offices, and individual businesses such as banks, convenience stores such as 7-11s, petrol stations, car dealerships and shopping malls. The bilingual index is invaluable. The best national road atlas and city plan collection available (there are two or three much inferior competitors), this atlas uses the Royal Institute's romanisation system systematically, but there are several spelling errors in both Thai and English. The area of Ubon city covered by the city map is also restricted (Warin is completely absent). Other problems include inaccurate depiction of numerous laneways, the naming of only major roads, and the incorrect location of the airport (other city maps in this atlas, including Udon Thani, have the same problem). A widely-available and durable product, reasonably priced at 550 baht ($18.35), but more useful for a self-driving traveller than an urban resident.

--Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) mapping. TAT's Ubon regional office produces several free Thai, English or bilingual tourist maps of Ubon, either standalone, or incorporated into tourist literature (e.g. TAT NE Office Region 2, n.d. a&b) (Fig. 5.). These feature Ubon and Warin and the entire Ring Road, along with the main hotels, temples, monuments and tourist infrastructure. However only main roads are shown, and the maps are not at all to scale, an awful discovery for any foreign tourist on foot. Some versions of these maps indicate the local songthaew routes (converted pickup trucks operating as buses) by numbering along roads, but some routes that have not existed for years are still shown, some that do exist are not shown, and most are inaccurate.

--Local government mapping. The various local governments also produce maps for their own use, and these can generally be had for the asking at the relevant office. Whilst sometimes produced from a GIS system, they generally show only roads, and suffer the same problems as the commercial maps: indicating roads that do not exist, not showing all those that do, and often showing incorrect alignments. The maps produced by smaller or poorer districts are little more than poorly drawn sketch maps.

--Royal Thai Survey Department (RTSD). This army section produces the official topographic mapping for the country. Generally each topographic series is complete, and available in paper, vector or raster formats, but to government officials only, not members of the public. A paper civilian version of some series, usually with the national grid or other information removed, is also available, but these series are generally incomplete. The restricted series may be viewable in the National Library or any university library that has made the effort to purchase the set (the two leading national universities, Chulalongkorn and Thammasat have not). Otherwise, maps can only be obtained from the RTSD offices in Bangkok for 80 to 100 baht per sheet ($2.65-$3.35). Topographic maps are not available from bookshops (5) or regional government offices, and the author's experience around Thailand was that few local government offices even knew such maps existed!

At 1:50,000 scale, the complete series L7017 is restricted, and its incomplete civilian series L7017S includes sheets for Ubon dating from the early 1990s, which are quite out of date, and the quality of cartography is relatively poor. A more recent replacement series, L7018, featuring much better cartography, is also restricted, and its civilian version, L7018S, is slowly being completed, but the Ubon area was still not available in mid-2009 (Figs. 7a&b.).

At 1:250,000 the army also produces the Thai sheets of the worldwide Joint Operations Graphic (JOG) series. The civilian version (1501S) of this is generally 20-30 years old, so very obsolete in terms of road and irrigation infrastructure. The density of rural populations also means that the map shows and names only a selection of the villages that exist on the ground. Depiction of urban areas is also poor. JOGs are also produced in an updated restricted series (1501) for official use only, but while the use of digital data produces a more spatially accurate map than the outdated hand-drawn civilian edition, the uppermost data layers often obscure the layers underneath, so the result is much harder to read.








I moved to Ubon Ratchathani in late 2006, finding employment at Ubon Ratchathani University (UBU). As part of settling in, I obtained all the city maps that were available, both to find out what the city had to offer, and to be as independent as possible in getting around. With no ability in Thai, it was impossible for me to use a phone book, or request information from city hall or even the tourist office, as the English skills of the staff were decidedly limited. In addition, the normal channels to obtain local information in a western city were simply not available in a regional Thai city such as Ubon. There was no welcome pack, even in Thai, from the local council, no translation service, and little bilingualism among local officials, let alone the general population.

One of the first tasks was to master the public transport system. In Ubon this consisted of an almost nonexistent taxi fleet (in stark contrast to Bangkok), a fleet of bicycle-rickshaws or samlor ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], literally 'three wheels') operated by elderly men and generally ferrying local women home from the wet markets, a small fleet of two-stroke three-wheeled tuktuk ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], an onomatopoeia) that sat outside the shopping malls and operated fixed prices to major destinations such as the airport and railway station, and songthaew, the municipal bus system. The songthaews covered a dozen or so fixed routes operated by Toyota pickup trucks with two benches down the sides of the tray ('song thaew' means 'two rows'), which is covered by a raised tin awning (Figs. 6a&b.). The government puts the routes out to tender, and the vehicles generally operate daily, running every 10 minutes or so from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a flat fare of 10 or 15 baht (35 or 50c) paid to the driver upon disembarkation. Each operator's fleet is a different colour (pink, blue, white or red), with routes indicated by large numbers on the front, sides and rear of the vehicle. The termini and major intermediary destinations are written in Thai (only) along the sides.

Despite the small number of routes, my Thai family were unable to say exactly where the songthaew went, as they did not ride them themselves. So I set out to ride each route in turn and map the routes in different colours on a municipal basemap for the central urban area and a 1:50,000 topographic sheet for the outer fringes. Due to the one-way street systems in the centre of each of Ubon and Warin, and other peculiarities of certain routes, it was necessary to ride each route for its entirety in both directions. It was also necessary to ride the routes in the middle of the day, rather than late afternoon, as towards knocking off time drivers had a habit of deviating from their routes to drop off a regular customer at his doorstep. (6) One circular route (#8) had a formal on-demand deviation that caused me some confusion when the bus stopped at the junction and the driver got out, came around to the back tray and asked me (in Thai) whether I wanted to go down the deviation or not. The termini for the various routes were generally dirt parking lots, with a covered sitting-table and a pit toilet. Invariably the drivers were surprised not only to still have a passenger at the end of the route, but a foreign non-Thai speaking one. One rang an English-speaking friend on his mobile to act as a translator to find out where I wanted to go, as he was sure I was lost. It was very difficult to explain that I had no specific destination and that I just wanted to ride the bus to one end of the line and then back to the other.

As mentioned, one or two routes shown on the TAT map had not existed for several years, but it took several weekends waiting at different intersections for several hours to establish this. Likewise, there were some routes that did exist, but were not shown on the TAT map. One, #13, was particularly infrequent, and hardly ran on weekends at all, when it was easiest for me to ride. After passing one of the vehicles parked outside its driver's house one night, I returned with my Thai wife in order to interview the driver. He confirmed the route existed, but bemoaned the lack of patronage that had forced the route to reduce its frequency to hourly or less, and drop the weekend service. Little wonder the driver despaired, because the provincial transport office subsequently denied the route even existed!

Besides my own needs, the bus route information proved invaluable for numerous short-term foreign visitors to UBU, many of whom were housed on the rural campus 15 kilometres from the city, and had to use the songthaew system to get to the banks, shopping centres, railway or bus stations in town. (7) Many copies of the map were drawn up by hand and passed on to visitors directly or via the Office of International Cooperation which organised most of the visits.


It became clear however, that a proper map of Ubon was necessary, not only for my own personal use, but also for short term tourists or visitors and long term residents, whether Thai or foreign. There was certainly a gap in the commercial market for a good city map, and a mapping project would fulfil not only my own need for geographic knowledge of the city, but also my employer's requirements for staff to undertake community service, as well as my own desire to provide practical assistance to the local community. To meet my personal requirements, and those of the envisaged market, the map needed to show all major features of the city, including bus routes, and it needed to be both accurate and bilingual. The question was how to obtain sufficient large-scale and geographically extensive basemap data, given that the municipal basemaps were inaccurate.

Some government agencies had their own GIS datasets, which it proved possible to access, but these tended not to offer complete coverage of the whole urban area. Aerial photographs were available from the RTSD in Bangkok, but were relatively expensive, updated only irregularly, and of too small a scale to be useful for an urban street-mapping project. (8) At the time Google Earth and Google Maps did not have data outside of Bangkok of sufficient resolution to be useful, (9) but there was a local equivalent: This website offered satellite imagery for Thailand only, but of much higher resolution than Google initially had, at least for the greater Ubon area. Although the data was undated, and obviously several years old in some places, Point Asia had the additional advantage that each screen image could be emailed, or saved as a jpg, by right-clicking on it, a feature that Google Maps appears to have deliberately suppressed. Over several days of good internet connectivity (10) the entire Ubon metropolitan area was saved and printed as a series of tiles.

Over the following 18 months my weekends and holidays were spent driving the streets of Ubon with the printed images, a pen to make annotations, and a notebook to record street and place names. While the city is relatively small, and technically traversable on foot or by bicycle, these means of getting around were impractical for mapping. Firstly, the heat and humidity. Secondly, the poor quality footpaths (where they existed) and the hazard of Thai road-users made it unsafe to concentrate on mapping rather than on what other drivers might suddenly do. Third, the sight of a solitary foreign male making suspicious notes down back alleys and unable (or at least apparently unwilling) to explain what he was doing tended to alarm local residents. Fourth, the number, aggression, unrestrainedness and rabidity of the local canine population, both feral and pet, made any unprotected exploration a literal life-and-death situation. Exploration and mapping was thus restricted to execution from the interior of an air-conditioned car. Where lanes became too narrow to drive down, or were blocked by other vehicles, fallen trees, political rallies, funeral wakes or monsoon floods, it was possible to briefly sally forth armed with a golf club both to test the depth of muddy puddles, and for protection from dogs.


Choosing what to include on the map was an evolving process. While mapping began with a general idea of the information needed, some features became apparent only as the project progressed, and required a rapid resurvey of previously completed areas.

Roads were naturally the primary feature. I wanted to include all roads and lanes, and highlight those that were songthaew routes. I also wanted to indicate road surface: sealed or unsealed. A third surface category, 4WD, rapidly became necessary to indicate roads that were basically vehicle tracks, passable best by 4WD or motorcycles, or on foot, rather than by passenger cars. Roads within temple or government compounds, and footpaths, were also included for completeness. Determining surface type was not difficult, although sealed roads were sometimes so potholed that they were worse to drive on than 4WD tracks. Differentiating between unsealed roads and 4WD tracks was somewhat subjective: if I felt my wife would be likely to object to having her car on a particular road, due to its overgrown or rough condition, then it was considered a 4WD track. Several of the more major roads in and around the city are divided, and these were mapped as such, indicating the various official (and unofficial) U-turn locations. This was especially important in terms of mapping songthaew routes, as several routes have to go almost a kilometre past the main bus terminal before they can U-turn and pull into it. (11)

Street names are perhaps the biggest bugbear for a cartographer in Thailand. Major streets have names, and usually have street signs. These are blue rectangles, with white lettering, surrounded by fancy brass moulded fretwork, and each mounted on its own pole (Figs. 9a&b.). The Thai lettering is large, and in those cities, like Ubon, which include it, a romanisation is given in much smaller letters underneath. These signs, where they exist, are very pretty, but are often missing, overgrown by neighbouring vegetation, or were never erected at all. Where the local council has not provided street signs, a local resident may have made one from wood or tin, and attached it to a tree, pole or fence. Initially, the words on all such signs were carefully copied down and the map dutifully labelled with them. Then I discovered that many actually read 'private road', 'don't drink and drive' or 'beware of the dog'! I subsequently learnt to read enough Thai to distinguish a street name sign from an informational sign. (12)


In one outer area, there were no street signs at all when I first mapped it, but the council subsequently erected them, necessitating a return expedition. However, these streets, which used a numbering system, had sometimes had the wrong signs erected so that a street with one number at one end, was given a different number at the other end, and that number was also used for a completely different street again elsewhere in the suburb. Despite these council errors, it was relatively simple to work out which signs were erroneous, and to label the map accordingly.

Current Thai practice seems to be to name lanes (soi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) off a road (thanon [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) after that road, followed by a number. Thus in Ubon, the main road north through the city is Thanon Chayangkun. The lanes off this road are Soi Chayangkun 1 through 21 on the west side, and Soi Chayangkun 2 through 42 on the east. The lanes off these lanes are then sub-numbered. Thus Soi Chayangkun 10/1 is the first lane off Soi Chayangkun 10. (13) The numbering system replaces older individual names for the lanes (Soi Chayangkun 10 was formerly Soi Sa-ngiamchit (Fig. 9a.)). These older names are often given in smaller Thai script (and sometimes romanised) on the street signs. Besides the current numbering system, and the older names, there may also be informal names by which a lane is known. For example, years ago Soi Chayangkun 12 (formerly Soi Ruamchit) used to have a large Pepsi Cola sign near its entrance and is thus informally known as Soi Pepsi even though the Pepsi sign has long gone, and there was never any official sign saying 'Soi Pepsi'. (14)

Besides roads and bus routes, it was necessary to comprehensively map a variety of landmarks and places of interest. Perhaps the most important were place of worship, particularly Buddhist temples. Temples are generally surrounded by a relatively high concrete wall, for privacy and to block external distractions and noise. Many of the inner city temples owned an entire city block but had sold or leased a strip of land around the roadside edges upon which two- or three-storey shophouses had been erected. This provided both an income source for the temple, as well as a noise and sight barrier. All previous mapping had simply indicated the presence of a temple on a block with a point symbol. In my case the true extent of the temple precincts is shown with a coloured area fill, leaving the area occupied by shophouses blank, so that the various entrances are clearly marked. The roads within temple compounds were also mapped, and significant ponds or buildings indicated (e.g. the historic library on stilts in a pond in Wat Thung Si Mueang in central Ubon). As a pink area fill was used to indicate the compounds of places of worship in general, a Japanese-style sitting-Buddha clipart was found online and modified for use as a pictogram symbol to indicate Thai Buddhist compounds.

A number of Chinese Buddhist clan joss-houses are also dotted around the city. These were indicated with a swastika, a typical religious and cartographic symbol for them. (15) Despite the careful use of swastikas lying square rather than diamond-wise in the Nazi fashion, this symbol proved troublesome for some westerners, particularly a Jewish American to whom I had to explain the long pre-Nazi history of the symbol and its ubiquity amongst Asian religions. (16)

Ubon is a Catholic diocesan seat, as well as having various protestant churches, including Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness and Mormon, all serving the Thai populace. The Thai-speaking foreign Christian population generally attend Thai services, while non-Thai speakers have established home groups, although at least one church offers a monthly service in English with translation into Thai or vice versa. A cross was used to indicate churches of any denomination, with an abbreviation such as LDS or JW to differentiate denomination.

The one mosque in Ubon serves a small Muslim community of Pakistani descent. A simple crescent was used as a map symbol for this. A three-storey shophouse gurdwara in the centre of Ubon serves the local Sikh community. This latter group has not intermarried with Thais but maintains its ethnic purity and distinct beard-and-turban dress. This temple proved somewhat harder to find a simple symbol for, but eventually a clipart khanda was located and utilised.

Chinese, Christian, and Muslim cemeteries, generally associated with their respective places of worship were indicated by the same pink area fill and a black tombstone shape upon which a white swastika (17), cross or crescent was superimposed. Buddhists cremate their dead in the temples, so there are no Buddhist cemeteries.

Government offices were another important feature to map, for their own significance, and as landmarks. Most offices are set in a compound, originally so that employee housing could be provided behind the office building itself. With large compounds, mapping the internal roads and entrances was important, because, as with temples, other maps showed a simple point symbol but did not indicate of which side of a block the entrance was. The Regional Community Development Centre occupies a massive kilometre-long block, but with only two entrances, both on the same side of the block. Some compounds have internal roads joining entrances on opposite sides, and which are effectively public thoroughfares. This complexity was depicted using a bureaucratic-light-grey area fill to indicate the extent of the compound, dark grey lines for internal roads, and small block dots to locate individual offices as necessary. A hollow star was used to highlight the provincial hall, and the several district and municipal halls. Police stations are indicated with a clipart police badge. This is solid black for regular police, and hollow with an English letter to indicate specialist police forces (see Fig. 13). A fire-truck clipart was used for fire stations.

Schools and medical facilities are likewise situated in compounds, which often provide housing for their staff behind the classrooms or hospitals. An orange fill was used for educational establishments, with a triangular-flag-above-a-rectangle symbol for schools, and a clipart mortarboard for tertiary institutions. Where temples or churches had their own schools in their compound there was almost always a distinct boundary between them, such as a wall, that could be mapped. Local community health centres, usually just a small purpose-built building in a suburb, were indicated by name and a black dot, leaving the hospitals proper to be given a khaki area fill for their compounds and a symbol of a white-bordered green Greek cross. The Greek cross is used as a medical symbol throughout Thailand, and is thus both inoffensive and well-known to the local population. The Thai Red Cross offices and regional blood centre were differentiated from hospitals by use of a white-bordered red Greek cross.

The boundaries of the various local administrative units are important in terms of jurisdiction; however they are poorly marked, if at all, in the landscape. For a foreign resident in particular, determining where one jurisdiction ends and another begins can be vital in terms of determining which government offices need to be visited. While most Thais would know which jurisdiction their house was in, even the government officials were unsure of exactly where the boundaries lay. As a political geographer, I was surprised how difficult it was to get accurate information as to local boundaries. The Thai administrative hierarchy is:
Kingdom       Prathet

Province      Changwat   [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE   76 in total (75 plus
                         IN ASCII.]               Bangkok)

District      Amphoe     [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE   The district
                         IN ASCII.]               containing the
                                                  provincial seat is
                                                  termed Amphoe Mueang
                                                  [TEXT NOT
                                                  REPRODUCIBLE IN

Subdistrict   Tambon     [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE   Those with urban
                         IN ASCII.]               functions are termed
                                                  thetsaban tambon
                                                  [TEXT NOT
                                                  REPRODUCIBLE IN

Village       Muban      [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE   A single village, a
              (Mu)       IN ASCII.]               grouping of separate
                                                  hamlets, or, due to
                                                  urban growth, a
                                                  suburb. For
                                                  particularly in mail
                                                  delivery, muban are
                                                  officially numbered
                                                  within each tambon.
                                                  Thus: Mu 9, Ban Rian
                                                  Thong in Tambon Non

I visited each tambon and amphoe office in turn, seeking maps showing their boundaries, and the extents, names and numbers of their component villages. A list of village names and numbers was easily supplied, but the village boundaries are often only hazily known, and sometimes actively disputed. This is partly a consequence of an incomplete land survey and administration process, and partly local politics. Tambon, the lowest real level of bureaucratic government, are now expected to create their own mapping for planning and regulatory purposes. This is beyond the educational and budgetary capabilities of almost all of them. Some may have bought government paper topographic mapping, some may have even obtained raster or vector topographic map data, but few have the software or know-how to use it. Mapping generally consists of sketch-maps of individual villages, or of the tambon as a whole. But in hardly any of the maps produced by neighbouring tambon did boundaries agree. Even with the municipality of Ubon Ratchathani, whose own base-maps show pillars at important turning points along the boundary, attempts to locate the pillars failed in all cases at the locations mapped, although a couple were found in place further down the road. The legislation that I have seen suggests that tambon are defined as comprising specific villages, amphoe are defined as a collection of specific tambon, and provinces as a collection of specific amphoe. But if the basic unit, the village, does not have clear boundaries, then the whole structure is undefined. This may explain why even on the government topographic maps, province boundaries are shown as being 'approximate only'. Even in a seemingly simple case like Amphoe Mueang and Amphoe Warin, whose common boundary is the Mun River, maps produced by each amphoe, and by their component tambon, did not agree on whether the boundary was the middle of the river, or the right (south) bank. Neither could local officials clarify the situation. As the majority of maps placed the boundary on the right bank, my map shows it there too, but notes it is approximate. The tambon boundaries are also best-guesses, based on the local maps as well as Point Asia's satellite imagery to help identify any likely natural boundaries such as streams or distinct vegetation changes. Despairing of identifying village boundaries, I simply labelled them with their name and number within their respective tambon. The municipalities of Ubon Ratchathani, and Warin Chamrap, which have superseded their namesake tambon, are subdivided into many tiny wards, usually consisting of one or two city blocks. As these have very limited local functions, and were so small and numerous, it was considered unnecessary to identify them on the map.

Other important features are hotels and restaurants. Hotels fall into a number of classes, from the multi-storey business hotel, often but not always with its own in-house restaurant, to a few backpacker-type places consisting of one or more old wooden houses on stilts in a largish compound. In between are apartment complexes, which are happy to let rooms by the day, week or month. There are many of these springing up, serving mainly the Thai market. Similar to apartments, but aimed at the local secondary and tertiary student market is the euphemistically-named 'mansion' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which usually consists of a two- or three-storey block with very basic rooms, each with a bathroom and a small sink and gas-bottle-powered cook-top under the rear veranda. There are also a number of rent-by-the-hour trysting places, blocks of windowless air-conditioned rooms, with curtained carports to hide the patron's vehicle. Having found by personal experience that some of the hotels shown on the city maps in Thinknet's (2007) road atlas were such BYO bordellos, a conscious decision was made to exclude them from my map. While my conscience disliked a moralistic subjectivity deciding what businesses to include or exclude, the location of these low-end places in back lanes meant they did not serve as landmarks, and rather than create a separate symbol for them, which could perversely highlight them, I chose to exclude them rather than have some poor late-night traveller stumble into one expecting a genuine accommodation option. Likewise the many 'mansions' were excluded as they serve a specific local market and are generally not accessible (or attractive) to adults or non-Thais. Thus the places indicated as hotels are genuine accommodation available to Thais and foreigners alike (even if the receptionists prove to have no English language ability).

Restaurants provided another exercise in subjective culling. Any third world city is overrun with possible places to eat, so that comprehensiveness is impossible, and unnecessary. What is needed on a map of such a city are the establishments which are geographical or culinary landmarks. Thus the several western chains (KFC, Swensen's, Starbucks) are depicted for their dual roles as being oases for the culinarily-unadaptable tourist, as well as location-identifiers for the lost. The major local restaurants are also shown, both those which feature high-class western and Thai menus, and those whose signage, architecture or popularity make them stand out to a passer-by. Not all the restaurants marked have English menus or English-speaking staff (not even all the up-market ones), but they are all more than simply noodle-and-curried-rice shophouses.

Besides restaurants, Ubon has plenty of drinking establishments, mostly simple beer-and-whisky joints serving the local youth or truck-driver markets, often with female companionship at an additional cost. Some of these actively refuse entry to foreigners. Others are hangouts run both by and for resident western males. Initially bars and restaurants were differentiated on the map, but this seemingly simple dichotomy turned out to be a very subjective line in the sand, dividing places that serve food with beer from places that serve beer with food. Ultimately one symbol, a simple black triangle, was used to indicate restaurants or bars, but only a few of the later were included, mainly for their geographic landmark character.

However, restaurants proved the most temporally-unstable of the features on the map. Several that were included early on, either moved or closed down during the nearly two years that the map took to compile and publish. Others opened, or changed owner and name. One moved after being mapped, was accordingly relocated on the map, only to close permanently a few months later. While map-users have been very understanding, it was professionally frustrating, even if known to be inevitable, that the map would be out of date as it rolled off the press.

Numerous other features are shown, both to assist the map-user, aid route choice, and, in the frequent absence of street names, to indicate landmarks so as to enable the user to give or receive directional instructions.

A major visual feature of the map are the two military areas, developed particularly during the Vietnam War on the edge of the two cities, but are now almost enveloped by urban sprawl. While locked down during the increasingly frequent periods of national crisis, the two bases are home to a large population of resident personnel and their families, so there is always a constant stream of people going in and out. The bases are also open to visits by non-residents, partly by necessity, and partly as a public-relations exercise by the military: both feature golf courses open to the public. The RTAF base was formerly traversable by road, but transit traffic has been prohibited for several years.

Other features shown on the map either for their intrinsic utility or as landmarks include petrol stations and LPG stations (differentiated by colour); cultural facilities such as the museums, cinemas, libraries and TAT office; shopping malls, the several municipal wet markets and various commercial or industrial establishments; the high-voltage transmission lines that bring electricity westwards from Lake Sirindhon and southern Laos; the many radio masts for TV, radio, VHF and mobile telephonic broadcast and transmission; and the dozen or so enormous billboards that dominate the major roads.


For maximum utility, the map needed to be bilingual. This presented a number of issues in map production and design. Some background information on Thai is given below, in order to place these issues in context.

Thai, along with the closely related Lao language, falls into the Tai-Kadai language family. (18) Orally, Thai is tonal, like Chinese or Vietnamese, with five tones. (19) The Thai script, whose earliest surviving examples date from the thirteenth century, derives from Khmer, and is thus ultimately Indic in origin. (20) Like European languages, Thai is written left to right, but it has only one case, not the upper and lower cases of the European alphabets.

The Thai 'alphabet' consists of 44 consonants (21) whose pronunciation depends on the position within a word (either non-final or final). These consonants consist of 21 phonemes, but of these, only nine can occur as the final sound of a syllable (22) (Mallikamas et al, 2004, 1041). Some consonants also have different sound values in different positions in a syllable (e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = 'l' in non-final position: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = ling, but 'n' in final position: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = Ubon, not Ubol). The difference between the large number of consonants and the small number of sounds is partly due to the evolution of the spoken language, with homophonic consonants now representing different tones rather than sounds as they once did. Many of the consonants have very similar shapes, even though they have completely different sounds. Unlike the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, the letter forms are also quite elaborate, with some letters being distinguished only by the position of the 'head', a small loop with which handwritten letters commence. The 44 consonants and two additional consonant-vowel glyphs are here grouped by shape to show how easily different letters can be confused.


Alphabet posters also typically depict 28 vowels, written with one or more of the 18 characters shown below (the last three of which can also used individually as consonants): (23)


The vowels have an official order, but are considered subordinate to the consonants which form the alphabet. For example, the vowel symbols are never used in the two-letter groups on vehicle licence plates, nor are they used in alphabetical indexing. (24) The vowels are never found in isolation, they are always written with a consonant to form a syllable, which is the basic unit of the Thai language. (25) Although Thai is written from left to right, vowels are not necessarily written after the consonant that proceeds them in pronunciation. Rather, although pronounced after a given consonant, vowels may be written before, after, over, under, before-and-after, over-and-after, or before-over-and-after the consonant. For example, using the consonant [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (s):


Sai Sa Si Su Se Sua Sia

In addition, there are also four tone marks which sit on top of consonants (and above any vowels over those consonants) which indicate changes to the consonant's expected tone:



Four other marks are also used, two written after a word, and two written atop consonants. l indicates a doubling of the preceding sound (e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = tuk ink); [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] marks abbreviations (e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = Ubon [Ratchathani]) (26); [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] shortens a syllable's vowel sound (e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = lek); and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] silences the consonant beneath (e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = kan, not kanot). (27)

Another important feature of written Thai is the lack of spaces between words. Each sentence in Thai is written as a gapless sequence of syllables. Spaces are used in the same way commas and full-stops are used in English to indicate pauses. This makes Thai quite difficult for foreigners to learn, because due to the different sounds consonants make in non-final or final positions within words, it is necessary to identify the end of each word within a string to pronounce it, and the subsequent word, correctly. (28) Alongside this difficulty, Thai adjectives follow the nouns they modify, in contrast to English where they precede them. Therefore the names of streets, schools and other places, in Thai, will begin with the noun 'street', 'school', 'office', etc., and then run directly into the adjectival name. So instead of "Chayangkun Road" or "Ubon Ratchathani University", Thai writes the equivalent of 'Roadchayangkun' or 'Universityubonratchathani'. For foreigners trying to read such names on signs it takes some effort to work out where the actual name begins (Fig. 10.).


The romanisation of Thai script is a vexed topic. Systems that reflect Thai spellings fail to reflect the correct pronunciation, and vice versa, so that no simple two-way system is possible that allows the romanised text to be easily converted back into Thai. ISO standard 11940:1998 provides a true two-way transliteration system, but it is intended for scholarly use, and is too complex and unintuitive for the layman. Thailand's Royal Institute developed a General System of Transcription (Royal Institute, 1999), which follows pronunciation rather than spelling, and is fairly intuitive and systematic, but even this system does not differentiate long and short vowels, or tones. While officially mandated, the system is followed more in the breach than the observance, even by the government itself. Even in outward-oriented Bangkok, sequential signs on major highways may exhibit half a dozen different romanisations of a road or suburb name. Adding to the chaos are the authorised exceptions to the General System, such as 'baht' instead of 'bath' for the Thai currency, and which affect a number of important place names such as 'Ubon Ratchathani' instead of 'Ubon Rachathani'. So generally, each government office transcribes place names in its own random manner.


With the Thai government unable to implement this single simple transcription system, however imperfect, it is no wonder that foreigners have great difficulty learning to identify and pronounce place names, let alone the language as a whole. The problem raises serious issues for a cartographer too. Should a map give a standardised romanisation, the official romanisation, the romanisation preferred by the owner of the feature, the romanisation on the road signs pointing to a feature, or the romanisation on the gate of the feature? Should any obvious errors in spelling/romanisation be corrected? What if there are several signs or known romanisations all of apparently equal validity or local preference? There is no obvious answer. Whatever method is chosen, there will be some discrepancy between the map and the real world, and thus potential confusion. There may even be cause for personal offence. (29) In my case, the best answer seemed to be to use the General System throughout the map. This had several advantages. First, it was consistent. Second, it was the official government system. Third, as the map was bilingual, the romanisation would reflect the parallel Thai script, allowing a foreign user to attempt to pronounce a place name so that a Thai could understand it, or identify a place name on the map having heard a Thai speak it. Fourth, it would assist foreign map users to learn to read some Thai. Fifth, there was a handy downloadable free software programme (Aroonmanakun, 2007) that would give the General System romanisation for any inputted Thai text, greatly speeding the work (Fig. 11.). (30)


Even after a method of transcription of Thai is chosen, there remains the issue of how much translation should be used within feature names. For example, should [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] be simply romanised as 'Thanon Chayangkun', or should it be half-translated as 'Chayangkun Road'? Similarly, should other words like Wat, Rongrian, Rongphayaban and Samnakngan be transcribed as such as part of feature names, or translated into Temple, School, Hospital, and Office? And should translatable feature names themselves be completely translated so that 'Talat Yai' becomes Big/Main/Central Market' or 'Rongphayaban 50 Pansa Maha Vajiralongkorn' becomes 'Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn's 50th Birthday Hospital' or 'Rongrian Thetsaban Ubon Ratchathani Thi 4' becomes 'Ubon Ratchathani Municipal School #4'?


On the one hand, full translation helps a foreigner because he can understand the entire name, and it is easier to remember. On the other, it creates a communication barrier between Thai speaker and English speaker. This is not an academic argument. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Thanon Witthayu) in Bangkok, the location of many embassies, is often rendered Wireless Road, using the century-old translation of Witthayu, the Thai word for radio. But while the word Wireless is meaningful to Anglophones and easier to remember than Witthayu, finding a taxi driver who knows Wireless Road will be difficult. (31) Ideally perhaps, a map should include the Thai script, romanisation, and a full translation. But Thai place names are often long enough already (particularly those commemorating royalty), so that trying to include three names for every feature would crowd out the map with text.

In the end the official Thai name was mainly used, and a General System romanisation of the place name itself. Thai words like Thanon (road), Soi (lane) and Wat (temple) were considered sufficiently well-known by foreigners not to need translating, and for space reasons the first two were abbreviated to 'Th.' and 'S.' respectively. Rongrian (school) and Rongphayaban (hospital) in contrast were translated and abbreviated to 'Sch.' and 'Hosp.'. Unlike the method of romanisation, therefore, the choice of what to translate and what to leave simply romanised was not uniformly systematic. Subjective decisions were made, based on what I felt would best serve the needs of foreigners, whether tourists or long-term residents.

For example, the several bridges over the Mun River have official names carved on them, although the names are not used by locals. The map reproduces the names in Thai, but translates them into English for the sake of interest, rather than simply romanising them. Thus the 'Princess Mother Centennial Bridge', the 'Rattanakosin Bicentennial Bridge', and the 'Freedom and Democracy Bridge'. In contrast, the '50 Pansa Maha Vajiralongkorn Hosp.' was more important to keep untranslated for obvious safety reasons.

For aesthetic and space reasons common minor features such as 'mast', 'hall' and 'WT' (water tower) are named in English only on the map, and kilometre stones are numbered '27km' rather than '27[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]' as is actually painted on them. It was felt that Thais would have no difficulty in understanding the international abbreviation 'km', but foreigners would struggle to understand the Thai script version. For completeness, a glossary in the top left corner of the map explains all Thai and English abbreviations, and translates those given in only one language on the map.

Another issue was the lack of spaces in Thai place names. In order to assist foreigners identify the component parts of multi-word names, particularly basic words such as those for 'school', 'office', 'village' or 'market', spaces were inserted between words in the Thai script names, so that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] became [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to match with the English 'Ubon Ratchathani Sch.'. Thais subsequently commented that this was of course incorrect, and I would not do this again, although I still believe it is helpful for foreigners.


The map was created on my work PC and my personal laptop. Both machines had keyboards featuring both the Roman and Thai alphabets. (32) Rather than buy a specialist cartographic or GIS software, I used the graphic design software CorelDraw X3 (i.e. version 13), which I already owned. The previously-downloaded Point Asia satellite imagery was imported into Coreldraw as jpg tiles, and the road network, water bodies, boundaries of temples and government compounds, and other features were traced and then sorted into various layers, so that line, fill and lettering styles were easily applied (and changed if necessary) to all similar objects at once. The imagery was then deleted, leaving the traced linework to form the map.

A decision needed to be made between two main mapping styles for streets. The first, the A-Z, or UBD style, as used in the well-known street directories produced by those companies, depicts roads as a relatively broad ribbon bordered by two black hairlines, and the street name is placed on the ribbon. The second, the Melways style, as used in that directory, depicts each street by a thin unbordered line, coloured to indicate the class of road, and the street name is written parallel to the street.

Aesthetically, the second style seemed preferable. In addition, there were several practical advantages: It was much easier in Coreldraw to draw an unbordered line, than a bordered one; thinner lines for roads left more space to accurately depict features within blocks such as temple or government office compounds; complicated intersections, traffic islands, u-turn locations or tight clusters of lanes were much easier to depict accurately with thin lines; and it proved much easier to place the large amount of text necessary for bilingual labelling adjacent and parallel to the thin street lines than to try to bend the names to fit within the course of a broader ribbon. While Coreldraw's functionality permits text to be bent to run parallel to a curved or angled line, it cannot handle Thai script's complex vowel and tone marks above and below consonants. These marks get misplaced when text is bent, and the problem did not appear fixable. A workaround would be to make each letter in a word into a separate text object and position each individually, but the effort required, and the inconvenience when manipulating groups of objects, was not worthwhile. Text placement was therefore restricted by the need for it to be linear, albeit at any angle. Where necessary, the Thai and English names were made into separate objects for placement along particularly curved roads, but generally it was most convenient to keep them together as a single object. Luckily the majority of Ubon's streets are generally straight, and not as sinuous as say Canberra's!

Area features such as parks or office and temple compounds were mapped by tracing polygons with coloured fills. This readily identified different types of land use, and made the map visually appealing. Pastel shades were used for fills, and primary colours for linear features such as roads and administrative boundaries (Fig. 12.).

Coreldraw does not have many built-in symbols; rather they need to be created by the user. There are a large number of clip-art objects, both within the package, and obtainable from Corel or other websites online, which can be used and edited as necessary within the package. Most of these are intended for use on posters or PowerPoint slides, and are too 'arty' for cartographic use. I ended up using a combination of self-drawn basic shapes (small circles for masts, water towers and 'miscellaneous' landmarks, triangles for restaurants), some basic self-drawn cartographic symbols (a house shape for hotels, a triangular flag atop a rectangle for schools, a cross for churches and a crescent for mosques), and pictograms (a clip art soldier to indicate military areas, a fish in a square for wet markets, and a trolley in a square for shopping malls) (Fig. 13.).


The space requirements of bilingual mapping forced the abbreviation of names, and the use of as small a font as possible. Choice of appropriate fonts was tricky. Ideally a single font was needed that contained both Latin and Thai characters and which rendered both scripts clear, and equally visually dominant, at a given point size. The font needed to be readable in both scripts by foreigners, that is, a Thai needed to be easily able to distinguish the different Latin letters, such as 'f from 't', while a non-Thai needed to be able to easily distinguish the various Thai letters from each other, such as f from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Sizing the two scripts needed careful thought. While, like Latin, Thai has some letters which extend above or below the general body of characters, the latter's various vowel and tone marks cause a much greater vertical spread. If individual Thai and Latin letters are about the same size as each other, the Thai vowels and tones marks cause the Thai script to visually dominate, and necessitate large gaps between lines of text. If the overall vertical spread of Thai text is reduced to that of Latin text, the individual Thai letters are too small compared with the Latin to be equally readable. The standard Latin font, Times New Roman, has no Thai letter capability. The standard Thai font, Angsana New, includes Latin, looks fairly similar to Times New Roman, and the two scripts fit well fairly together at the same point size, although for a given point size, this font is significantly smaller than many other fonts. Tahoma, a block-letter sans-serif font, was another option, but while it looks good on screen its Thai characters seem to print quite heavily, and I do not find its Latin characters as aesthetically pleasing as a serif font.


12-point Times New Roman (no Thai character availability) Qwerty

12-point Angsana New (the standard Thai font) Qwerty [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

12-point Tahoma (a sans-serif font) Qwerty [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

Angsana New was therefore chosen, although in Coreldraw, the Thai tone marks are always placed as if there were a vowel between them and the consonant, even if there isn't, and so they can visually appear quite disjointed from the word to which they apply, and create an inordinate amount of space between lines of text. This doesn't seem to be a problem in Word.

Choosing the limits of the map was another problem. While the urban area is relatively well defined when seen from the air, on the ground it can be hard to visualise where it ends. This is because the highways approaching Ubon are increasingly lined on both sides with development, whether residential or commercial. Beyond this single row of closely-packed buildings there may well be open rice fields but from the road this is not at all apparent. So from the ground, a traveller thinks he has reached the city long before he actually has, but an aerial view proves he is really still way out in the 'countryside'. A map that did not include all the true urban area was not professionally satisfying to me, but the larger the map became, the more cramped the inner city detail became and the more vast the rural areas became that existed around the bridgeheads of development. A decision was made to include everything within the 46 km-circumference ring road (Highway 231), and any relatively urban development beyond this, particularly where this contained important features such as government offices. I also wanted to include the termini of as many songthaew routes as possible. Thus the map extends north of the ring road to include the northern terminus of route 8, and west far enough to include the bend of the Mun River around the river beaches of Ban Khu Duea, whose floating restaurants and whisky-joints are popular with local tourists. The larger featureless rural areas within these limits were covered with the map title, legend, glossary, and enlargements of the central business districts of Ubon and Warin, so that there was not too much bare white space.



A one-kilometre grid was added to the map for ease of measuring distance. Initially it was intended to use this as the basis for a Cartesian coordinate system to index the map. However, the work involved in indexing all the administrative units, streets, schools, temples and other features, in two languages, proved too daunting, and I felt it was better to publish the map quickly while it was still up-to-date, than take several more months to complete the index. The lack of an index is the greatest failing of the map to me, but my time was better spent organising printing and marketing.


Given the geographical limits chosen for the map, and a sensible potential scale range, it would fit onto two portrait A0 sheets with some useful central vertical overlap, or four landscape A1 sheets with vertical and horizontal overlap. Ubon has several printers, but none could handle paper sizes greater than A1. As it was easier to deal with a printer locally than find one in Bangkok, this automatically restricted the possible paper size to A1.

Without an index to print on the rear of the map, the option remained to print the map double-sided on two A1 sheets, or single-sided on four sheets. The former was cheaper, but the latter would allow the map to be wall mountable. Single-sided printing was chosen, so that the map could be more easily sold to commercial and governmental customers who were expected to be more likely to want to wallmount it.

Having fixed the limits of coverage, and the print format, the question of scale remained. Should the map be at a 'nice' scale such as 1:12,500 or 1:15,000 for ease of distance calculations, or simply scaled to fit the paper as best as possible? The latter was chosen, to maximise both the fit to the paper, and to ensure the scale was as large as possible to ensure a readable text size without the text dominating the cartographics of the map. The final scale was therefore 1:14,200 with city-centre enlargements at 1:7100 (unfortunately when fitting the map to the chosen paper size, the scale fractions on the enlargements were not also changed, so while the scale bars are correct at 1:7100, the fractions still read 1:6500 from an earlier scaling attempt).

Printing costs money, and another trade-off is that of cost per unit and total quantity. The more copies are printed, the cheaper each unit and so, hopefully, the easier to sell, at the risk of printing far more than the market can bear. The per-unit costs of 250 and 500 maps were too high to make the map marketable, whereas a print run of 2000 or more would be far too many to sell. Therefore a run of 1000 was chosen as a sensible compromise.

I attempted to find a sponsor, who in return could have his logo placed prominently on the map. It had been suggested at an early stage of the mapping process that individual businesses be approached with a view to them buying an advertisement around the edge of the map, or using their logo to highlight their location on the map. This is an approach used by some tourist maps in Thailand already, but I felt strongly that a map should be as objective as possible, so that features should be included for their own importance, and not on the basis of whether the owner is prepared to pay. Any space taken up by advertisements was also space not available for the map itself.

Initially I approached the TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) office, as I knew their maps were outdated and inaccurate, and given it was their business to promote the city, I felt my map, with space to prominently include their logo, was sure of at least some support. Other possibilities were the local Chambers of Commerce, (33) and the hoteliers' and restaurateurs' associations. For reasons of language and connections, the assistance of a budding young restaurant owner was enlisted. The son of a local hotelier, he was enthusiastic about the map and developing tourism in Ubon. Despite these attributes, he had no luck at the TAT, nor at either of the Chambers of Commerce. I then turned to my own Faculty, which, teaching tourism, I felt would at least have an interest in marketing the map as a student project. The faculty dean was indeed happy to fund the entire print run. The map was therefore printed single-sided on four A1 sheets (Figs. 8a&b.), each folded down to A4 size and together with an A4 bilingual coversheet was bagged in clear plastic bags. The coversheet described the map's features, while a section of the map showing the central city was visible through the back of the bag. The map was published under the faculty's imprint in 1000 copies in late 2008, almost two years after I had first begun mapping the local songthaew routes.


The next issue was that of pricing. On top of any wholesale price at which the faculty sold the map to shops, should the retail price be fixed, or should it be left to individual retailers to set? Many products in Thailand have set retail prices incorporated into their labels. After some thought, a wholesale price of 100 baht and a retail price of 150 baht were set. These were nice round numbers, and provided a 50% profit to both the faculty and to on-sellers. It also set a 'level playing field' for all sellers, and allowed me to concentrate on promoting the maps.

The expectation that the faculty would assist to market the map, particularly the potential for a practical final-year project for its marketing students, proved sadly illusory. Despite the faculty having paid for the maps, there was no enthusiasm to then sell them, either as a promotional tool for the faculty itself, or even as a student exercise. Additionally, limited internal university communication systems on a large rural campus did not allow for easy contact with individual staff and students, so that advertising the map even within the university community was difficult. I contacted staff with whom I was personally acquainted; one foreign professor took 20 maps on the spot, to give as gifts to his outside contacts, but few of the Thai staff were interested. This may have been disinterest, or simply a lack of ability to read a map or appreciate its utility to others. Similar reactions were found outside the university.

Unable to enlist collegiate assistance, the onus of marketing thus fell back on me. The obvious initial market to tap was that of my fellow foreign residents. Utilising my own social networks, this market segment was rapidly saturated, mainly through point-of-sale displays in the bars, bakeries and restaurants frequented or run by foreigners. The initial consignment was taken by one bar on New Year's Eve, and as much to the publican's amazement as mine, sold out the same night. Other copies were sold by directly approaching individuals from the foreign community.

Other market segments proved more difficult. While comprehensive, the map was perhaps too large for the average foreign tourist who was only in town for a night or two. While the TAT maps were inadequate sketches, my map went to the opposite extreme. Nevertheless, the reaction of the TAT office was astonishing: they said it would be "inconvenient" for them to stock the map, even simply to sell on my behalf. An offer to mount a map on their blank wall was also politely declined. The best that they could offer was to make available a list of other shops that sold the map.

Getting the map into other shops was also frustrating. The initial hope that shops would buy five or ten maps upfront, even if just to support the university, was completely naive. Even the offer to leave ten maps, together with a small poster for the shop's window, and collect the money once all the maps had sold, was generally met with refusal. Business culture in Thailand, as in Asia generally, is based on personal connections, not product quality. As an outsider, let alone a foreigner, and with extremely limited Thai language skills, I was unable to sell a product, however good the shop-owner would admit it to be, because he did not know me, and this despite the university faculty's logo. Another difficulty with cold-calling on my own was that the person behind the counter was invariably not the shop owner, but a shop assistant with no authority to stock more product. On the other hand, those establishments where I was known, even if only as an occasional customer, were happy to take ten maps and display the advertising poster. Where I could establish a connection, things became easier again. So when time allowed, my wife would accompany me not just for linguistic reasons, but as a manifestation of personal connection through herself or the university. Even so, some businesses would not even reply to emails or telephone calls requesting a meeting with the owner.

A further issue with breaking into the Thai market was the complete lack of a map-reading culture. (34) Local residents did not need a map because they felt they knew the city. Because detailed maps are not generally available, Thais have developed other strategies to cope with a lack of geographical knowledge. They will avoid (or simply not even consider) going somewhere with which they are unfamiliar; they will employ a local to take care of business in that area; they will use family or friends or other connections to obtain information on what to do or where to stay; they will take a guided tour rather than plan a trip themselves. (35) Given a map, few locals are able to understand it as rapidly as a typical westerner who has had more experience with using maps.

Many of the local government offices from which toponymic information had been obtained had asked for a copy of the map. A copy was therefore presented to their planning or mapping officer. At the first office, the officer accepted the map as if it was another of the many official gifts given as a matter of routine, and it was obvious that the map would be added, unopened, to the pile of such gifts on the table behind him as soon as we left the office. In order to avoid this happening again, the map was opened up in front of the recipient to point out how it depicted his own jurisdiction. The combination of a foreigner giving something to the local council, and the big pretty map being unfolded on the desk encouraged all the bureaucrats in the office to see what was going on, and so enabled the utility of the map to be highlighted to them, as well as that extra copies were available and could be on-sold. This proved a much better strategy, and the gratitude was thereafter genuine, particularly from several smaller jurisdictions where the staff said that they were expected to make maps themselves, but had no data, no training and no equipment. At one office, the local mayor was pulled out of a meeting to see me, and immediately used the visit as a photo opportunity.


The two years it took to produce the map of Ubon provided me with enormous insight into the geography and functioning of the city. By the time the map was completed, I knew the road system better than most local Thais. This proved invaluable personally, and allowed me to assist the foreign tourists whom I would at times see standing bewildered on the side of the road with a Lonely Planet guidebook, or with one of the abominable TAT maps! Besides the geographical knowledge, mapmaking proved a motivation to learn the Thai language, which, with an English-speaking wife and a job teaching in English, I otherwise had little incentive to learn. Through the mapmaking process, I learnt to read, write, type and transliterate Thai script, and to use a Thai dictionary, although I certainly do not profess to being able to communicate in it. (36)

The process of map creation from fieldwork survey to marketing was highly educational. Creating a map effectively from scratch also turned out to be a much longer and harder activity than I had initially expected. In the tropics the weather can rapidly submerge a road in floodwaters; snakes, dogs and even hostile locals make exploration on foot potentially dangerous, and the seemingly simple process of annotating printouts of satellite images proved enormously time-consuming even from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle.

Despite my best intentions, there was an astounding subjectivity in what to include and what to exclude. The objectivity of the map was also compromised by the different needs of two pairs of dichotomous potential users: Thais and foreigners; and residents and visitors to Ubon. When the needs of these different user groups conflicted, I tended to lean towards those of foreigners and tourists, whether this meant excluding 'love hotels', or putting spaces in Thai placenames. Perhaps this was subconsciously an attempt to make a map that I myself would want to buy. In the former case I stand by the decision I made, while in the latter I rapidly realised that I had made the wrong choice. Balancing the needs and expectations of such a diverse potential customer base is difficult, and requires much more thought than I had anticipated, and a careful consideration of one's own biases.

Given the time it took to complete the map, it is not surprising that the city continued to change: unsealed roads were concreted, new housing developments sprang up, restaurants opened, moved or closed, and businesses changed names. No map can ever be an exact snapshot in time. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to have a product become out of date even while in press, and marketing can be difficult if a potential outlet has a changed location or name since being mapped.

Making a map does not, however, end when it goes to press. A good product will not always sell itself. Sales take a lot of time and follow-up, and in Thailand, as in much of Asia, personal contacts are vital, and more especially so for a foreigner with limited language skills!

Cultural issues must always be taken into consideration in symbology. My choice of a swastika for Chinese temples, while cartographically acceptable in Asia, proved difficult to accept for westerners. While their ignorance of history beyond Hitler can be bemoaned, it is somewhat ironic that in trying to make a bilingual product useful to a multicultural audience, I overlooked the very obvious reaction from my own culture. (37)

While my street map of Ubon has by no means sold out, and commercial marketing has proved frustratingly difficult, word of mouth had been surprisingly effective. A framed copy of the map was presented by my faculty to the local Department of Industrial Promotion. Several guests at the event wanted their photos taken in front of the map, and others asked to know where they could get copies. On another occasion, a cafe that stocked the map reported one tourist came in, saw the advertising poster, asked to see a copy, and promptly threw his own map in the bin! My wife has reported foreigners introducing her to their friends as 'the wife of the guy who made the map', an immediate ice-breaker!

So despite the cost in depreciation and damage to my wife's car, several vehicular boggings, the sweat and the pursuit by dogs, knowing the map has helped others find their way around, do business, or simply find some of the intriguing backstreet sights, sounds and tastes that I discovered during its creation, I am proud to have been able to put my cartographic interest to a practical use, that in its own small way has, I hope, contributed to the betterment of Ubon Ratchathani.

Acknowledgements: The map of Ubon would not have been possible without the unfailing patience of my wife Suthida, who tirelessly helped with translations, and continued to allow me the use of her car for surveying, despite it frequently being returned covered in dust, mud and scratches. The generous financial support of the Faculty of Management Science, Ubon Ratchathani University, in printing the map is also gratefully acknowledged.

Note: Readers interested in purchasing the map can obtain copies from a number of restaurants, hotels and other shops in Ubon Ratchathani, directly from the Faculty of Management Science at UBU, from White Lotus publishers in Bangkok, Asia Books branches across Thailand, Mary Martin in Singapore, Omni Resources in Burlington, North Carolina, Asia Bookroom in Canberra, or Mapworks in Melbourne.


ALPHA RESEARCH CO., 2008, Thailand in Figures 2008-2009, ed.13, Nonthaburi.

AROONMANAKUN, Assoc. Prof. Wirote, 2007, Thai Romanization, computer programme, version 1.25, May, Dept. of Linguistics, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

COMRIE, B., MATTHEWS, S. & POLINSKY, M. (eds), 2003, SBSAtlas of Languages, rev. ed., ABC Books, Sydney.

DEPARTMENT OF PROVINCIAL ADMINISTRATION (Thailand), n.d., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 2551 [Rai-ngan Sathiti Chamnuan Prachakon Lae Ban Rai Changwat Rai Amphoe Lae Rai Tambon Na Duean Thanwakhom Pho So 2551 / Statistical Report of Population and Households Classified by Province, Amphoe and Tambon as of December 2008], 3 webpages from to give national and provincial totals. 11 webpages from through to give totals for tambon, thetsaban tambon and amphoe within Ubon Ratchathani province. All accessed 10 February 2010.

DILLER, Anthony, 1996, 'Thai and Lao Writing', in Daniels, P.T. & Bright, W. The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, New York, pp.457-466.

JONES, Stephen B., 1945, Boundary-Making: a handbook for statesmen, treaty editors and boundary commissioners, Monograph No.3, Division of International Law, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C.

MALLIKAMAS, Prima, CHAKRABONGSE, Narisa & PIAMMATTAWAT, Paisarn (eds), 2004, Oxford-River Books English-Thai Dictionary, Oxford University Press/River Books, Oxford/Bangkok.

PN MAP CENTER / PHRAN NOK WITTHAYA MAP CENTER [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], n.d., Map Ubon Ratchathani / [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1:350,000 province map/1:20,000 city plan, Bangkok.

[THE ROYAL INSTITUTE / RATCHABANDITTAYASATHAN] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1999, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Lakken Kan Thot Akson Thai Pen Akson Roman Baep Thai Siang, Guidelines for the transcription of Thai characters into Latin Characters], The Institute, Bangkok. Available online at

ROYAL THAI SURVEY DEPT. [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] / Krom Phaenti Tahan], 1964-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Thailand 1:50,000, series L7017, esp. sheets 5939-I [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ban Nong Tae' ed.3-RTSD, 1974, & 5939-II [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Changwat Ubon Ratchathani', ed.4-RTSD 1993.

--, 1969-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Joint Operations Graphic 1:250,000, series 1501, esp. sheet ND 48-2 'Changwat Ubon Ratchathani [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ed.5-RTSD, 2006.

--, 1969?-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Joint Operations Graphic 1:250,000, series 1501S, esp. sheet ND 48-2 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Changwat Ubon Ratchathani', ed.2-RTSD, 1983.

-, 1993-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Thailand 1:50,000, series L7017S, esp. sheets 5939-I [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ban Nong" Tae & 5939-II [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Changwat Ubon Ratchathani', both ed.1-RTSD, 1993.

--, 1997?-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Thailand 1:50,000, series L7018, esp. sheets 5939-I [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ban Nong Tae" & 5939-II [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Changwat Ubon Ratchathani', both ed.1-RTSD, 1999.

--, 2005?-, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Thailand 1:50,000, series L7018S. Coverage does not yet include Ubon Ratchathani.

THINKNET CO. LTD., 2007, Thailand Deluxe Atlas / [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1:550,000 road atlas with 105 city plans at various scales, Bangkok, ed.2.

TOURIST AUTHORITY OF THAILAND NORTHEASTERN OFFICE REGION 2, n.d. a, Ubon Ratchathani: unseen in Thailand, English language tourist pamphlet with province map and schematic city plan.

[--] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 2, n.d. b, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival, bilingual Thai/English language tourist brochure with schematic city plan including songthaew routes.

VELLA, Walter F., 1978, Chaiyo! King Vajiravudh and the development of Thai nationalism, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

WHYTE, Brendan R., 2008, Street map of the cities of Ubon Ratchathani & Warin Chamrap / [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1:14 286 / 1:7142 (given as 1:14,200 / 1:6500), 1 map on 4 sheets, Faculty of Management Science, Ubon Ratchathani University, Ubon Ratchathani. In English and Thai.

--, 2010, The Railway Atlas of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, White Lotus, Bangkok.

WINICHAKUL, Thongchai, 1994, Siam Mapped: a history of the geo-body of a nation, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

YOUNG, Edward M., 1995, Aerial Nationalism: a history of aviation in Thailand, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.


(1) After Nakhon Ratchasima, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi and Tak. A 77th province, Bueng Kan, to be carved out of eastern Nong Khai province, was approved by the Thai cabinet in August 2010.

(2) After Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima; but it is expected to drop to eighth place by 2015, as the provinces immediately surrounding Bangkok overtake it in population size (Alpha Research, 2008, 69).

(3) Defining an urban area in order to establish its population is very subjective even in developed countries. The population of Ubon's metropolitan area is probably behind Bangkok, Chonburi-Pattaya, Nakhon Ratchasima, Hat Yai, Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and slightly ahead of Surat Thani. A simple calculation of 195,000 for the urban population of the metropolitan area at the end of 2006 is made up from the following figures (Dept. of Provincial Administration, n.d.), rounded to nearest thousand: 1) In Amphoe Mueang: Thetsaban Nakhon Ubon Ratchathani (i.e the municipality of Ubon Ratchathani) (85,000), Thetsaban Tambon Ubon (6000), Thetsaban Tambon Kham Yai (30,000) and Thetsaban Tambon Pathum (10,000) for a total of 131,000. 2) In Amphoe Warin Chamrap: Thetsaban Mueang Warin Chamrap (30,000), Thetsaban Tambon Saen Suk (24,000) and Tambon Kham Nam Saep (10,000) for a total of 64,000. The rural population within these areas is probably more than balanced by the urbanised populations of neighbouring tambon where Ubon's metropolitan urban area is sprawling outwards, so that an overall estimate of 200,000 or even 250,000 is not unreasonable.

(4) The district containing the capital city of every province is known as Amphoe Mueang. Mueang ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means 'city', and also by extension 'province', 'country' or 'world'.

(5) Civilian edition topographic maps used to be fairly widely available a decade ago in larger bookshops, particularly the chain stores. One of the few such remaining stockists is in Central Plaza Lat Phrao in Bangkok.

(6) Songthaew are frustrating as public transport because of their complete cessation by 6pm, the lack of a transfer ticket system, and the tendency of drivers to crawl along the kerbs thus hoping to increase their own clientele at the expense of the driver of the following vehicle. The population thus have little alternative in the tropical climate to buying their own vehicle to make even very short trips.

(7) For unknown reasons none of the songthaew routes went within a kilometre of the airport.

(8) Surprisingly, aerial photography seems more openly available from the RTSD than the topographic mapping derived from it, although a personal visit to the RTSD in Bangkok is necessary to find out exactly what is available and get suitable prints. Aerial photography is normally illegal in Thailand, without prior Ministerial approval. This may not be as strictly enforced as it once was, although all Thai Airways (but not Air Asia) domestic flights to Ubon announce that photography over Ubon is forbidden, because Ubon airport, like many Thai domestic airports, is on an RTAF base.

(9) During the course of the mapping project, this changed, and it was often useful to compare imagery between Google Maps/Google Earth and Point Asia, especially when cloud cover obscured one site's images.

(10) Internet and electrical blackouts were not uncommon, and heavy rain was likely to interrupt both, particularly at UBU's rural campus. In addition, UBU's internet was connected through a government server in Nakhon Ratchasima, and was frequently offline, on one occasion for several days when technicians went unannounced to Bangkok to watch the annual university games! Besides a missionary-run internet cafe near my home in Ubon, several foreigner-oriented or higher-end cafes also opened in 2008-2009 offering wireless services, cakes and coffee in air-conditioned comfort, and these obtained much of my custom.

(11) This can obviously be alarming for non-locals when their songthaew seems to speed past the terminal without stopping. Accurately mapping such route peculiarities was considered vital for a good map.

(12) Uncritical recording of supposed foreign toponyms on maps has a distinguished history. A century ago in East Africa, G.E. Smith (cited in Jones, 1945, 202), recalled: "In [former] German territory, some distance south of Ndasegera, is an inhabited country called Losalik, or Sonyo. The latter name is an instance of the difficulty of correctly naming places when the dialect of the guide is not well known. It means 'Thingumabob', and was doubtless the answer of a guide who had forgotten the name. One mountain in those regions figured on the map in the Masai equivalent for 'I forget', Atorigini. I cannot even now be certain that some of my place-names are accurate. I had to alter one, viz, Olotoiboiologunya, which I found really meant, 'Your boy has gone on ahead.'

(13) There is little consistency in how sub-lanes are numbered; indeed what seems to be a grid of sub-lanes each deserving its own number may in fact be considered a single lane with a single number. How the postman delivers the mail successfully remains a mystery to me.

(14) I once tried to have pizza delivered here, and the telephonist at the Pizza Company (a local business that bought out Pizza Hutt's operations) had no idea where Soi Chayangkun 12 was, despite the basic logic of the numbering system, but she knew Soi Pepsi, and the pizza got through.

(15) For example, swastikas are a standard symbol for temples in Japanese topographic mapping.

(16) The swastika was adopted by the Nazis for its Aryan symbology, Aryans being the peoples who spoke the parent language of the Indo-European family. However it was widely used not only in ancient India but also in China, and the Red Swastika Society, a Chinese benevolent society, continues today in Southeast Asian diasporic communities.

(17) Just before this article went to press, the proof-reader pointed out that in the map key, reproduced in Fig. 13, the Chinese temple swastika is clockwise while the cemetery swastika is anticlockwise. This is a meaningless and inadvertent inconsistency on my part, and has not been corrected because Fig. 13 is a reproduction of the map legend as printed.

(18) Formerly considered members of the Sino-Tibetan language family, the similarities that led to this earlier classification of Thai and Lao are now considered to be the result of borrowing and language shift (Comrie et al., 2003, 62).

(19) Middle, low, falling, high, and rising; also called the Common, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th tones.

(20) A comprehensive overview of Thai and Lao writing is given by Diller, 1996.

(21) Of these 44, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the third and fifth in order, are obsolete and have been replaced in all cases by [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the second and fourth, respectively. Although the two obsolete consonants are still considered part of the 'alphabet', and appear in children's alphabet posters and songs, and on computer keyboards, they do not occur in dictionaries. There are four other 'letters', [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which represent consonant + vowel combinations. These are not considered part of the alphabet proper because they are not simple consonants. In dictionary arrangements however, the first two are inserted immediately before, and the second two immediately after, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the 36th consonant.

(22) Hence the difficulties native Thai speakers have in pronouncing the final consonants of many English words.

(23) Technically, linguists would classify these as representing 21 vowel phonemes, and four vowel + consonant 'syllable-like forms'. It should also be noted that there is an inherent unwritten vowel sound 'o' following each (non-final) consonant unless overridden by a written vowel: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = mot, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = mit, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = mut etc.

(24) Because the Thai consonantal alphabet is almost twice the size of the Latin alphabet, and also because recourse to a dictionary is not common practice, native Thais, even the highly educated, have great difficulty using alphabetically arranged indexes such as dictionaries, phone books, street indexes and the like with the same ease a European has in the Latin alphabet.

(25) The State Railway of Thailand's two-letter railway station codes are an interesting exception, where one or two vowels may appear in isolation from associated consonants (for examples see Whyte, 2010).

(26) Perhaps most commonly seen in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = Krungthep, an abbreviation of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = Krungthep Mahanakhon, the official name of Bangkok.

(27) Although Thai has twelve consonant clusters such as kr- or bl-, these are only double clusters (never triples, such as the English 'str'), and such clusters never occur at the end of a syllable. Thus the Thai difficulty in pronouncing a final 's' on English plurals whose singular form ends in a consonant (e.g. webs). Many English loan words are spelt in Thai letter for letter as they are in English, but the 'consonant killer' mark is placed over the first consonant of a final pair to eliminate the possibility of a Thai trying to read the cluster as two consonant-vowel syllables. Thus 'resort' is written [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('ree-sor'), and not [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('ree-sor-rot').

(28) In 1917 the Oxford-educated King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) proposed writing all letters, vowels and consonants on a single line (a return to early forms of the script), in the order they were pronounced, and that spaces be left between words. This was intended not only to aid foreigners learning the language, but also to remove ambiguities Thais themselves had to face. Unfortunately the scheme was stillborn (Vella, 1978, 241-2).

(29) A former president of UBU decreed that the university's name must always be transliterated 'Ubon Rajathanee' on the basis of his own personal views on Thai etymology. So while a Highway Department sign a few metres outside the campus pointed to 'Ubon Ratchathani University', the university gate proclaimed 'Ubonrajathanee University'. The president refused to reply to correspondence which did not employ his preferred romanisation of the university name.

(30) Thai Romanization , version 1.25, May 2007, by Assoc. Prof. Wirote Aroonmanakun, Dept. of Linguistics, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Downloadable from or or or contact The ability to cut and paste text to and from the programme is invaluable. Interestingly Professor Wirote's romanisation of his own name in the programme's credits, like most Thai personal name romanisations, does not follow the General System (it should be Wirot Arunmanakun).

(31) A quick check of embassy websites revealed that the embassies of New Zealand, Qatar, Switzerland, the UK and US use 'Wireless Road' to cite their street/postal address, the Japanese embassy uses 'Witthayu Road' the official romanisation, Ukraine's uses 'Vitayu Road', and that of Chile, on a side lane, uses 'Soi Witthayu, Wireless Road'!

See the following websites, all accessed 2 Feb 2010:

Another example is Krungthep / Bangkok itself. Although Thais all use 'Krungthep' when talking in their own language, few, if any, would not understand 'Bangkok'.

(32) As Thai is now a fairly standard script in Windows applications such as Office and Coreldraw, it is very simple to enable Thai keyboard input via the Language Bar in Windows (or the 'insert-symbol' function). While Ubon's computer shops sold qwerty keyboards with Thai, Lao or Chinese characters in addition to the Latin letters, anyone outside Thailand unable to obtain a pre-printed Thai keyboard should easily be able to buy a set of stickers to add Thai characters to a standard qwerty keyboard.

(33) Ubon has two rival Chambers of Commerce, a second having been set up by younger entrepreneurs frustrated at the sinecurism of the original.

(34) This topic is beyond the scope of the present paper, but Winichakul (1994) shows how native Thai conceptions of space were impacted by the arrival of foreign powers with modern mapping concepts and technologies. Thailand's low map literacy is partly a result of this historical native culture, coupled with the restricted availability of maps common to many developing countries, especially those with a history of military or authoritarian rule or perceived external threats. Despite Scouting being a compulsory activity for all school children, few receive any useful education in map reading.

(35) This is not restricted to Thais. As recently as 1998, when I told a 19-year old Singaporean university student that I was driving from Melbourne to Broken Hill, she asked in all sincerity how I knew how to get there. The concept of travelling such a distance without taking along someone who already knew the road was completely alien to her.

(36) While the foreign missionaries spend much time learning the local language, and some long-term residents also make the effort, generally very few foreigners do. This is due partly to age and apathy, lack of need, or simply a patronising attitude. In Bangkok amongst the large number of UN employees for example, there is simply no need, as their working and social lives are conducted entirely in English. In the provinces there is a greater need to be able to communicate in Thai, simply because fewer locals speak English, but alongside the inability of the generally uneducated wives of western male residents to explain and teach the language to their husbands, a number of foreigners have suggested that their wives do not want them to learn Thai, because the wives can then gossip and complain to their friends without the husband being able to understand! In my own case, with a wife fluent in English, and a job that required me to teach in English, I must admit to a lack of motivation to make the effort to actively learn Thai.

(37) Cultural issues are a minefield in international marketing. Thai law is very unforgiving to any perceived slight to the Thai royal family. In contrast I have met Germans whose visits to Thailand are partly motivated by the ability to buy cheap Nazi regalia in militaria shops to take back home. I also saw a Thai woman in Ubon wearing a pink t-shirt with a large swastika and the single word 'Nazi', and who simply thought the t-shirt fashionable because it had an 'English' word on it. None of my own first and second year international business students had any knowledge of Hitler or Nazi ideology

Brendan Whyte [1]

[1] Brendan Whyte taught mathematics and statistics at Ubon Ratchathani University for two years. He has published papers on Thailand's postcode system, and Siamese involvement in the First World War, and an historical atlas of Thai, Lao and Cambodian railways. He is now Assistant Curator of Maps at the National Library of Australia. Contact:
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Author:Whyte, Brendan
Publication:The Globe
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Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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