Monthly Archives: June 2007

Digital Maps of Thailand


I have always had a fascination with maps. I can sit for hours flipping through map books and atlases. Either planning trips or reminiscing where I have been. Whenever I go anyway, I always want to be able to locate it on a map. Even when I am not driving myself, I like to have an idea of my location. I always found it difficult going places with Thai people. Frustrating is probably a better word. Thai people never seem to appreciate the Westerner’s fascination with maps. Thai people just go and somehow turn up at the right place. However, most Westerners like to plan the route in great detail. Another thing I have noticed is that many Thai people I know just cannot read maps. They may know a place very well but they have difficulty locating it on a map. The same goes for taxi drivers. Don’t even try to show them a map. Even one in Thai. All this probably goes a little way to explaining why there are no really good map books of Thailand.

Today I want to review a collection of digital maps of Thailand which I find to be extremely useful in not only locating places but also planning road trips. The best computer maps are published by ThinkNet and cost around 299 baht. They are available from good book stores such as Se-Ed and B2S. The scale for the Thailand version is 1:1,200,000 . But regions such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chonburi/Rayong, Phuket and Nakhon Nayok are 1:2,000. I have most of these installed on my computer. Fortunately they don’t need the CD-ROM in order to run the program. You can zoom in and out of the map as well as select a particular area to zoom in on. Just about everything you can think of is marked from schools and temples to tourist attractions and hotels. The maps are bilingual and you can change quickly between Thai and English. There is also a powerful search engine which you can use in both languages. This afternoon I was searching for a temple in Ratchaburi. However, I couldn’t remember the exact name. All I had to do was set the search engine to list all temples in that province. It found a total of 305 temples which it listed for me. I then scrolled down the list and then double clicked on the temple which I thought was correct. It then marked this location on the map.

Nothing on the map seems to be copy protected. So, you can add your own colour coded pins and captions on the map and then print it out. This helps a lot when it comes to planning trips which is what I am doing at the moment. There is also a copy button which enables you to paste the image in a graphics program. That is how I got the screen shot above. There is also a ruler which you can use to measure distances along different routes. It will tell you the distance for each step or the complete route you marked. Any favourites you added to the map are automatically saved. So, when you open the map again another day, you can easily look at these “bookmarks” and then zoom in on locations that you are interested in. At the moment I am planning a trip to Ratchaburi. So, as I am doing my research, I am marking these locations on the map with pins. Then, once I have finished, I can easily plan my route. My only complaint is that the Thailand map isn’t as detailed as I would like it to be. But, it has all local districts marked as well as most temples. So, it is a lot more useful than most map books. I will tell you about my favourite paper maps soon.

The Three Pagoda Pass

Three Pagoda Pass

I am not sure why, but I always wanted to go and visit the Three Pagoda Pass. I suppose there is a certain amount of romantic notion surrounding it. A remote border pass in the hills between Thailand and Burma. When I was in Pakistan, I made a pilgrimage up to the Khyber Pass that overlooks Afghanistan for much the same reason. It was a historical location. The three pagodas mark the spot where the war elephants of the Burmese army marched into Thailand during the wars with Ayutthaya. It is also believed that Buddhism spread from India to Thailand through this pass. The infamous Death Railway was also built through here during World War II.

For a number of years I had the Three Pagodas marked on my wall map. It was a 200 km long road all the way from Kanchanaburi and then back the same way. It was literally in the middle of nowhere and I thought I would never get a chance to go. However, last year I decided to go for a holiday to Sangkhlaburi. From here it was only a hop, skip and jump to the pass. So, was it worth it? Well, not really. The three, whitewashed, six metre high pagodas were a little on the pathetic side. They looked a little lost on a giant, grassy, roundabout close to the border with Burma. I wouldn’t suggest that you come all the way here for the pagodas, but if you are doing it as a side trip to Sangkhlaburi then for sure do a pilgrimage to the border. And if it is open, and you can get your passport and documents in order, you could even cross over the border for the day.

Welcome to Burma

The Death of Steve Suphan

(Left: The last known photograph of Steve Suphan. Right: The first published photograph of Steve’s re-birth as Stephen Cleary)

Perhaps not quite, but with a tear in my eye, it has been decided due to complete confusion – to change my name to Stephen Cleary.

After the result of very little deliberation, it was realized that having two names was a complete headache to other folk – and moreover, not exactly a very strategical move on my part. Once upon a time on the spur of the moment, I completely made up the name Steve Suphan (Suphan as in the province I live, Suphanburi) and went on to use that name at various websites and in particular…. thai-blogs. So, what happened? Well, almost a year ago now, I got the job at The Nation newspaper and the Editorial Boss sent me a mail specifying that it was company policy to use ones real name – and so Steve Suphan immediately got the boot there.

Another reason for the change is my first book which ought hopefully to hit the shelves in a few months. It is simply no good, as a writer, to have two names when one is already more than enough. Of course, I have to try and sell the friggin thing and so there is nothing more important than a potential buyer recognizing the author’s name.

The person to get me going in regards to the name-change was no other than Richard Barrow himself who has co-incidentally received e-mails from readers at The Nation asking him to forward on mail to Stephen Cleary. Yeah, I mean it isn’t too clever like, when you have a link from a page like that to here and have a different name.

I doubt you noticed, but just yesterday evening my name changed from Steve Suphan to Steve Cleary to Stephen Cleary in the space of an hour. Richard thought I wanted to use ‘Steve’ but I decided against it and believed it wise to use the posher sounding ‘Stephen’. I mean how many great writers have you heard of with a name like ‘Steve’? Compare that however, to how many ‘Steve’ football hooligans and petty criminals there have been. It’s a terrible thing really, but in the field of writing and the what-not, real names simply read better than shortened ones. Take Andy, that’s a nice name like, but for the bookstore/blog browser Andrew reads slightly more intelligent. Then we have Steward, who may be know to his boozing buddies as Stu – Michael as Mick, Jonathon as Joe, Richard as Dick, Harold as Harry or Walter as Wally.

In the meantime however, TWFKASS (The writer formerly known as Steve Suphan) is still known to friends, family and foe as simply Steve.

A name-change or not, I do hope you continue reading. Thanks.


The Conference

National Municipal League of Thailand 51st Annual Conference was held for three days commencing 20th June in Ambassador City Hotel Jomtien, Pattaya. The meeting brought together more than 2,000 mayors and other municipal officials from over 1,000 municipalities of different levels in Thailand, including the cities (thesaban nakhon), towns (thesaban mueang) and townships (thesaban tambon).

Various issues relating to local government policies and practices and updates were the main topics of the seminar, and the main objective was to create more efficient functioning at the local level of government.

The first day was for participant registration. Upon registration, participants were entitled to a bag with seminar materials, souvenirs and seminar allowance, regardless whether they truly showed up for the meeting!

The conference started on 21st June. There were many participants inside the seminar hall and they were also many hanging around, chatting or visiting the booths outside the hall, or even went out for fun. It seemed to be a rest and relax conference. Many exhibition booths were set up outside the halls. As this is the annual big event gathering all mayors and municipal clerks, the exhibitors did their best to promote their products and making offers to the mayors or other municipal officials. Somebody told me that there must be three important factors for one to do business with the municipalities: firstly, connection; secondly, connection and thirdly, connection too! 🙂

Conference In Progress/Exhibitor and Conference Ushers

Mayors & Product Promoters/Visiting The Booth

There was also a special session to discuss the issues in Southern Provinces in the evening. The mayors expressed their concern over various problems, for example the security, the development and the budget etc. It was more on a listening and collecting information session.

Like many other mayors, I intended to leave earlier for Bangkok. However, knowing that I like to see shows, my friends persuaded me to stay for the dinner performance. A lot of seminar participants had left but the grand ballroom with 300 tables was still full.

The opening performance was the colorful and sexy “Ah Gua” show, which Pattaya is popular for and followed by the human puppet show. I only realized that the puppets were real people when I went near the stage to take pictures. The show was marvelous and worth my stay. I ended another of my work and play trip with tiredness and happiness.

Dinner/The Ah Gua Show

The Puppet Show

Give The Kids A Break!

(The following article was published yesterday at The Nation newspaper. Here below however, is the originally un-edited submission)

You would never have guessed it, but quite amazingly, it has been strict government educational policy for the past few years to get Thai kids to think for themselves and seriously develop their analytical and critical abilities. And this was furthered last week by a planned introduction of ‘aptitude tests’ for university hopefuls beginning in the year 2010.

Excuse me for saying like, but you don’t need an Albert Einstein equivalent IQ to notice that a lot of Thai educators dictate that kids should simply not learn to be critical and develop any kind of open-mindedness. From just Grade One, Thai kids are taught to ‘repeat after me’ ‘recite a few sums’, believe everything their teacher says and sit in quiet obedience. Should one of them even dare to question a teacher’s advice, he will be on the receiving end of a boot out the door.

So, what do Thai kids learn at school besides the basic stuff and the beauty of a nice neat haircut? Well, in the mornings they may have to sing a rendition of some song which goes “Thailand is so good – the land of the free. Thai people are so kind”. Again, should any delinquent scoundrel propose any kind of critical analysis in due regard, his mother will be instantly summoned to the school for a serious discussion on the state of her son’s mental condition.

If the Ministry of Thought Control (Aka Ministry of Education) are serious about teaching Thai kids to be critical then they can start by abolishing their wonderful tradition of ‘A, B, C or D’ tests, which simply only evaluates ones memory skill. They should also cut down on some of the not so groovy subjects taught from time to time, along the lines of ‘I love my province’. I can perfectly recall at one government All Girls High school I was at, the hilarious time when it was ordered that the Grade 11 darlings be taught about Sex Education. Being a bit of a Nosey Parker like, wondering what the pitiable teacher’s lesson plan was for the one glorious hour, I came across a sheet of A4 on her desk entitled something like ‘The beauty of virginity and 10 other reasons to abstain from sex before marriage’.

(Kids at Richard’s school – not a government one! – enjoying an illustrated lesson on wearing a condom)

Beginning the year 2010, it has been proposed that the number of exam subjects be increased to eight. Besides just boring-old Maths and English, the kids may soon have to pass groovier tests which include Home Economics. Perhaps that’s a good idea though, as what else does the average man really wish for in life besides a voluptuous virgin bride who really knows how to cook. On top of testing the kids on their ability of making tasty Tom Yum Kung, I would sternly advise that they also introduce mandatory testing on other useful subjects such as this one – ‘Preserving the Environment’. Tricky examination questions I would recommend, include the likes of
“How should you dispose of a plastic bag?
A. Chuck it out a bus window B. Lob it in the nearest canal C. Tie it to a tree or D. Put it in a bin

The education authorities completely contradict themselves and I can recall a funky official quote by ONEC (National Scheme on Education) in 2002 which read ‘Thai people shall adopt desirable values and behaviour in accordance with the traditional ways of life’. Meaning therefore, that not only should Thai students sit down, shut up and obey the teacher, they ought also instinctively honour their elders and adhere to everything they say. Of course, it is utterly unheard of in traditional Thai culture to even think about confronting a person of seniority about some cheesy idea he may have.
And on the subject of ‘think about’, I can perhaps count on one foot just how many times a Thai student has asked me a question beginning with the words ‘Excuse me, what do you think about……..?’ Should you wish to experiment for yourself just how independent in voice some youths are, simply ask a young girl her idea of a perfect boyfriend and 99 out of 100 respondents will probably answer ‘He would be generous, handsome, responsible, tee-total and definitely non-smoking’. Of course, siding with the Thai youths, they do have their own notions but unfortunately they have been conditioned to silence them.

Youths everywhere, in the whole-wide world, always get the blame for the decadence of society and Thailand is by far and away no exception. Should little ‘Somchai’ be in the habit of using the computer often, it will be automatically presumed that besides playing games he will be downloading some Brazilian Blue Movies and chatting with some topless lassies on Camfrog. And talking about the Internet, perhaps the education authorities and their plans for teaching kids to think for themselves, ought immediately to call up Mr Sittichai at the MICT and inform him of their policies.

(I doubt it’s entirely their own fault that they ended-up like this)

Well, you certainly do not need a Masters Degree in psychology to realize that perhaps just a tiny part of Thai youth delinquency lies in the fault of parents and society. Let’s take a look at Somchai’s typical weekend activity; moving on from having to listen carefully to his teachers all week, he is next ordered by his parents to buck up his school grade by attending some over-priced private tutorial school at Siam Square. Regardless to whether his tutorial teacher may have just been released from a mental asylum, little Somchai will again have to just sit there and listen to the same old repetitive stuff that he has already been taught in his government school. What Somchai doesn’t know though, is that maybe he is only there because his parents, either don’t have the time to look after him or just can’t be bothered with the ho-bo lazing around the house all day.

Unlike a lot of the older Thai generation, countless foreigners on coming to Thailand are thoroughly impressed with Thai youths. Sat on a baht-bus in Pattaya, they may hear some smiling young students shouting from the street “Hello, where you go?” “Where are you come from? That is comparison to where I come from back in Farangland, where turban-wearing tourists on the bus, instead of hearing kind friendly words from the local kids, will instead be viewing a bunch of whippersnappers turning around, bending over, pulling down their pants and exposing their backsides full-frontal. Quite simply, Thai youths are not as menacing as what society makes them out to be.

The education authorities however, totally disagree with any such assertion of mine and just last week, besides the introduction of aptitude tests – agreed that due to children creating all the current social problems, that they be taught a nicely named new subject called ‘morality and virtue’. And it seems that the majority of parents are nodding their heads in approval. What the adult population amazingly doesn’t realize though, is that they are not too different to the kids’. Let’s have a look at some of the issues governing teenage delinquency and start with drinking. Come on let’s get serious, how can a father honestly teach his kids to stay away from alcohol when he himself sits hooching it up outside with his buddies every night? Then we have the hellish problem of hoodlum motorbike racers. Now, any pedestrian in Thailand would have realized by now that the country is not exactly famed for its lovely capable drivers. Look at Somchai’s dad, he sets a fantastic example: racing in and out of the traffic, driving through red lights and mowing over some elderly pedestrian before parking it on the pavement to the total inconvenience of every passer-by.

So, let us and not just the Ministry of Education, get a grip on reality and realize that the youth of today are only a reflection of the world we have brought them into.
And finally, if the Ministry of Education is genuinely serious about teaching Thai kids to think for themselves, then they ought to realize first that they would be in an extremely difficult Catch 22 situation.