Friday, November 30, 2007

Roman Catholic dioceses

While I focus on the civil subdivisions in this blog, there are more divisions of the country. The Roman Catholic church has a very formal territorial organization into ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses, and down to parishes. Probably the best website dealing with these subdivisions worldwide is Catholic Hierarchy, with updates posted in a special blog almost daily.

The Catholic Church in Thailand is a very minority church with only 0.5% of the population being catholic - the country is of course predominately Buddhist. But even though there are just about 300,000 Catholics in the country, the church has subdivided the country into two ecclesiastical provinces with ten dioceses altogether. Each of the diocese have one church designated as a cathedral, like the one of Ratchaburi depicted. Almost all of the diocese are aligned with the boundaries of the civil provinces, with one notable exception. The diocese of Chanthaburi is separated by the archdiocese of Bangkok by the Bang Pa Kong river, and also covers the whole Nakhon Nayok province except the district Ban Na. This oddity gets understandable when one checks the history of Nakhon Nayok province. The province was abolished in 1943, and Ban Na assigned to Saraburi, while the other districts were assigned to Prachinburi. The province was recreated in 1946. And in 1944, while the province did not exist, the apostolic vicariate of Chanthaburi was created, using the then existing civil boundaries. I only don't know why the Bang Pa Kong river was used as the boundary, maybe the elongated shape of Chachoengsao province and some catholic settlements west of the river were the root of this, but that's just my speculation.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Geotagging district articles

In January this year I noticed that Google Earth started to include a new layer with Wikipedia articles. Though there were earlier activities like the layer created by Stefan Kühn, once there was an official layer it made it much more interesting to have all the district articles also listed in Google Earth, hopefully to attract more contributors adding informations. With the Google Earth FAQ it was then quite easy to make sure the article showed up, so the only work left to be done was to add the coordinates to all those articles.

For extended entities it is of course the difficult question of what single coordinate point to use to represent it. One might choose someplace in the "middle" of the district, but then it would usually point to a non-populated forest or farm area. But as traffic signs in Thailand point to the districts, and in fact point to the district offices, these IMHO make a good distinctive point representing the whole area.

My main source of the coordinates was an overlay I found at thaigoogleearth which includes the locations of all the district offices, and for those areas high resolution imaginary is available I confirmed and fine-tuned these locations, as they were sometimes a little bit off. The holes in the high-res coverage of Google Earth were filled with PointAsia, a similar software but having high-res coverage of almost all Thailand - but sensitive areas like military places or the palace of the King are blurred out. Sadly while I was adding the coordinates for the three southernmost provinces Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat suddenly the high-res images in PointAsia disappeared. Maybe they worried they get used by the terrorists struggling these provinces, but I doubt it would hinder them a bit, as they are probably locals who know the places well enough without the need to use online satellite imaginary.

But with the help of the MapMagic map, and the street maps of Google Maps, now all districts have their geotag at least pointing close to the district office, and all show up in GoogleEarth already - except Wiang Kao created in 2005, which I could not find in any of the sources. All I know is that it is somewhere in the subdistrict Nai Mueang, but no more details yet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Flags of the provinces

Every province has a seal (ตราประจำจังหวัด), a circular graphic with some typical things of the province depicted. These are relatively often seen in Thailand, for example on the websites of the provinces, or also on the big street signs welcoming the drivers when entering a province. However I was quite surprised when I first saw the Flags of the World website talking about flags of the provinces (ธงประจำจังหวัด). These flags usually feature the same provincial symbol as depicted the seal, together with some colors which have some connection with the province. Depicted is the flag of Surat Thani province.

In Thailand almost every public place is cluttered with either the Thai national flag, a flag with the symbol of the King, or around temples a flag with the Buddhist wheel. But I never ever saw any of these provincial flags, not even at the province hall. Also the book "Thong Thai Laem 1" by Chawingam Macharoen I bought once does not mention them, just many other flags used in Thailand. The only official place I have seen these flags so far are PDF files with province profiles from the Ministry of Interior. But the flags in those are of so low resolution it hardly possible to make out the actual contents. The best renderings available on the web were at, however right now the section on the Thai provinces is "under construction". So this flag of Surat Thani I tried to create to match those low-resolution pictures, it is probably not fully correct with its aspect ratio, the colors or the size of that chedi in Chaiya in relation to the whole flag.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Spelling reform

The Thai word for the districts (Amphoe) is usually spelled อำเภอ, using the relatively rare character pho sam-phao. However in some Royal Gazette entries in the 1940s it is spelled อำเพอ instead, using the character pho phan. Both characters are absolutely identical, having the same pronounce and belonging to the same consonant class, the only reason to have different letters is to spell words originally from Sanskrit or Pali according to their original spelling. There apparently was a spelling reform at that time trying to make these duplicate letters obsolete, however it was rather short-lived as the old spellings show up again.

Another word which changed spelling during this reform was the one for subdistrict (Tambon) - normally spelled ตำบล (notice the lo ling at end, pronounced as a "n"), which was then changed to ตำบน with the no nu at end. For me this spelling reform would have been nice, then it would be a little bit more easy to learn to read and write Thai without having to care about the special spellings for words from Sanskrit/Pali. Also the Thai numerals were completely exchanged with the arabic ones.

One example for an announcement with this different spelling is the abolishment of Nakhon Nayok Province, which took place in 1943. When the province was recreated in 1946 the spelling reform was already over as well. So apparently this reform was one of the actions of the first rule of Field Marshall Phibul Songkhram, who had to resign when it became apparent that the Japanese, with whom Thailand allied, will loose the World War.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Minor districts

Nearly every newly created district is at first only given the status of a minor district (กิ่งอำเภอ, King Amphoe), and gets upgraded to a full district (Amphoe) after a few years when it fulfills the criteria for a full district. This criteria are a population of 30,000 people and at least 5 subdistricts (tambon), or if the area is more than 25 km away from the district office of the parent district a population of at least 15,000 and 4 subdistricts. According to the DOPA website the minor districts have almost the same function as the full districts, only registration and firearm works are still to be done at the parent district. However as the district offices are about the most important government agencies for the common people, the creation of these minor districts helps to avoid the inconvenience of a long travel to the office in remote and sparsely populated areas.

As mentioned earlier, there were no upgrades of minor districts since 1997, so there probably was quite a backlog of minor districts already qualified as a full district. In May of this year the government decided to upgrade all the 81 minor districts, regardless of their qualification. This upgrade was officially announced in the Royal Gazette in August and got effective by that time as well. So right now the country has no minor districts anymore, but several districts which wouldn't qualify to the above mentioned criteria for many years to come, for example the island district Ko Kut with just little more than 2000 citizens. But it seems that these criteria weren't absolute in the past either, as Ko Sichang with 5000 citizens was upgraded in 1994.

What I don't know is whether this complete upgrade of all minor districts means that when a new district is created now it will become a full district directly, or it will have new minor districts then. I don't know if any of the announcements around that upgrade mention this at all, so it's just wait till the first new district shows up. Hopefully I will be the first to announce it in English with this blog then...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Province Hall

The central administrative building of each province is the province hall (ศาลากลางจังหวัด, Sala Klang Changwat). It is often translated as town or city hall, but in real it has nothing to do with the town (thesaban) administration. Depicted is the province hall of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Located within this building is the office of the province governor, and those of the officers working in the various departments of the administration. It is also the place where the "provincial parliament" (องค์การบริหารส่วนจังหวัด, Provincial Administration Organization or short PAO) convenes. This elected body has only very limited power, mostly in budget matters, most power resides at the governor appointed by the Ministry of the Interior.

Often located directly next to the province hall is the provincial court (ศาลจังหวัด, San Changwat, sometimes also spelled ศาลาจังหวัด Sala Changwat). This is the main building for the judiciary branch.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New provinces to be created

Before the coup last year two planned new provinces made the news, including reaching international media. However it seems the plans to create the special administrative area around the new Bangkok airport (Nakhon Suvarnabhumi) as well as the unnamed province around Hua Hin, planned to be a gift to the 80th birthday of HM King Bhumipol, are both now shelved and won't surface anymore.

But not getting much prominence there seem to other new provinces in the making, some already mentioned in the navigational box for the provinces in the Thai Wikipedia:

* Chum Phae (ชุมแพ) or Phu Wiang (ภูเวียง), the northwestern part of Khon Kaen
* Mae Sot (แม่สอด), the five western districts of Tak at the border to Myanmar
* Thung Song (ทุ่งสง), the southwestern part of Nakhon Si Thammarat
* Bueng Kan (บึงกาฬ), the east of Nong Khai
* Phra Narai (พระนารายณ์), the east of Lopburi
* Na Thawi (นาทวี), the south of Songkhla
* Sawang Daen Din (สว่างแดนดิน), the northwest of Sakon Nakhon
* Fang (ฝาง), the north of Chiang Mai

I have no idea about the planning state of those provinces. And browsing the Royal Gazette there are entries talking about a province hall in Phon (พล, southern Khon Kaen), Lang Suan (หลังสวน, southern Chumphon) or Sikhio (สีคิ้ว, western Nakhon Ratchasima) - and I haven't searched systematically...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

District names in Isan in the 1910s

In several Isan provinces the districts were named in a common scheme, until they were renamed in 1913. There were districts named Udon (อุดร), Pachin (ปจิม), Thaksin (ทักษิณ) and Uthai (อุไทย), then followed by the name of the province. Only in case of Ubon Ratchathani the second part of the district name was just the short "Ubon" or Yasothon, which was part of Ubon Ratchathani then. These scheme was at least used in the provinces Sisaket, Ubon Ratchathani, Surin, Roi Et, Maha Sarakham and Kalasin.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

District creations since 1990

I am currently adding the citations from the Royal Gazette to the district articles, mostly working from present to past. I have now covered all the district created since 1990, as well as all the upgrades of minor district to full districts from 1990. So I can now do a little statistics on these last 18 years. The most obvious fact is that the last time a bigger number districts were created was on July 1 1997, as well as the last upgrade was on October 1 1997. After that there was just one district (Wachirabarami in Phichit) in 1998 and one minor district (Wiang Kao in Khon Kaen) in 2006, and now the upgrade of all the minor districts in August 2007. 1990-1997 there were between 10 to 20 new (minor) districts each year, and a similar number of minor district upgrades. Altogether 202 districts were created in this timespan.

I can only speculate what is the reason for this hiatus, my guess is that it was actually a result of the Asian financial crisis which broke out in 1997, and the government tried to save expenses by avoiding to create new posts in newly created districts. In the 1920s and 1930s there was a more severe budget crisis, which led the government to abolish several of the monthon and provinces to cut expenses, as mentioned earlier.

Maybe a lot of new districts are in the pipeline now, catching up the 10 years of no new district. Maybe the already assigned geocodes I talked about earlier are the new districts to be created soon?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Non-unique district names

Nowadays all the districts have unique names, with the notable exception of the five districts named Chaleom Phra Kiat, created in celebration of the 50th anniversary of HM the King ascension to the throne. There are a few more cases where only the English spelling is not unique, but the Thai spelling and pronunciation is different.

There are some interesting special cases in the history however.
  • In Kanchanaburi Province the name Sangkhla Buri was originally given to the district Thong Pha Phum, but in 1939 the name was reassigned to the neighboring district.
  • In Ubon Ratchathani Province the district Si Mueang Mai was originally named Khong Chiam, as it was the successor of the Mueang Khong Chiang. The historical location of that Mueang was split off as a minor district named Ban Dan in 1959. In 1971 the name Khong Chiam was reassigned to the newer district Ban Dan.
  • Something similar must have happened in Chiang Rai Province, where the minor district Chiang Saen Luang was renamed to Chiang Saen in 1939, while at the same time the district formerly known as Chiang Saen became Mae Chan.
  • In Narathiwat in 1939 the district Tomo was renamed to Waeng, and the name Tomo was given to the neighboring minor district Bacho (not to be confused with the Bacho in the north of Narathiwat, which is spelled differently in Thai).
There are also cases where a district name was later reused.
  • The district Lamphun was located in Surat Thani Province, and was renamed to Ban Na and later Ban Na San. Not to be confused with Mueang Lamphun district, which has the additional word Mueang in its name. There is also the district Ban Na in Nakhon Nayok, I don't know yet when that one received its current name.
  • In Trat Province, the district Laem Ngop was named Ko Chang till 1939. The present-day district was created in 1994.
  • The district Si Songkhram in Nakhon Phanom Province was originally named Akat Amnui, which is now a new district in Sakon Nakhon Province.
  • Ban Lat in Phetchaburi was named Tha Chang till 1939, the name is now given to a district in Saraburi
These are probably still not all the cases where a district name may be ambiguous when considering historical district names, when I find more later I will blog on those.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Missing Geocodes

The list of geocodes contains several obsolete geocodes, most of them are the codes of the districts (and their constituent subdistricts) of the provinces Sa Kaeo, Amnat Charoen and Nongbua Lamphu before these were created. For the subdistricts almost all the obsolete codes are those for minor districts created after the original geocode table was created. But there are a few cases where a geocode is missing for other reasons. I already could find the right answer for two cases - in Khura Buri and Thung Si Udom one of the subdistricts was reassigned to a different district, for Khura Buri the historical center of the district, for Thung Si Udom the subdistrict was included when the minor district was created, but one year later this was reverted.

The other cases where geocodes are missing are not so clear:
  • In Pa Bon the missing number should belong to a subdistrict created between 1987 and 1991, and the population numbers at DOPA list this subdistrict (without a name) for the 1993 statistics. But no trace in the Royal Gazette for a subdistrict creation or abolishment
  • In Mueang Nakhon Si Thammarat two subdistricts are missing, which seem to be named Sala Mi Chai (ศาลามีชัย) and Na (นา). But still haven't found the year they were abolished, and to which subdistrict they are added.
  • Other ones I haven't investigated in detail yet are in Mae Sai, Phon, Mae Sariang, Phu Luang, Kaeng Khoi and Pa Daet, each have a single number missing. I don't recall to had any unknown subdistrict in the populations numbers till 1993, so if these numbers belong to an abolished subdistrict this must have happened before 1993.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

District data to XML

I am right now at the Microsoft TechEd in Barcelona, mostly for learning about the new technologies for my job as a programmer. But hearing loads of talk about useful new things around XML, and because I haven't yet had the time to learn much about how to create and use XML so far, the idea of converting the spreadsheet collecting the data into a set of XMLs. Apart from learning XML in much more details than before, it will also allow me to collect data which does not fit into the simple spreadsheet type, and also create small tools querying the XMLs, e.g. to find all the territorial changes related with one district - minor districts split off, single subdistricts getting reassigned and so on. Right now I think the first thing to do is to collect all those Royal Gazette references into one list, saving what they are about, which entities affected... Then the first bigger task would be convert the small application I created to parse the population data websites of DOPA and convert them into the tambon tables in the Wikipedia articles to actually use a much smarter data structure, both for saving the data as well as internally.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

District geocodes

The Department of provincial administration (DOPA) uses a list of geocodes for each of the provinces, districts and subdistricts, modeled after the ISO 3166-2 codes of the provinces. Newly created entities get a number following the existing ones of course, though not necessarily in the same order as the official creation as the geocode already gets assigned when the district is in the planning phase. However when that list was started, the numbers of the then-existing districts wasn't created in a simple alphabetical order, or in creation order.

Minor districts were a partial subordinate of the district from which they were created, so in official texts they are referenced as "King Amphoe ..., Amphoe ..., Changwat ...". For the same reason they got assigned a number directly following their master district. Thus with the oldest new districts added at the end of the geocodes instead of directly after the master allows it to date when this geocode list was started. Chai Buri, created in 1981, got the 8418, but Phunphin (the 8417) wasn't its master, so these geocodes were started around 1980 already. Minor districts created in 1978 however are sorted after their master district.

The odd thing about this timing is the fact that the first draft of the ISO 3166-2 standard with geocodes for the provinces of 1988 was based on the US-created FIPS, and not the apparently already existing codes from DOPA. Also in the 1990 census a different geocode system was used, but for the 2000 census the DOPA system was also adopted by the census department. The ISO standard was officially published in 1993, then based on the DOPA system. Also in the 2000 census the DOPA geocodes were used.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Abolished Monthon

The monthon (circles, มณฑล) were an administrative entity above the provinces, created in the administrative reforms of Prince Damrong in the 1890s and 1900s. Ever since I first read about them while collecting information for a province article on Wikipedia I wanted to find out more about these entities, and the difficulty to find information on English only made it more interesting. So I finally got myself the book The Provincial Administration of Siam 1892-1915 by Tej Bunnag from a library and got many new insights reading it - just too bad its out of print, and none of the antiquarians ever had one yet. However as the title of the book already suggests, that book ends with the resignation of Prince Damrong from his post as interior minister in 1915, and only mentions shortly that some of the monthon were abolished in 1925, and then finally after the revolution of 1932 all were abolished. So it was a minor surprise when I read the Royal Gazette entry on the abolishment of several provinces in 1932 and found out that at the same time also the monthon Pattani, Chanthaburi, Nakhon Chai Si and Nakhon Sawan were abolished and the provinces under these monthon assigned to the remaining monthon. According to a poster in the 2bangkok forum the final abolishment was a retaliation to the monthon administrators supporting the Boworndej counter revolution attempt.

The map shows the monthon as of 1915. I created the map in Tej Bunnags book to illustrate the Wikipedia article on the monthon. But actually the provinces shown in that map are those of 1932 after the abolishments mentioned above, so as soon as I find the districts within these provinces I will create a new version of that map.

Too bad my Thai is still so bad, browsing through the Royal Gazette would give many new insights or small facts almost impossible to find in English, or garbled in sloppy translations.