Monday, January 31, 2011

Provincal marker stones and their accuracy of coordinates

In the latest issue of the geo: magazine I stumbled on an article titled "Are WGS84 and ETRS89 really identical?". Though the article is basically an advert for an application to convert between the two coordinate systems, the interesting fact which I wasn't aware of before is that additionally the the coordinate system WGS84 used by GPS there's the ETRS89 used in Europe simply to avoid the change of coordinates due to continental shift. With an annual movement of the Eurasian Plate of 2.5 cm the difference between the two coordinate frames will grow by one meter every 40 years. As GPS has an accuracy of about 10 meters, the difference between the two systems is not that relevant for most applications, though there are of course some few where a few centimeter make a difference.

While I haven't found values for the plate movements relative to WGS84 for any location in Thailand, since (southern) Thailand is on the Sunda Plate together with Singapore, the movement of an observatory there can give an idea for the speed further north. There it has a movement of 6 mm per year in latitude and 28 mm in longitude, a similar speed value as for Europe, so also there it's about one meter every 40 years.

Now to relate this with the administrative subdivisions, in 2008 I found a marker within the administrative center of Surat Thani, located between province hall and provincial court. This marker shown in the photo has inscribed the location of itself, both with longitude and latitude in degrees as well as the coordinates in the UTM system. Due to the reflections its not easy to read in the photo, but the values give a latitude of 9° 7' 58.32484'' North and a longitude of 99° 19' 53.90800'' East in WGS84. The UTM values are a Northing of 1,009,256.493 and an Easting of 536,772.956 in the Indian 1975 frame. As the UTM coordinates are measured in meters one can directly see the accuracy of the coordinate, which is 1 Millimeter! 0.00001 arcseconds at the equator correspond to 0.3 Millimeter, so even more accuracy. Given the above words of plate movement, as well as the inherit inaccuracy of GPS both values have a ridiculous accuracy, anything below one meter I cannot believe. I really wonder if any geographer was involved in the creation of this marker and how they came up with the last digits of these numbers, or if they were pressed by some official who though more accuracy is better, and any reason they last digits are simply nonsense were overheard.

When I was looking for the location of PAO office in Trang, I noticed that in panoramio someone had uploaded photos of a very similar stone located right in front of the PAO office, on the backside of the province hall. On the detail view one can see the same ridiculous accuracy of the coordinates. Though I had visited a few more province hall, I haven't noticed such a stone at any other than Surat Thani; would be interesting to know which other province halls have one, or even get some more background on how these markers were created.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Model province and district

The RCode list of municipality, province and district codes contains two additional codes which seem to make no sense at first look.
There is no province which has the code 97 assigned - Bueng Kan will receive the 38, so it cannot be meant here either - and even more the name of the Mueang district does not match the name of the province.

They only start to make sense once one translates the names of the two entities, then the province becomes "Example province" and the district "Test capital district". As the R in the RCode probably stands for "registration office" I suppose these codes are used for internal tests to avoid bickering with the real registration data.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bueng Kan approved by parliament

Yesterday the house of representatives held the 2nd and 3rd reading of the law to create the province Bueng Kan. At 18:20 the 3rd reading was approved by a very solid majority of 342 to 0 votes.

The only steps which are now missing until the province fully becomes reality is the signature by HM the King, and thereafter the publication of the act in the Royal Gazette. Unless it was changed from the draft law, thereafter another 90 days will pass until the law becomes effective and the province is created. Thus if hypothetically the law is already published today, the province will be in effect on April 27.

As I haven't yet found the version of the law approved by parliament, I cannot tell yet if there were any changes to the draft law from November done by the parliamentary commission. Especially if the name was changed from the draft I cannot tell yet, but all the new reports I noticed simply say "จังหวัดบึงกาฬ".

Strangely, none of the English newspaper carried a word on this, even the government news outlet NNT does not mention it - the only parliamentary act they write about are the constitutional amendments which were discussed in 2nd reading before the Bueng Kan act.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Census data visualization

It's a pity that Per Henrik writes his blog mostly in Norwegian, so I cannot follow his writings much, but he has some interesting topics on his blog. In his latest posting, he has entered the census data from 1990 and 2000 into a Google spreadsheet to show the automatic diagrams made possible with this - from totally useless ones like the number of Christians in correlation to the percentage of female headed households, but also interesting things like the development of the average household size.
This diagram shows that while for most province the average household size decreased in that decade, it stayed almost constant in the three southern-most provinces, which in 2000 then became the three provinces with the largest household size. Don't know if or how this could be interpreted, and there are probably even more useful possible diagrams within this data. And it will become even more useful once the NSO has published the data of the 2010 census, or Per manages to find the same data from the earlier censuses.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Name of Bueng Kan province

The reporting on the first reading of the Bueng Kan law in parliament included some discussion on the naming of the new province. The draft law, as well as all earlier reporting, named the province simply as Bueng Kan (จังหวัดบึงกาฬ), after the name of the district which will become the capital district.

Bueng Kan is simply the name of a swamp near the small town, meaning "black swamp". Apparently, some consider such a profane name to be not auspicious enough for a province, so I have so far seen two other suggested names.

Mentioned within a news report on the first reading is the name จังหวัดนครบึงกาฬ (Nakhon Bueng Kan province), literally translated "Black Swamp city".

From an historical point of view more appropriate is the other suggested name Chaiburi (จังหวัดไชยบุรี), as that was the name of the district Bueng Kan until 1939 [Gazette]. This name goes back to the Mueang Chaiburi, and was changed as in 1914 the seat of administration was moved from Chaiburi to Bueng Kan [Gazette]. if I am not totally mistaken, the original capital an name-sake is now in Tha Uthen district of Nakhon Phanom province, thus the name Chaiburi for the new province would only be partially fitting as the historical origin would not be part of it.

Which of the names will finally be used will be known soon, as the new parliamentary session has just started, and both the constitutional amendments as well as this province are high on the priority list. I read one report today already which suggests that the province will be in effect in April, thus it must be finalized within the next week.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Data update for

When I reported on the reappearance of, I mentioned that it still contains the same data as before, which seems to be rather outdated in some parts. But seems like this will change, as on the commands page of the webpage of the Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) I found one issued by the Office of Strategic and Promotion of District Administration (สำนักยุทธศาสตร์และส่งเสริมการบริหารราชการอำเภอ) on December 30th, which called the district administrators to send data on their district until end of February.

The attached word document has the data to be submitted, which are almost identical to those fields already shown at currently.
  • Name and level of district
  • Slogan of district
  • History of district
  • Address of district office
  • Area in square kilometer
  • Distance from Province center
  • Location (i.e. neighboring districts)
  • Number of subdistricts, villages and households
  • Number of municipalities and TAO
  • Population
  • Ethnicity of population
  • Major occupations
  • Major products
  • Average income
  • Major festivals
  • Number of schools and universities
  • Number of Buddhist temples, mosques, churches
  • Attractions by season
  • Number of hospitals
  • Number of financial institutions, i.e. banks and pawn shops
  • Phone and fax number of district
  • Name of compiler of the data
  • Map of district
  • Photos of district office, historical photos of district office, landmarks, festivals or anything else important for the district
As I guess the original data compilation of was done in a similar way, the data in is of varying quality - sometimes the history is faulty, sometimes the numbers for area contradict with other sources or the number of villages seems wrong. While for things like history, photos, festivals the local officers are probably the better source, I really wonder why these also should fill the statistical data. Things like the population numbers, area, villages, local administrative entities are all available in DOPA itself already, and using these centrally compiled data would ensure the data is of same quality and reference date. An example of a completely filled questionnaire was posted few days ago, showing the data for Ban Lueam district, Nakhon Ratchasima. It seems that in fact most of is found in the PDF is the same which can already be found at, especially the value for the area of 233 km² (145624 rai) is still the same, even though it contradicts with the value I got from the census 2000 data, and also found in the Muban book from DOPA (Page 184 of Issue 1) - both give the number of 218.875 km².

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Amphur vs. Amphoe

German blogger Noodlegei, who mostly writes on ways to use all the free applications and services from Google, some days ago tweeted a comparison of word occurrences in the Google books corpus. While I had read about this new corpus before, it was this tweet which made me think about using it for similar comparisons within the scope of this blog.

Whereas the word อำเภอ for the Thai districts is usually romanized as "Amphoe" following the RTGS romanization system, still rather popular on websites is the alternative transcription "Amphur" - Googlefight shows them as almost equally popular. But websites, especially with the thousands of copies of Wikipedia, are not that much good as a corpus, the books scanned for Google Books are of a much higher quality. And as a plus the Google Ngram viewer also includes the development over time. For the comparison of Amphoe vs Amphur it shows that the RTGS spelling is slowly becoming the more common one, but due to the rather low number of books containing this term years like 1982 with unusually many publications using Amphoe create a very significant peak, even with the smoothing function.

A second comparison of Muang vs Mueang for เมือง - the second one became the recommended transcription just ten years ago - shows a clear preference for the term Muang, with Mueang rising very slowly. However this comparison is slightly unfair, as there are also placenames where Muang is the official transcription, e.g. Ban Muang district, and also the districts of Laos are usually transcribed as Muang (ເມືອງ).

In German it has the Umlaut characters which fit perfectly the sounds of the two vowel, so for me the most natural way would be to spell them Amphö and Müang. These spellings are really unusual however - Amphö has only some 200 Google website hits, Müng slightly more with about 10.000, and even less when restricting to Google Books. I will of course stay with RTGS despite its shortcomings, and will also try my best to keep the Wikipedia articles to stay with the only standard it has.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How this blog started

On Saturday Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary, growing from an obscure hardly known website where a few nerds wrote about their favorite topics to an outstanding encyclopaedia larger than all the printed ones, and albeit varying quality a website many would terribly miss if it would disappear. When I discovered Wikipedia it was already 2 years old, but still had many areas totally uncovered with articles. And this was how a physicist and software developer became a specialist on territorial administration in far away country.

So when I was starting with Wikipedia, one of the earliest articles I created was the one on my hometown and the district in which it is located. This made me (virtually) meet another editor who systematically started all the districts of Germany, and I joined in doing all those in the Bundesland I live, but finally I did maybe half of the 313 districts of Germany. Being freshly married with a Thai woman, I did the same for her home province Surat Thani, and with the experiences from the German districts I later began to create articles on all Thai provinces as well.

As I knew hardly anything on Thailand at that time, and even less on the administrative system, I had to do a lot of researching to make these articles of an acceptable quality, and also fell into traps like misunderstanding the Mueang districts to be the same as the capital towns. To assist in the collection of the data, I made the first versions of the spreadsheet which has grown a lot since then. Those few English source available on the internet at that time were sometimes rather confusing, but several mentioned the Monthon as a past structure. But as I could not make much sense out of those sources, I finally ordered the Tej Bunnags book "The provincial administration of Siam, 1892-1915" in library which gave me lots of new information, and also made me more interested into the topic.

The next step deeper into the topic began when with the help of a Thai editor the project of having articles on every district in Thailand came into full action - while he translated the content from, I added the population data and the table of subdistricts. After doing them manually for some days I realized that as a programmer I could much easier do a small software to grab the data from the DOPA website and make it into the table ready to insert into the Wikipedia article. At district level the local administrative units TAO and municipality come into focus, a new topic I had not known much about before.

Finally in 2007, I only learned about several changes in the administration late - there was a new minor district in Khon Kaen I didn't know about yet, there was the upgrade of all minor districts to full districts, and also two municipalities in Hat Yai district which had changed status. About all three I only learned more by coincidence. Then I discovered the Royal Gazette online archive, maybe the best source of data I have so far. And shortly thereafter I began with blogging to share my findings.

So Wikipedia not only helped me to learn a lot while researching for writing articles on topics which I was originally interested, it is also to blame for getting me so deep into this obscure topic - but of course I don't regret.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Municipal Constituency definition

Last week the first 2011 announcement of those I monitor was published in the Royal Gazette, which was about the constituency definitions for the municipal council elections in Khao Wua-Phloi Waen subdistrict municipality (เทศบาลตำบลเขาวัว-พลอยแหวน), Tha Mai district, Chanthaburi province. While this kind of announcements does not give much of information for me - especially as the boundaries are defined in words only without any map, nor much reverence to the village numbers included - one aspect of this publication is worth noting.

The announcement was signed December 21 2010 by Election Commission President Aphichat Sukhakkhanon (อภิชาติ สุขัคคานนท์), so they were published rapidly after being approved. However, the municipality was already created effective July 31 2009, thus almost one and half year after the upgrade of the TAO and the end of term of the TAO council there wasn't yet any election of a new council and mayor. I earlier programmed a small function which calculates the times between the board meeting and the corresponding constituency announcement, and this gives a mean time between the two of 188 days. Yet, in this case it was 542 days, which makes it the longest time between board meeting and constituency announcement, even 20 days more than the previous record from Bang Krathuek in Nakhon Pathom. Due to all the aborted TAO upgrades as well as some missing board meeting transcripts I cannot tell if there's currently any other municipality still waiting similarly long.

I have no idea what is the reason for these long delays, which of course prohibit the election of the new council and mayor after the upgrade. In some older constituency definitions the boundary was defined with the Muban numbers, and also in the few cases where the website of the municipality includes the constituency information it seems that usually the constituencies contain complete Muban. However for this none I have no idea if the constituency boundaries run along the Muban boundaries, but if that is the case the long time to define the constituencies would be even more surprising - as all it'd take then would be to create two groups of adjoining Muban with an approximately equal population.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bueng Kan commission

After the law on the creation of Bueng Kan province passed its first reading in November last year, the parliament set up a commission to clear up the final problems with the draft law. The creation of this commission was today published in the Royal Gazette, titled "ประกาศสภาผู้แทนราษฎร เรื่อง ตั้งกรรมาธิการวิสามัญพิจารณาร่างพระราชบัญญัติตั้งจังหวัดบึงกาฬ พ.ศ. ...", which lists the list of the 36 members of the commission.

I haven't yet heard anything on the recommendations of this commission - only the proceedings of commission on the constitutional amendments has been mentioned in the English newspapers - nor do I yet know the dates when the second and third readings of this law are scheduled. But I am rather sure this law will be considered in the same timeframe as the amendments, so both can be effective before the long-promised new elections will be held. Especially if the amendments get approved, the Election Commission has to redraw the constituencies anyway, so it makes not any difference if they do it with a new province or without.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Abolishing of the Monthon

The monthon as the top-level administrative subdivision of Siam were abolished in 1933, shortly after the revolution which ended the absolute monarchy. In the 2bangkok forum I had read before that this step was done because the high commissioners who led the monthon supported the unsuccessful counter-revolution known as the Boworadet rebellion.

In Fred W. Riggs' book I now found not only a proof for this statement, but also some further reasons which made the monthon no longer necessary. These further reasons are in fact quoted from the dissertation of Asa Meksavan, who later became governor of Chiang Mai and the last appointed governor of Bangkok.
The counter-revolution of October, 1933, under Prince Boworadet was almost exclusively a result of provincial revolts. It was natural, therefore, for the revolutionists to form an alliance with the [province] governors to eliminate the reyalist lord-lieutenants of the monthon. Since the institution was a new one and one which the governors resented, it seemed easier to eliminate the office than to staff it with new men. [...]

Arsa offers several factors as possible explanations for this step. He suggests that the spread of modern means of communication no longer made it necessary to have an intervening level between the province and the center in order to secure co-ordination of policy. He also points to the economies which would be made possible in a time of financial stringency (these events took place at the height of a world-wide depression which had grave repercussions in Thailand) by eliminating the igh-prestige and costly monthon offices. Third, it was thought that the monthon had become an administrative and communications "bottleneck" whose removal would step up the efficiency of administrative operations. Finally, the elimination of the monthon was heralded as a democratic measure which would strengthen local autonomy.
Even though that dissertation is already 50 years old - it was published in 1961 - its title "The Role of the Provincial Governor in Thailand" sounds like an really interesting read. Too bad Google Books does not have more than just snippet view of this book.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chumchon geocode confusion

I am now completely confused with the numerical codes for the Chumchon (ชุมชน, best translation might be "borough"), the subdivisions of the municipalities. Some time ago, I found that in Ang Thong the codes follow a simple rule, using the municipality code as the basis and then adding 00xx. Except that there's of course the problem with the lack of codes for all the municipalities, this makes perfect sense as the Chumchon are at a similar administrative level as the villages, which has a similar coding scheme.

However, now I took a look at the website of Warin Chamrap town, adjoining to the south of Ubon Ratchathani city. The page which shows the map of the town, including the full boundaries of all the Chumchon, also includes a list with the names and codes (รหัสชุมชน) of all 28 subdivisions. To my surprise, the codes there are from 34150101 to 34150128, which would be normally the code range for administrative villages (Muban) in Warin Chamrap subdistrict. Since this subdistrict is completely covered by the town municipality (it was upgraded to a town in 1995), it has no Muban anymore, so these codes are free. But nevertheless, I would have expected the codes to be 34980001 to 34980028 instead.

The pages on the Warin Chamrap website all have the possibility to add comments, so I tried my luck and posted this question there as well - though I have not much hope I will get any answer.

Friday, January 7, 2011

TAO office outside the Tambon?

So far I believed that the office of the local administrations is always located within the area they administer. But when I was working through the TAO of Tak province, and tried to add the locations of the offices into the XML as well, the TAO Ban Na came out oddly. When I first found a placemark labeled with it in Longdo map, I already wondered why it is located so close to the district office and thus within Sam Ngao subdistrict, so I put the location into the XML only as a comment. Anyway, there's no building directly at the mark, even for the district office I had to guess a bit as none of the buildings looked like the normal large district office buildings.

Now I looked into them again, I tried again to verify the location, but none of the other sources gave anything - Wikimapia only marks one school around there. The website of the TAO Ban Na was offline, but still in the Google cache, and there I found the address - องค์การบริหารส่วนตำบลบ้านนา (ที่ว่าการอำเภอสามเงาหลังเก่า) ม.5 ต.สามเงา อ.สามเงา จ.ตาก (TAO Ban Na, old district office Sam Ngao, Mu 5, Sam Ngao subdistrict, Sam Ngao district, Tak province). Now there are of course TAO which cover more than one subdistrict, but this is not the case here - Ban Na only covers the subdistrict Ban Na, whereas Sam Ngao subdistrict is shared between TAO Sam Ngao and the Sam Ngao subdistrict municipality.

Once I found with Wikimapia that there is a new district office located close to the Bhumipol dam airport, the old district office as the location of the TAO Ban Na became easy to place. But still, it is located within the boundaries of the municipality and thus well outside the area which is governed from there. Finally, I even succeeded to locate the municipality office, close to the new district office, only the location for the TAO Sam Ngao I failed to find.

Now I am just wondering why this TAO is such a special case. One reason could be of course the topography on Ban Na subdistrict, which covers only the mountainous areas around the Bhumipol lake and therefore hardly any bigger settlement with the infrastructure for an office building. The whole subdistrict has just a population of 2145. And I am of course wondering if this is the only such case, or if there are any other offices located outside their area of responsibility.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Government officials in deep south

Widely ignored by the international press, and also only rarely found in any of the English newspapers in Bangkok, the insurgency in the three southernmost provinces does continue unabated. One of the common victims of drive-by shootings or bomb attacks are government officials, especially those on the lower levels who get far less police protection than the province governors or district officers. In order to remember the victims, below is a incomplete list of case which I had noticed in the press in the last year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

TAO executives pay rise

One controversial topic last month was the pay rise for the executives of the Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAO). From what I read about that in the English news, it sounded like that only the TAO mayors (นายกองค์การบริหารส่วนตำบล) will get a raise by about 100% to about 18,000 Baht per month. This drastic raise as well as the weak rationale for it - to bring the salary of the TAO leaders back in line with those of municipalities and Provincial Administrative Organizations who got a similar raise earlier last year - of course asked for criticism. As the Political Prisoners blog stated, these leaders of the local administration units are quite often the ones who control the votes in their area. Even though vote buying is of course illegal, these local influential politicians control the vote mongers, as well as could already help a candidate simply by their vote recommendation.

Now I could find the corresponding announcement in the Royal Gazette - interestingly already signed December 3, so two weeks before it was first discussed in cabinet - it shows a somewhat more differentiated picture. Strangely the announcement on the previous raise does not include the actual salaries, but it was 6 years ago, so the 100% raise reduces to a 16% annual raise, still not bad but much less outrageous. And, it is not just the TAO mayors who get a raise, also its deputy and the chairman and councilors of the TAO council get a higher salary or allowance; and the actual salary also depends on the income of the TAO, so by far not every TAO mayor will receive the 18,400 Baht, those in the least productive TAOs will just get 15,800.