Try to Be Thai: Localizing Navigation in Bangkok

Maps and addresses are in different formats around the world, but navigation systems need to work with them all. Do you know how this is done in Thailand?

Have you ever wondered if you could use your precious navigation software in Thailand when you go abroad and rent a car to drive around? You just secure your PND/smartphone into its holder, fire up you beloved application, and you are good to go. Chances are, you are in for a bumpy drive, if you have an available map at all. Why is that? Because there isn’t any one type of navigation software that is able to cover the entire planet. Most only offer coverage for a few countries, and some only offer coverage for one specific nation. There are interesting stories and facts behind this phenomenon, but basically the reason is simple: the world is much more complex than we think.

Addressing the Address Issue

Let’s start with the addresses. Addresses can differ significantly from the ones we are used to. In some cases, the differences are minor. In other cases, the addressing system may be thoroughly different.

Let’s look at the Thai example again. Is it straightforward for a European to enter an address in Thailand? Not necessarily. The addresses in Thailand are similar, but they are different enough to cause problems when you would like to enter your desired destination.

Here’s a map excerpt from Bangkok:

Let’s analyze it a bit. Thanon Chan is a road, and thanon can be translated as road in most cases, though it is not translated at all here. You can see a lot of alleys opening from Chan Road. They are called soi in Thai. In the case of Soi Chan 35, it is not translated. But, all of the other Chan alleys are.

What’s the logic behind this? In Thailand, most roads have alleys opening from them. These alleys are numbered, and they have the same name as the road they are opening from. Some alleys have their own names, though (see Phra Wut Alley above). Even numbered alleys are on one side of the road, and odd numbered alleys are on the other side. If an alley is added later (which happens quite frequently), it gets an additional number that follows the number of the previous alley (see Chan 41/1 Alley). Easy to follow?

There Are Many Challenges…

What problems can we face when we have to offer a reliable navigation software for the addressing system mentioned above? First, there are usually a lot of challenges with the translated names, though this is not an issue when you use the Thai language. Second, maps should be accurate and up to date. Third, we have to design an address entry workflow which helps the user enter all the data that is needed to properly find the place.

…And Many Solutions

What can we do? We have to find a good local map provider who can offer reliable maps. Then we have to build an accurate database and address index that solves all the problems with mistranslations, missing numbers, and so on. Finally, we have to look at local examples of navigation software solutions, and then we ask people in Thailand about the ideal way to find an address in the complicated road network in Bangkok.

This Is Only One Location

Sound easy? And this is only one country and one problem with localizing navigation. We will continue with other interesting localization examples in our next post. Stay tuned.

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