Zack Meher in Chiang Mai, Thailand

pastures and fields in Thailand


For the first 5 weeks of being in Thailand, I’ve had an absolutely eye opening experience that has shown me many facets of government administration, public planning projects, and the various ways that the private sector can influence public works projects. While being in Thailand hasn’t been a smooth journey so far- between the coup, the military occupation of Chiang Mai, and the food poisoning that landed me in the hospital for 4 days- the unique combination of monarchial and democratic government structure has afforded me an entirely new perspective on my research goals. 

                                         royal project

As a quick reminder of what I am working on- Chiang Mai, a city of slightly more than one million people, has no existing public transportation network. There are privately owned mini buses called Song Thaews that travel throughout the city without any preplanned direction. This is by no means efficient environmentally or economically. By completing an analysis of potential replacements for this system, I hope to present this research to the local administration for consideration. 


One of the main goals of my research that I would like to complete while here in Chiang Mai is to address the concerns of the Songthaew drivers who fear any public transportation system would leave them out of a job. One of the main concerns that I have heard from local citizens and officials is that the Songthaew drivers in the past have boycotted and interfered with the operation of a planned public bus system. Originally when I was preplanning for potential replacements for the Songthaew system, I was strictly looking at it from an environmental and economic perspective. Once I began to see how a replacement could truly be the end to people’s livelihoods, I drastically reformed my perspective on both what would be feasible recommendations, and what would suit Chiang Mai best.

                      songthaew                         cows

With this new very important cultural consideration, I went back to the drawing board to see if the Songthaew system itself could be reformed rather than replaced. Over the next 5 weeks, I will continue my research, now focusing on the Songthaew system itself.  

2 thoughts on “Zack Meher in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Hey Zack–

    What an incredibly interesting project, and what an exciting and ambitious task you’ve set for yourself: to not only observe, but actually attempt to intervene in, the transportation routines of a major metropolitan region.

    A few questions:

    You mention early on the “unique combination of monarchical and democratic government structure” that characterizes Thai governance. I wonder what this looks like a municipal level? How are decisions made and policy changes implemented? I’m thinking especially of your desire to present your findings to a city administrative organ at the conclusion of your project; what will this city administration look like? Is it comprised of royally- (or militarily-?) appointed administrators? Or elected officials? Is it municipal in scope? Or national? And how do the contours of Thai politics (and the priorities of political life) affect potential revisions in the lived systems of Chiang Mai?

    I believe you mentioned in your quick verbal presentation during the spring semester that a big part of your task is quantitatively analyzing the ways in which people use existing infrastructure (roads, minibuses, etc)? I wonder if you could say more about what that type of analysis looks like in practice. How do you go about getting a sense of how thousands of people interact daily with their built environment?

  2. Zack,

    This is extremely interesting! Very very cool project & initial thoughts. I really look forward to following your findings and process throughout the summer.

    A question perhaps for your thoughts as you go through this process:

    Do those that are employed now not have the skill-set that would transfer to transportation systems if owned and operated publicly? I would really like to read more about your work and specifically understand how a public transportation system would necessarily challenge peoples’ livelihoods rather offering them the opportunity for a more formalized system of employment?

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