Some Well Earned Thanks to Google!

My wife and I are near the end of our 80 day stay in Thailand, the longest of my seven trips to her native land. It has been a good time to have some distance from my native US. In my first trips to Thailand, I traveled all over the country with Paula as she drove about her large territory, doing her job for the company that bottles & distributes Coca-Cola products all over Thailand. She did all the driving and I had the good fortune of learning about her amazing country as a lucky guy doing a ride along.

We were mostly going to places she had been to many times in her work, staying at hotels she had used many times, eating at restaurants she had visited frequently. She never once had to refer to a map of the country, even though we had driven in more than half of the 76 provinces in the countries. I knew I was a very fortunate visitor to a distant land which spoke a difficult tonal language which I didn’t know how to use at all. My only saving grace was that I fulfilled my promise to help Paula to become more fluent in English.

But during this trip to Thailand, we ventured off her beaten path in the country several times. We had used Google driving directions several times in the US, with me driving and her using her Android phone to follow the Google directions. It impressed me that their directions were accurate in our small Midwestern town. But it had never even occurred to me to try the service in Thailand. Surely Google would not have gotten around to mapping a small country in Southeast Asia, roughly 8,000 miles from Silicon Valley.

Amazingly, it turns out Google has in fact gotten around to mapping Thailand. I first discovered this during this trip when we drove to Kanchanaburi, one of my favorite destinations in Thailand, but a very long drive from my wife’s family home, so the sun was setting as we approached the outskirts of the town. To make matters worse, our usual hotel was fully booked, so we had a reservation at a hotel we had never visited, and we were now going to need to find it with our headlights and the light from a full moon. Paula had entered the hotel’s location in her Samsung tablet, which we soon discovered had a very unstable Internet connection. After zeroing in on the hotel, over and over the connection would be lost and the tablet would reboot itself. We wandered around in circles in the vicinity of the new hotel. After stumbling along in the dark for well over half an hour, we finally called the hotel and they kindly drove to get us and lead us to the hotel. The next day, we discovered that the hotel was on a street with no name. It was a pretty rough start with Google directions, but Google was right. The hotel was right where Google told us it was located!

When we got back to her home town, Paula went to the mall and paid for an upgrade to her phone service to get a much more reliable Internet connection on her tablet. Then she tethered her Android phone to the Samsung tablet. The tablet sat in the front seat and provided a nice stable Internet connection to the phone, which provided the Google driving directions to us, even when it was quite dark outside. I was super impressed when we drove to Chiang Mai, found a hotel we had never used and then drove across town at night to a restaurant we had never visited before. We took one bad turn on the way to the restaurant, but it was easily corrected.

In the years I have been active on, my admiration of the technology provided by Google has been gradually eroding, to the point where I was considering following the lead from others in finding alternate services for those that Google provides. Stumbling around in the dark late at night in a foreign land has brought some humility to my technology expectations. There are some on who have the technical expertise to put driving directions on my cell phone, but I am not one of them. Maybe, just maybe, I should not be so quick to criticize the way Google goes about doing things. I’m back to appreciating the good things that Google does for me.