End of the Road for Nancy’s Chandler’s Maps
BY AMY POULTON
Did you know about the sunflower field that blooms between January and February on Kaset-Navamin? How about the chocolate factory and breakfast café on Soi Phromsri? Or the scuba diving school located next to a 230-year-old Chinese-style mansion on the Chao Phraya River?
These little notes, scribbled in a whimsical hodgepodge across Nancy Chandler’s hand-illustrated maps are just a few examples of the little jewels of discovery that have turned these helpful navigation tools into treasured souvenirs.
Nancy’s maps aren’t just maps, they paint the city with heart and soul. And that’s why it’s so sad to report that, after 45 years, Nancy Chandler’s maps are coming to an end. The next edition will only be available as a PDF and the publishing company is closing its office.
“In 1974, my mother was asked to illustrate a map of Sanam Luang area for the American Women’s Club of Thailand,” Nancy’s daughter, Nima, explains. “But once she got there, she was completely lost and couldn’t understand what was where. Her first map was her finding her way out!
“After the AWC’s magazine published her map, readers called in to demand a reprint for more copies, then Nancy started her own prints, and everything grew organically from there.”
Nancy Chandler’s maps provided a lifeline to expats at times when there were few English maps available, especially outside of central Bangkok, and road names in English were still uncommon. As demands grew from the international community, it also came from tourists visiting the city.
The maps expanded to include greater Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nonthaburi and Hanoi, Vietnam. They also came highly recommended by Lonely Planet and Travel+Leisure; leading people to all kinds of secret places.
“My mother loved the colours and spirit of Old Bangkok,” says Nima. “For me, I love that you can be watching a butcher scrub a pig’s leg in Chinatown, then just a few hours later you’re clinking glasses at a high society dinner!”
After Nima joined her mother as business manager in the 90s, Nancy’s maps spread to over 200 shops in the region. Products diversified to include children’s colouring books, posters, gift wrapping paper, name cards, invitations and more.
Part of the charm was Nancy’s artistic flair and the bold choice of colour; a rainbow palette with origins in Nepal, where Nancy’s art supplies were lost in transit, leading her serendipitously to traditional alternatives. Those hot pinks, electric blues, vivid yellows and vibrant indigos became her signature, colouring the way she saw Bangkok.
Nima has inherited her mother’s optimism, as when asked about the closure of Nancy Chandler’s Graphics, she doesn’t dwell on the competition of Top 10 listicles or Google Maps: “The reaction to the closure has been amazing. Letters have poured in from fans all over the world, from respected bloggers to long-time expats and repeat visitors – in the office, we’ve joked that we should close every year! Often, we see the same phrase repeated: You gave us the confidence to explore.”
In a city where the whizzing SkyTrain and traditional khlongs coexist and there’s a surprise down every soi, Nancy Chandler’s maps showcased Bangkok as a bright kaleidoscope of possibility that dared you to step out of your comfort zone and discover something new.
Although the prints of Nancy Chandler’s maps will be sorely missed, you can still find PDF versions via the website: nancychandler.net and some paper maps are available via Amazon and a few select shops. You’ll also see Nancy Chandler’s Graphics at The Citylife Garden Fair in Chiang Mai and the Ploenchit Fair, both in late November 2019.