The Disco Next Door

In the more than five years that we have lived in our medium-sized condo, we have seen the 1950s house next door transition from being an Indian restaurant to K-Pop nightclub. Now it is set to make its next metamorphosis and become a community mall.

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The house, as you can see in this borrowed picture above, was a beautiful “tropical modern” style, very common in this neighborhood which was, in the 1950s, a fashionable place for well-off families to build their weekend “country” home. Of course, back then this area of Bangkok was truly on the outskirts of town. When we arrived a half-decade ago, it was a contemporary Indian restaurant that didn’t ever seem busy but did do a good job preserving the architecture of the building.

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Then about a year ago, we were informed it was going to become a “the world’s first K-Pop pub”. Much to the consternation of our residents, a new tenant built an exterior shell around the house and turned it into this gaudy sight. Our condo’s management, along with other nearby residents, used all available legal channels to block their operation and ultimately, they opened only a handful of nights before shutting down. Part of me wonders whether it was ever actually meant to be a legitimate business, as the idea of putting a pub in the midst of a residential area was ill-conceived from the start.

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Recently, construction has started again. The exterior of the pub has been pulled down and you can see that the old house remains. After a week or two of initial curiosity, we were finally informed what will be built there.

MINI MALL

 

The new space will be a “community mall” – the term used locally to describe these smaller-scale open air shopping centers that may have at most one or two dozen shops, a limited amount of parking, and restaurants and light retail.

MINI MALL (2)

 

Quite a number exist within a five- to ten-minute walk from our condo, so I’m not sure what the need is, but I suppose it is a better use of the space than a K-Pop nightclub. According to the plans, the original house will still be incorporated in some way, although from these two elevations, I don’t see where.

Anyhow, that’s what’s happening next door. How are things where you are?

 

 

New Tawn C Flagship Store in the Works

Just over a year after opening his first boutique at the Central Chidlom department store, Tawn is close to opening his first flagship TAWN C store at Gaysorn Plaza mall in Bangkok. This stand-alone store will offer him greater control over the space compared to the boutique in the department store. He will have a locking front door, the ability to play his own music, and won’t have employees of other brands traipsing through his space on their way to and from the stock room.

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The design for the store was done by our designer friend Ble, who designed the boutique and our condo, too. The feel of the space will be very modern but sophisticated, with walls divided into large pixels with molding. It should be very nice.

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At this point, the hope is that the store is ready to open next week. The picture above is from a week ago. The big question is whether the carpet is ready for installation on time. I suggested that Tawn should do a photo shoot with his models in hard hats in the construction zone of his store. He didn’t think that was a good idea.

 

Tearing Down a Shophouse

Each city has its own development  rhythm. Buildings are constructed then subsequently modified or added on to. Sometimes the buildings are torn down to make way for newer buildings. In some cities (think Florence, Italy) the rhythm is very slow. In other cities (Hong Kong!) one can be surprised by how staccato the rhythm is. Here in Bangkok, it is somewhat in between, though closer to Hong Kong than Florence.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a pair of shophouses adjacent to the Thong Lo Skytrain station (the one at the mouth of our soi) were being demolished. The process took several days and was done largely by hand – laborers with sledgehammers started at the top of the building and deconstructed it, floor by floor.

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Interestingly, they are not removing the entire row of identical shophouses, just these two. The demolition process exposes the intimate way in which the buildings are connected: ghosts of the back stairs can be seen on the wall of the remaining shophouse. People are apparently still living next door to the demolished buildings: laundry is hanging on the roof area and tarps have been raised to keep the dust out.

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The demolition also exposed a large open space that I never knew existed behind these buildings. It looks like there may have been a small pool back there. As of yet, there are no signs announcing what is to happen with this space. The house to the left is a large private home on a lot covered with a pond and lots of old trees. Behind the open space is a large but shadowy hotel (the orange building) and to the right is an apartment complex (in green). I would guess that these shop houses probably date to around the 1960s so they are being replaced within three generations.

I look forward to seeing what development happens here. It seems too small for a condo – lord knows we have plenty of those sprouting up all around Thong Lo station! – but stranger things have happened.

 

Foundation Poured for Central Embassy

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While visiting the Central Chidlom department store the other day, I caught this picture of the construction progress on Central Embassy, the new 37-story high-end retail and hotel complex that is expected to open in 2013. The piles have been driven and foundation concrete had been poured. Subterranean work continues and I’d expect to see columns start to rise in the near future.

Central Embassy 2

The design is eye-catching, eight stories of retail topped with a twisting tower (to house Bangkok’s first Park Hyatt hotel) meant to echo a double helix. The building is covered on the outside with glimmering diamond-shaped tiles that recall traditional Thai temple roofs. Central Embassy will connect with the existing Central Chidlom complex through the walkway on the left of the picture. A bit harder to see is a second walkway, in the center-right of the picture, which will connect to the Ploenchit BTS Skytrain station.

Here’s an aerial view that I annotated to help orient you:

Central Embassy 1 Annotated

The complex is built on land bought from the British Embassy. As one of the last undeveloped properties in the very pricey Withayu-Ploenchit area, the sale brought in hefty proceeds. In a bit of a kerfuffle, many locals were incensed that the British government profitted so handsomely from the sale of land that was gifted from the Thai government many generations ago. Finally, the Thai government clarified that the land had been given to the British government and was theirs to do with as they wished.

I suppose you could (easily) argue that the last thing we need is another mall and another hotel. No argument from me. That said, I like that we’re seeing continued infill development around transit lines. This increased density is preferable to continued sprawl. Not that the infill is somehow eliminating the sprawl, but you get the idea. Also, the design of this building is unique and contributes to Bangkok’s continued ascent from an architectural backwater to a city with an interesting skyline.

Extra: Here’s a link to a snazzy promotional video for the new complex, giving you all sorts of aerial fly-bys from different angles.

 

A Profusion of Malls along Sukhumvit Road

Is it perhaps some sort of sibling rivalry?  Listening to the leaders of Bangkok, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were feeling a little bit of envy of their better manicured regional sibling, Singapore.  Like listening to a youngster who both admires and despises his older brother, I chuckle each time an idea is mooted that seems to be chasing after Singapore: Let’s build a giant Ferris wheel by the Chao Phraya River!  Let’s relocate street vendors into clean, well lighted facilities!  Let’s build an endless chain of malls from Siam Square to Sukhumvit!

Not that there is anything wrong with these ideas – well, except the Ferris wheel – but it seems that our civic leaders should find the confidence to just say what we all know to be true: We’re not Singapore, we never will be, and that’s perfectly fine.  After all, if we were so much like Singapore, we would lose a large chunk of our tourists: the Singaporeans on holiday from their overly-staid city state.

Bangkok Mall Map

One area of the sibling rivalry in which we are making progress is the building of malls.  Singapore may well have its Orchard Road, but we have our (admittedly difficult for visitors to pronounce and often taken over by protesters) Ratchaprasong Shopping District, stretching roughly from MBK and Siam Square on the west to Central Childlom on the east. 

You could logically extend the shopping district along the same street (which confusingly changes names from Rama I to Phloenchit to Sukhumvit along the way), bypassing the rather frightening Nana district and ending up at Asoke and Phrom Phong, which are seeing the development of their own new malls.

Let’s take a look at some of that development.

Phloenchit Area

Phloenchit Area Map

In the Phloenchit area, which stretches from the Chitlom to Phloen Chit Skytrain stations, there are three new developments.  In addition to these new developments, the reconstruction of Central World Plaza, which suffered severe fire damage in the wake of protests that were broken up on May 19 of last year, looks to be proceeding on pace for reopening by year’s end.

The largest new project, long discussed but finally announced this week, is Central Embassy, built by Central Retail Corporation, owners of the Central World Plaza and Central Chidlom properties, among others.

Central Embassy

Built between Chidlom and Phloen Chit stations on nine rai (14,400 square meters) of land bought from the British Embassy, this 37-story multi-use development will contain 70,000 square meters of retail on eight floors along with a 222-room luxury Park Hyatt hotel.  Its design will feature a unique “twisting ribbon” that should add another landmark to the city’s skyline.

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A view of the Central Embassy project property looking west towards Central Chidlom (white tower on the right and the shorter brown and green building to its left).  Buildings on the British Embassy grounds are in the lower right of the picture.  The angle showed here is equivalent to looking at the model in the previous picture from the far right side of that picture.

When it is complete in late 2013, the Central Embassy project will have an integrated facade with Central Chidlom, including a bridge connecting the two.  Central Chidlom will reportedly be renovated so the two properties have a consistent look, giving Central Retail Corporation a second large mall (along with Central World Plaza) in less than a one-kilometer stretch of Phloenchit Road.

P1090927 Stitch

Also in this neighborhood, not 100 meters to the east, is a large stretch of empty land next to Phloen Chit station.  (Pardon the poor job stitching two photos together.)  This property has undergone fitful attempts at development over the years, with constructions workers coming in from time to time to clear the land of vegetation and put up construction fencing, only to do no further work. 

This week the process started again with the clearing of an old building at the front of the property which had served as the sales office for whatever project had initially been started before the Asian economic crisis more than a decade ago.  No signage has been posted yet indicating what the development will contain, but based on the neighborhood and size of the property, it seems likely that a mixed-use building with retail, office, and possibly condominiums or hotel rooms will be built.

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Directly across the Skytrain tracks from this property is the Park Ventures Ecoplex, a combination office building and 33-story hotel that will be finished this year.  Once all these properties are complete, all the free land at the Ploenchit-Witthayu (Wireless Road) junction will be developed, baring the demolition of any older properties.

Sukhumvit Area

New Emporium Map

Follow Ploenchit Road east a few Skytrain stops and you get to the middle  of Sukhumvit Road, an area populated with expats and well-heeled Thais.  Since 1997, The Emporium, owned by the Mall Group (part-owners of Siam Paragon), has been the main shopping center for this area.  In fact, it was the first mall to have a direct connection to a Skytrain station, something that has helped it continue to be popular even in the wake of the explosion of malls around Siam and Ratchaprasong.

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The Emporium’s retail monopoly of the mid-Sukhumvit neighborhood is set to end this year as the new Terminal 21 project (previous entry about it) finishes construction at the junction of Sukhumvit and Asoke Roads.  Featuring a nine-story mall including a cinema and 40,000 square meters of retail space, the project will also have 145,000 square meters of office space and a 20-story serviced apartment.

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In the last few weeks, another challenger to Emporium (and the Ratchaprasong-centrism of Bangkok’s retail scene) has appeared.  Directly across the Skytrain tracks from Emporium, construction has started on an extremely large property.  No signage has been posted indicating what will be built there, but given the location it is hard to imagine that it won’t include a large amount of retail along with either a hotel or condo, or both.  (Edit: I just heard today from two reputable sources that this will officially by an expansion of Emporium’s footprint, colloquially called “Emporium 2”.)

There is also another large project two stations to the east at Ekkamai.  Edit: this will reportedly be an IT mall.

Rama IV / Sathorn

Lumpini Night Bazaar

The final development, retail-wise, is that the Lumpini Night Bazaar, a popular nighttime shopping area located across from Lumpini Park, has finally closed.  This property, owned by the Crown Property Bureau, is slated for a multi-use development by the Central Retail Corporation.  If you look on the first map in this entry, you will see that the Lumpini development is just down the street from the new Central Embassy project.

The closure and development of the Night Bazaar was tied up in legal action for the past two years, but after the calendar turned to 2011 its doors were finally shut and the bulldozers have moved in.  Look for another large mall project to appear along this stretch of Rama IV Road in the next two years or so.

Conclusions

What do all these developments mean?  It seems safe to say that the dominance of the Siam-Ratchaprasong area in the shopping scene will be challenged as development moves eastward on the Sukhumvit Skytrain line.  If anything, this should help ease congestion, both in terms of the number of people as well as the number of vehicles, that crowd that already crowded area. 

The real, and as yet unanswered, question is whether Bangkok needs so much retail space.  Tourism growth has slowed over the last few years thanks to political instability and other concerns.  It would seem that the local population’s buying power has limited ability to grow, too.  If that is the case, one can only imagine that we will be awash in a glut of malls and in that, we will be able to proudly hold our own against Singapore.

 

Unexpected Wrench in the Tday Plans

Two years ago Tawn and I hosted a lavish Thanksgiving dinner for 14 guests.  I cooked the whole menu (except the bird, which I had done at the market and delivered) and we sat at a neatly decorated table on the patio next to the pool.  It was quite impressive, if I do say so myself.  It was also overwhelming so last year Thanksgiving was hosted at someone else’s house.  This year we are doing it again… although a wrench was just thrown into our plans.

To save some myself some of the hassle, this year we billed it as a Thanksgiving Poolside Potluck Picnic.  Instead of cooking everything, I’ll just do the bird, stuffing, and gravy and let others fuss over the side dishes and desserts.  We’re also dispensing with the fussily decorated table and are instead just using the tables and chairs already available on the pool deck. 

Well, that is what we were going to do.  Until Tuesday, when the condo management posted a notice in the elevators announcing that a two-month rehabilitation of the swimming pool would commence the next morning.

Now, the rehabilitation is much needed.  There are many broken tiles (I cut my foot badly a few weeks ago and considered posting the pictures but they are just too bloody) and this work should have been done a few years ago.  But must it begin this week?  And with only one day notice?

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So the question was, how would this affect Thanksgiving?  We’re expecting about two dozen guests and there is no way I can put them in the house and serve food.  Poolside is out, of course.  Thankfully, three weeks ago a small cafe with outdoor and indoor seating opened on the ground floor of our condo.  It is a pretty space and hasn’t started to get a lot of traffic yet.  Tawn and I went to talk with the owner yesterday and she agreed to rent it to us for the afternoon (we’re holding the dinner on Saturday since everyone is working here on Thursday).

We’ll see how this new space works but I’m glad we didn’t have to cancel.  The cafe has an oven and refrigerator, so we’ll actually have better facilities at hand than if we were by the pool and had to keep running up two stories to the condo.  Whew – Thanksgiving is saved!

 

Construction Continues Unabated

This week I spent about six hours over the course of two days dealing with the Ministry of Labor, renewing my work permit.  That, about US$100, and the non-immigrant visa I received last summer while in the US, was enough to clear my way for another year of legal residency in Thailand. 

I guess in the big picture this is a small price to pay to live with my husband, but it seems to me that people shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops on an ongoing basis in order to live with their spouses.  Jumping through hoops initially for immigration purposes, I can understand that.  But every year from now to eternity?  Rubbish.

Anyhow, at least I received a full year on the work permit instead of only ninety days at a time, which is usually the case.  However, with the type of visa I have, I still need to do a border run (leave the country) once every ninety days, despite having a full year visa.  Try to figure that one out.

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One sign that life is back to normal in the City of Angels is that construction continues unabated.  In the picture above, you are looking northwest at the Asoke Road / Sukhumvit Road intersection towards the new Terminal 21 mall.  I wrote about this construction project in November, when they were laying the ground floor after a year of work on the foundation and understories.  Six months later they are on the ninth floor, which is as high as the mall portion will go.

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Another view from the Asoke Road side.  Pretty soon the street will be shaded in the afternoon, once they add just a few more stories.  The back portion of the property will have highrise component which will include a service apartment complex and office space.  Do we need another mall in this city?  Probably not, but at least it is further east than most of the malls, which are in the Siam Square area.  This provides an option for those of us on the Sukhumvit corridor to avoid going all the way into the city.

I’m actually surprised by the amount of construction going on in this city, especially new condos.  A few weeks ago I drove from our house at Sukhumvit 53 to the Nissan dealership at Sukhumvit 101/1.  This is about six stations down the Skytrain line, only three of which are currently operational, the remaining ones scheduled for operation at the end of 2011.  Around every single station, both the current and future ones, there are three or four large construction sites where highrise condos are being built.

Can there be that much demand?  It must represent investors’ confidence in Thailand.

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From highrises to sidewalks, inane utility work continues in Bangkok like it does in much of the world.  Why is it that there never seems to be any coordination among respective agencies?  A new sidewalk is built and neatly paved and then as soon as that is finished, a utility department comes along and digs it up.

The same is true along Asoke at the entrance to Soi Cowboy, where there was a large backhoe parked on the sidewalk for several days (anyone want to walk in the gutter?) as about five meters of the sidewalk was dug up and water mains were repaired.

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I felt bad for these guys, the ones doing the actual work.  What a messy job.  As you can imagine, there’s not much rhyme or reason to the way utilities are laid out in this city.  Sometimes they don’t even bury them, but lay them on top of the existing sidewalk and just spread some asphalt over the top, a snake running along the sidewalk, waiting to trip you.