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A tale of two cities, Phuket style

Bill Barnett

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By Bill Barnett of c9hotelworks.com

The raindrops keep falling on my head. Rainy season always brings with it time to dust off the classics, and strangely enough, straight off my top shelf came Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Life is played out so well in these tattered pages, which are turned a mottled brown on the edges. There is darkness and light, social injustice and a subtle sense of things comedic bubbling along just under the surface.

Here in Phuket, we have our very own tale of two cities. Well more correctly – one city and one town, but let’s not split hairs, Patong is surely headed straight to City-dom, while we all keep referring to Phuket City as Phuket Town. (Please note: the upgrade into the former came in 2004, but old habits die hard.)

Geography has an interesting effect on the way things shift to and fro on the island, in a manner not unlike urban sprawl. Bangkok, for example, has seen a massive shift in its central business district and tourism areas over the last 20 years. Perhaps the biggest game-changer was the BTS Skytrain which derailed both the Chao Phraya River and Silom districts and catapulted Sukhumvit to the nation’s front page.

A tale of two cities, Phuket style | News by The Thaiger

Suddenly, fading superstar hotels were left behind by the high yielding business travellers and many businesses relocated. Next to the river, things have never quite been the same as they were in days past. Will the shiny new commercial areas of Rajdamri suffer the same fate in another twenty years? It’s hard to say, but where else in the world can you stroll past a St. Regis, Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, and soon, a Waldorf Astoria in the span of a few football fields?

What defines much of today’s development of rural areas to urbanized centers is transportation. We all know this island lacks mass transport and for the foreseeable future the key spine road that goes from the Sarasin Bridge all the way to Rawai is the main artery of Phuket. There is simply no avoiding the fact. There are no logical alternatives on the west or east coast so this road straight down the middle will divide and conquer the growing metropolis.

Tourism continues to define the local economy and over the past two decades we’ve seen shifts from the south to the north, east and west. Find the big blocks of land and that is where the resorts will grow. Phang Nga’s illogical zoning out of hotels and large scale residential areas from Thai Muang back to the other side of the Sarasin Bridge has simply put more pressure on available land here on the island.

While Phuket City remains the seat of Government, a defined movement was afoot as early as the new Millennium (that’s 2000 for those who don’t know what the Big M is). First came the hypermarts – Tesco Lotus, Big C and Makro. Then rolled in Central Festival, and the island suddenly stepped up its urban game. The City, or at that time the Town, was on a fast move west, banking up on the main artery of the By-Pass Road and then spilling over into Kathu. Progress was marked by curb appeal and road frontage.

Meanwhile post-tsunami Patong has been ramping up as well, building up an inventory of well over 30% of the island’s hotel rooms, and, within the last few years, setting the benchmark for unseasonal year round high occupancy. Retail here again helps shift things back off the main beach area and Jungceylon has somehow become the epicentre of a new highly urbanised resort destination.

A tale of two cities, Phuket style | News by The Thaiger

As a consultant, I am heavily involved in the planning of new hotels, tourism attractions and residential projects both here and abroad. Often times I’m asked what is the forward looking view of Phuket. In my own opinion, the shifting sands of development will see the collision of Phuket City and Patong over the next decade. Logically the Kathu area will be the biggest beneficiary of this evolution as the two ‘cities’ continue to spill into the middle of the island.

We already see large Board of Investment (BoI) tourism attractions coming into the area and another Bangkok-based retail giant has started construction of a second mega-mall near the Samkong Underpass. Central Festival’s expansion will open in the second half of this year. Even the Chalong Circle underpass will eventually be finished and, in the same way the other three underpasses have assisted traffic flow in the middle of the island, the same will happen in the south.

Will the two tribes merge into one larger highly urbanised business, tourism and commercial district, or will they create a new more centralised version? It’s hard to say, but most likely it will be a combination of both. Phuket’s story is continuing to be written but if you want to gaze into a crystal ball, it’s best to follow the transport infrastructure to spot where the action is. Just watch the real estate boom around each of the stop-offs for the new Phuket Light Rail when it eventually kicks off.

 

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Bill Barnett has over 30 years of experience in the Asian hospitality and property markets. He is considered to be a leading authority on real estate trends across Asia, and has sat at almost every seat around the hospitality and real estate table. Bill promotes industry insight through regular conference speaking engagements and is continually gathering market intelligence. Over the past few years he has released four books on Asian property topics.

Protests

Protesters suing Thai PM, police and officials over State of Emergency in October

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Protesters suing Thai PM, police and officials over State of Emergency in October | The Thaiger

Protesters and human rights lawyers are officially suing the Thai PM, a deputy PM and other members of the government and police for 3.5 million baht in damages. The lawsuits cover the declaration of a state of emergency that was imposed for a week during October following a major protest where a royal motorcade drove into the path of a protest near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok.

Police claim that protesters “blocked” the path of the royal motorcade, but video of the incident shows the protesters were gesturing at the yellowRolls Royce and yelling at the occupants as it passed by, without obstruction. Her Majesty the Queen and the King’s youngest son were in the vehicle at the time.

There are seven complainants, each demanding 500,000 baht in compensation.

The State of Emergency was announced for Bangkok on October 15, at 4am in the morning following the protest.

Representatives of the Human Rights Lawyers Association filed the lawsuit with the Civil Court yesterday. It lawsuit also targeted the Prime Minister’s Office, national police officials and the Royal Thai Police Office.

Nuengruethai Kijakansuparoek, of the lawyers’ association, claims the declaration violated rights to freedom of politics, transport and expression of opinion. The Association also warns that there are more lawsuits on the way.

“The closure of electric train service was ordered, some demonstrators were arrested and some people were affected by tear gas, and people were unable to voice their political opinions.”

yesterday some 5,000 gathered at the Lad Phrao intersection in an “anti coup picnic” to enjoy food, including Isaan dishes, with protest leaders speaking and musicians keeping the crowd entertained. Protest organisers said it was “a rehearsal protest against coups”.

Protesters handed the “flock” of yellow inflatable ducks over the heads, of the crowd “to represent the military passing over the people” to by-pass democratic rule and be the defacto government of Thailand. An inflatable Santa also made his way into the festivities for no apparent reason (well, Christmas is approaching).

Yesterdays rally was just 2 days after another gathering outside the Siam Commercial Bank HQ, where HM the King is the largest single shareholder in Thailand’s oldest bank, founded in 1907.

Today’s rally will start at the Imperial World Samrong shopping centre, south of central Bangkok, and march to Bang Na intersection. Then tomorrow protesters plan to hold another rally in front of the . Imperial World Samrong shopping centre.

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Protests

More protest rallies today and tomorrow around Bangkok

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More protest rallies today and tomorrow around Bangkok | The Thaiger

If you think the current spate of rallies are ruling out of steam, think again. Yesterday’s large protest around the Lat Phrao intersection on Phahon Yothin Road was just the first of 3 days of planned protests around Bangkok and Samut Prakan. Protesters yesterday described their action as an “anti-coup drill”, claiming that the coup “chatter” continued and that they would strenuously protest against another Army-led action against Thai citizens.

The yellow ducks and a few other inflatable animals were again taking front stage in a rally that was described more like a picnic than a political demonstration.

Today’s rally will start at the Imperial World Samrong shopping centre, south of central Bangkok, and march to Bang Na intersection.

Then tomorrow protesters plan to hold another rally in front of the . Imperial World Samrong shopping centre.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police says there will be up to 500 crowd control police attending to each of the protests, adding that the rallies had been given formal permission to go ahead and police will be ensuring that no laws are broken.

The government has come under a barrage of criticism from NGOs and rights groups about some of the heavy-handed responses and baiting at rallies to “create” the appearance of conflict. Yesterday the Foreign Ministry issued a statement via their spokesperson, Tanee Sangrat in response to the criticism.

13 international organisations – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asia Democracy Network, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development – have made official submissions about the response from police and handling of the rival protest groups, which resulted in the shooting of 6 people and other protesters injured by the high power water cannons and tear gas deployed by riot police..

The Ministry spokesman maintained that Thailand had “upheld the rule of law and respected the judicial process with transparency. In handling recent protests, the authorities have enforced the law in line with international standards, with the appropriate response to the situation.”

The spokesperson said that participants in the November 17 outside the Thai Parliament broke through concrete barricades and tried to reach an “off-limits area”, forcing police to take action to bring the situation under control. Protesters told police that they wanted to get to the front of the parliament buildings to protest the debates that were being conducted inside.

“The operation was proportional to the situation and was not excessive. Those who want to exercise their right to assemble must follow the law and consider the safety of others.”

Organisers of yesterday afternoon’s rally, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, called the rally “an anti-coup drill”.

“Undeniably, speculation about a coup has been rife. It should not happen. But history teaches us that we cannot trust. Therefore, all are welcome for a drill to cope with another possible coup”.

Current Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, as head of the Thai Army before the May 2014 coup, maintained that the army would not intervene and oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

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Chon Buri

Monk found hanged at Chon Buri temple in apparent suicide

Maya Taylor

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Monk found hanged at Chon Buri temple in apparent suicide | The Thaiger
PHOTO: MGR Online

A 68 year old monk has been found hanged at a temple in the eastern province of Chon Buri, in an apparent suicide. The Pattaya News reports that police and rescue workers were called to a temple in the sub-district of Baan Suan at around 7.30am yesterday. The body of the dead man was found hanging near the monk’s housing quarters.

It’s understood there were no signs of a struggle and, in a letter allegedly written by the monk, he said he wanted to die. Other monks and nuns at the temple say they don’t know why he might have killed himself, adding that he had no problems or health concerns that they were aware of.

His death comes just days after a monk in the north-east of the country died after jumping in front of a speeding train.

If you or anyone you know is in emotional distress, please contact the Samaritans of Thailand 24-hour hotline: 02 713 6791 (English), 02 713 6793 (Thai) or the Thai Mental Health Hotline at 1323 (Thai).

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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