Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Thai Neighborhood

It is usually the case in America that land values and zoning regulations insure a unitary demographic for most neighborhoods. They may be mostly single occupancy, middle-income houses, or exclusively single occupancy, big-ticket houses, or mixed multiple occupancy dwellings with some focused stretches of commercial use buildings. There’s some planning going on, for better or worse. It’s not like that everywhere.

These photographs were taken out a fourth-floor window of my hospital, which is very close to the university where I teach and close at hand to the neighborhood where my condo is located. Near the bottom, you can see the old-style Thai housing built along a small drainage canal adjacent to the hospital. This, as is usually the case, is low income housing occupied by long term families of tenants or owners. Moving up the frame, to the right of center, you can see a development of attached, single family residences. These are very vertical, three stories at least, and they are probably fairly expensive. In dollars? Let’s say $200,000 (six million baht).  

The large building complex in the background is a Chinese owned development consisting of a large, expensive hotel in one building, with two equally large buildings behind it that are devoted to condos. Most of the condos are larger than usual for the area, and they are expensive. For 140 square meters, figure between $200,000 and $250,000.  

In the lower picture, you can see the continuation of the canal houses. Immediately behind these there is a sports facility with a rain cover, a common accoutrement in Thailand, which is in the tropics, after all. At photo left is a newish condo building where you could pick up a small condo (30 square meters) for $40,000 or so (one point four million baht).

In the background of the bottom picture, just right of center, is a large group of three condo buildings. These are built in a transportation dead spot; living there would be inconvenient without a car of your own. They were built by the government and are available to be purchased by Thai citizens at reduced prices. I know a woman who lives there, and she says that her condo is spacious, and the whole place is fine, but then again, she has a car.

The next large building to the right is another condo complex. This one is two large buildings containing about seven hundred condos all together. It’s very nice, with a big pool and modern exercise facilities, and a very good management company. I lived there for seven years in a small condo that I rented (30 square meters; $300 rent). You can still buy those small condos for about $45,000. Those buildings are right on the main road, so transportation is very easy. Lots of taxis right out front, and multiple bus lines with a stop on the next corner, one short block away. Pretty soon there’ll be a subway running out front. “Pretty soon,” that’s almost a joke. They have broken ground for the terminal station less than a quarter of a mile to the east, so the project has officially begun, but you learn early on that in Thailand, “soon,” and “now,” do not mean what we are accustomed to them meaning in the U.S. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll probably live to see it.

In between all of this visible housing stock, there are single and multiple family dwellings ranging from very simple and cheap to individual homes costing up to three-quarters of a million dollars. That’s DOLLARS. Plus, a wide variety of industrial properties. And everything is shoulder to shoulder at all price points. There are expensive properties that are very close to noisy industrial properties. It does not appear to me that there are any urban plans, or any building codes, or property-use regulations, to prevent the owner from doing just about any damn thing that she wants to do with her property. This is the “Land of the Free,” that is the literal meaning of Thailand (in Thai, Brataet Thai, the “Land of the Free”). Furthermore, if you own a house or a condo, there is nothing to stop you from using it for commercial purposes. By all means, locate your dentist office in your house, or run your small company out of your condo. Or sell food in the evenings from a table in front of your house, for that matter. Thailand has a degree of economic freedom that seems amazing to Americans.

I have been lucky enough to find the entire situation charming from the beginning. My attitude is always that I am here as a guest, and I did not come to Thailand to criticize their ways or to offer suggestions. Whatever Thai people decide to do with their country is fine with me.

I rather like my neighborhood the way that it is. I own a nice condo by now, and I’ll be fine living here for the long haul. 

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