In search of Bangkok central

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Most major cities have a designated centre, or at least a number of zones that are known as business, retail or cultural hubs. London has The City, Westminster, Oxford Street and the West End, Singapore has Orchard Road, Marina Bay and the Quays, Hong Kong has its towering island, and in Kuala Lumpur, well, KLCC.

Although Bangkok boasts similarly defined areas; the sprawling, ever expanding nature of the Thai metropolis means the focus for development seems to constantly shift as new projects rise from the urban soil like concrete Acacia trees (among the fastest growing in the world), demanding attention, and of course, investment.

Most cosmopolitan Bangkokians would probably tell you that the area around Siam Square is the city’s true centre, framed as it is by the country’s most splendiferous retail malls and grande, branded hotels. Expats may argue that pumping arteries like Sukhumvit and Silom Road offer more depth and diversity, each one also boasting its neon shrines to conspicuous consumption. Then, of course, there’s Sathorn and its monuments to financial gain, flanked by high-end hospitality and mixed use bliss, while a short limo drive away from these commercial giants, the spoils of success are celebrated in style amid the leafy opulence of Ratchadamri, soon to be enhanced by a giant Magnolia and cushioned by the finesse of a Waldorf Astoria.

Talk to the real locals, however, the ones that in many ways drive the city’s fast paced residential development, and you will hear different names tripping off the tongue. Rama 9 is a case in point, home to the magnificent Central Plaza Grande,as well as The Nine community mall, and an endless swathe to new and established condo developments. Then there’s Lad Prao, Kaset-Nawamindra and Ram-Indra, all within nipping distance of the city’s doyen of design, CDC — packed every evening and weekend as the focal point for an equally vast but localised community. Newer still, Bang Na has found connurbate fame as the home to the recently launched Mega Bang Na, billed as the largest low-rise shopping mall in Southeast Asia and also including the city’s first Ikea, meaning the area’s residents now rarely need to contemplate mass transit excursions.

A contemplative trip to these humongous new urban alternatives soon sends the mental GPS spinning, and if that wasn’t enough, there are still more locations on the up and up. The majestic backdrop to the city’s glorious past, for example—the Chao Praya — is also now making a spirited comeback, thanks in part to the launch of Asiatiaque, an impressive, though rather kitsch new night market, food fest and “funarium”. There’s also a string of new hotels and condos either built, in progress, or conceived along the banks of the River of Kings, while just a meander or two to the south, Rama III is poised to shine as Bangkok’s CBD for the new age.

All this frenetic activity means the city’s property market is also in a state of perpetual flux. Unlike Singapore and Hong Kong where land is scarce and limited supply drives prices ever skyward (until the governments cool their engines), Bangkok’s property price wars inspire developers to offer endless deals and incentives to lure buyers to their particular version of home. Even at the luxury end of the market, when compared with other regional hotspots, prime properties remain refreshingly affordable, drawing cross border investment despite a notoriously obstructive, but ultimately navigable legal framework of foreign buyers.

For now, at least, the list of new centres for Bangkok will continue to grow, along with residential and commercial development. It may be hard to grasp such pervasive demand, but if we head back Rama 9 for a moment, we find 600,000 households in 17 densely inhabited districts, 537 schools, 69 colleges and 415 condominiums – all within a 10 km radius of the district’s main shopping mall. Apply the same numbers to the city’s many other burgeoning neighbourhoods, and it soon becomes clear that the scouts on the ground for map applications can look forward to a lifetime of job security in the Thai capital.