THE CHINATOWN areas of Yaowarat and Charoen Krung used to be Bangkok’s central business district (CBD), but over the last 100 years the CBD has moved Eastwards and Northwards to Silom, Sathorn, Wireless Road, Ploenchit and Sukhumvit Roads.
Bangkok’s old Chinatown which had been declining as a commercial center but revitalization efforts of the old business district is now transforming the area into a major tourist destination.
As a result, there is a commercial opportunity to renovate and restore some of the historic shophouses and other buildings in the area with a focus on tourist orientated businesses.
In some countries like Singapore, the preservation of historic shophouses have been led by government policy with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) implementing a conservation master plan to renovate and restore Singapore’s Historical Areas.
There was a recognition that there was value in preserving older buildings to preserve some of the city’s history and create a tourist attraction. Today the Singapore government has given conservation status to over 7,000 buildings.
The Bangkok property market is driven free market principles with only limited government intervention, unlike Singapore which has a high degree of state control over what can be built and where. Bangkok has broad based urban and building regulations instead of being specific to individual properties as is the case in Singapore. As a result, the preservation of Bangkok’s historic buildings will mainly be led by the private sector driven by commercial opportunity rather than by the local authorities.
Although many of the historic buildings in, for example, the Song Wat Road area, some of which front the river, are still being used for traditional commercial purposes, there is now greater potential to renovate and convert buildings into small hotels, bars, restaurants, and tourist-focused retail. Street retail of this kind can attract both day time and night time traffic increasing total footfall.
The revitalisation of Bangkok’s Chinatown will be accelerated by the completion of the MRT Blue line extension due to open in 2020 with stations developed as tourist attractions with historical designs at Sanam Chai, Wat Mangkorn, and Samyod (Wang Burapha) stations.
Both Tourists and Bangkok residents are not just attracted to large, modern buildings. Today’s retail property market is competing with e-commerce and becoming increasing driven by unique experiences. Renovating and converting historic buildings to new uses can provide a unique “instagramable” experiences that can attract today’s consumer for both retail/F&B property and boutique hotels.
CBRE expects that the rediscovery of Bangkok’s Chinatown will accelerate as the area becomes easier to access and that will lead developers to recognise the commercial value of the historic shophouses in the area.
The attractiveness of the area will also improve with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) and Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA)’s program to put power and telecom cabling underground. This has already been completed on some roads in Bangkok such as Silom and some parts of Sukhumvit.
The Chinatown location will be a new upcoming location for developments apart from the concentration in Sukhumvit and traditional CBD areas.
Note: Writen by Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, Managing Director of CBRE Thailand