Not long ago, a year and a half maybe, in this distinctive little city could be seen massive amounts of cash racing from hand to hand, at banks especially: large bags of bundles thousand-baht notes worth tens of thousands US, getting counted on the electronic machines. Land prices doubled while illegal casinos did so much business that some had to close down, their parking lots full of 'pawned' vehicles they could no longer sell in newly saturated Shan State. Everyone was so rich you couldn't even get illegal immigrants to work for minimum wage. Cheap housing was going up at a rate not seen since the 1997 'Thaitanic' crash, but somehow we didn't get a resurgance of nice restaurants or bars, art or handicraft shops, or boutiques. The day of the 'spa' has come and mostly gone, but coffee-shops and bakeries with minimal offerings ubiquitous, massage parlors and opticians are everywhere... just nothing that really requires work. Some road-work was done, but narrow lanes and potholes remain the norm.
Just north of Ban Du (the north side of Amphoe Muang) at Ban Pa Ha, are many new houses, some in 'developments' of small units, a few costly and large. There's a bit of interesting architecture, including an old, raised two-story teak house with ornate galae roof decorations (but it seems to be falling apart), and a small place with plate-glass framed by heavily varnished uncut wood still in the shape of the trees it came from. Just east of there, construction of a wide divided highway has commenced, but judging by the speed of other road-work, it will take years to become usable. It's to go to Chiang Saen, the same road that goes by the entrance to the airport and south to near the new HomePro, which will be extended on south - going I don't know where... Nan or perhaps as an alternate route to PhaYao?
One would expect that the ChiangRai 'discussion group' forums might provide information on development plans, progress and these kind of changes, but so far I haven't noticed any. A rumor spread to me of plans for a new department-store complex in Ban Du, to include another Big C (the one we have, despite being right across the highway from the new Central/Robinson complex, has insufficient parking, as also does Central!). But it seems to me that locals go to Big C and Central as much to see and be seen as to spend. Lots of little, inexpensive restaurants have opened, but they seem not well patronized, and I wonder if soon we won't be seeing lots of the money-washing businesses close.
With less crime, the government making banks act cautiously about money washing, less tourism, less disbursement of funds by the lovelorn to local lasses, less donation to charities, less arms sales to tribal armies in Myanmar, less gambling, less foreign aid coming in (no Cobra Gold war games, fewer foreign navy ships docking in Pattaya), less from concerns like the Rockerfellow Foundation, less profit from drug dealing, less spent in bars, less spent in restaurants, less brought in by expats looking to settle and invest, less naievely invested by a huge variety of mobsters, some semi-legit, and far less paid out to protestors, well, the water-pressure at the money pump just simply looks kind of low these days.
I suppose the new highway is meant to imporve the financial picture. But looking at maps to try to make sense of the new highway from the airport to ChiangSaen, I fail. Maybe the new road will join Highway 1209 to ThaKhaoPluak, but from there it'd have to turn to Doi Luang, an OK country road, then 1271 to Chiang Saen. For what? Access to casinos? To lure Chinese customers who come for the casions to go on further, to Amphoe Muang?
The road to Kunming is through ChiangKhong, not ChiangSaen, and the small roads in Laos from the other side of the Mekhong from Chiang Sai (Hwy 2) are much smaller than Hwy 3 to LuangNartha (then up to Kunming or down to LuangPrabang). And Hwy 3 is the only major thru-fare there.
So what, I wonder, is the expensive new road really about? Utilizing budgeted monies? Kickbacks? Taksin's plan for a "special economic zone" in ChiangSaen?
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists will purportedly drive down, annually, but already not only are they unwelcome in ChiangMai, and don't go there anymore!
Maybe all the little earthquakes, 800 to over 1000 of them since the real one in May, have scared folk off, or at least
potential land purchasers, but they seem less dangerous to me than flooding in Bangkok. The hot springs, however,
are now definately hotter.