Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Central ChiangRai

While acknowledging that consumption, indulgence and shopping can be fun, and that no-one thinks it my place to instruct the world (except maybe me, and I do sometimes know better), I yet believe my observations might not only have validity, but perhaps even utility, for those so inclined as to review them. And I guess I’d best apologize at how pompous that sounds!

Today we (my family) just had lunch at Sukishi buffet restaurant, in the new Central Plaza. It was my first visit to the Plaza; my wife’s second. She went for the first (of two) Opening Day. We’re both impressed – aside from the inadequate parking for the current crowds, it’s quite a nice place. We arrived early, fortunately - as we ate, the place really filled up. A hint for finer dining there: sit near the drinks machine, so as to choose from the dishes going by on the conveyer belt, before others get a chance at them!

My first impression was that a Central for ChiangRai was presumptuous, if not just plain silly (as the first attempt proved to be: for those who don’t know, Appy Square was originally built to house a Central). It seemed poorly informed regarding local realities (but then again, Robin of Starbright once informed me that he knew there was clientele for his hotel and “spa”. “I did my demographics,” he told me. But it still seemed too fancy for ChiangRai, and I still don’t see much clientele there).

Today I noticed something I hadn’t taken into sufficient consideration. Most of the people enjoying our new shopping plaza aren’t from here at all: and it wasn’t built for us, it was built for them! ChiangRai has become a more pleasant for people who simply don’t care about cost to come to shop.

Indeed, Central Plaza ChiangRai may be the most pleasant place to shop in the whole country. And that might even remain true (although usually one would not expect something like this to last, some harsh economic realities may prove to be the determining factor).

Cars had plates from ChiangMai, Lampang, KrungThep… people were very well dressed, and I really doubt that even 10% of the money being spent was earned here. Well, let’s not quibble about “earned” – acquired. The people there got their money elsewhere, and came here to spend it pleasantly, without battling hoards of obnoxious kids, foreigners and people they don’t really want to bump into. ChiangRai, once again, is getting promoted as the new alternative to Pattaya, ChaAm, HuaHin, Phuket, or ChiangMai. We’re the place to get away from it all.

One thing that interests me about all this is that there’s a history of it, particularly around MaeChan (MaeJaan) and the “Golden Triangle”. Seems to me there’re quite a lot of resorts around there that neither have nor really want customers, and that a lot of investment was made with little concern for weather it would provide real profit or not. Sometimes I conjecture that it might have been like this:
A Bangkok “Hi-So” investor buys land and contracts to build a resort, using borrowed money. When bills come due but no returns have come in, the shell company arranged for the enterprise declares bankruptcy. The lending institution acquires the land and buildings and auctions them off. But maybe the auction isn’t well promoted, or some people find themselves not allowed in… and the original owner (or a proxy) merely buys it back for dimes to the dollar (OK, satang to the salung). Then the “resort” is used for family outings.
Could it be? Stranger, more insidious things certainly have occurred. How well do you think Central Plaza will do during the rainy season?