I'm sure if you live in Bangkok it will not have escaped your notice that the popular BTS system is receiving a long overdue extension in the eastern part of the city center. From On Nut to Soi Bearing, there are 5 new BTS stations opening in August 2011. This will open up the city center to the Bang Na district of Bangkok.
This will also represent the single largest extension to the BTS system since its inception in 1999, so for those of us travelling regularly around the city center of Bangkok this is a pretty monumental occasion, and I predict it will really influence and alter the landscape of the real estate market in Bangkok quite significantly. Not since the opening of the MRT system has the Bangkok metro system witnessed such an event.
The MRT system runs predominantly along the Ratchada area of Bangkok and has really opened this part of the town to new stylish condos and apartments which have challenged the traditional expat stronghold of Sukhumvit for high-quality living at a lower cost. Since the launch of the MRT, Ratchada has gained numerous office blocks and a fancy new shopping plaza - The Esplanade - as well as a cinema, ice-rink and bowling alley. Not to mention dozens of new hip and trendy bars, restaurants and clubs.
I think it is pretty safe bet that the higher numbered sois in Sukhumvit will now experience a similar boom as the new BTS stations are opened to the public and gain popularity. In fact as the new stations are on the BTS line (a system which is already twice as popular as the MRT) they will probably grow in popularity more rapidly, and therefore the commercial and retail outlets feeding off the new extension to the BTS will grow at a similar pace.
Already it is possible to see this development, for example on Sukhumvit soi 101/1 there is already a small retail park housing a Tops supermarket, Starbucks & Major Bowl as well as the usual group of independent and franchised restaurants and bars. There is also the recently relocated Night Bazaar (formerly located near Lumpini Park). All these attractions have launched in preparation for the opening of the BTS stations and the customer traffic it will bring.
Anyone who has ever been to On Nut station - the current terminal station - especially in the evening, will be able to testify to how many people there are heading on towards Bang Na and the higher numbered Sukhumvit sois. There are 20-30 minute queues for taxis and motorbike taxis, bus-stops are full, and the pavements crammed with pedestrians. It doesn't take an analyst specializing in town planning to realize that most of these people will be regular and grateful users of the new stations.
So what does this mean for us expats?
Sure it's all very well commenting on how populated the eastern side of Bangkok city center is, and it's easy to predict that the new BTS stations will be well received by these residents, but how does that affect you as an expat? And more specifically how does that affect you as a teacher in Bangkok?
Well it is the number of brand new condos and apartments that are being built within walking distance of these new BTS stations that is of benefit to us. It is estimated there are between 4,500 - 5,000 new or brand new condominium units and apartment units being built just around these BTS stations. Even for a city the size of Bangkok that is an awful lot of new housing stock! And remember the majority of this stock is bought as buy-to-let for expats.
Clearly unless there are 4,500 - 5,000 extra foreigners arriving to boost the expat population, then supply will be growing faster than demand, pushing prices down to lower levels than previously seen in mid-Sukhumvit. And of course there are a good number of international schools and universities located in the Bang Na, Srinakarin and Pattanakarn areas of Bangkok. So this area of town offers convenience for many working in the education industry.
With studio condos starting as low as THB 9,000 in brand new condominium buildings with swimming pools, fitness rooms, car parking and other facilities, these really are great value. And with 1-bedroom condos starting at just THB 13,000, it is clear that good quality living in Thailand has never been more affordable.
There is now no need for teachers to be located deep in a soi, or in a less desirable or older building in order to save money. Now you can be in a stylish new condominium or apartment within 5-10 mins walk of a BTS station and enjoy all the facilities and amenities of those people located in the traditional, but expensive expat areas of Thonglor, Phrom Phong or Silom.
I have mentioned the prices of the studio and one-bedroom condos in these new buildings, but we have been most impressed with the two-bedroom condos on offer. For example you can get a two-bedroom condo in S & S Condominium for just THB 19, 000. And these are well designed units with balconies, 2 bathrooms and large living areas, for almost the same price as people were recently paying for studios and one bedrooms around On Nut and Phrakanong. For 2 people sharing whether as a couple or just friends, these are great value.
And of course this is just the start of the movement. Remember, when the MRT opened there were very few of the new condominiums and apartments developed or even under construction. Even though the developers knew the MRT was scheduled to be opened, it took years for the line to take effect. However the new BTS stations have already started to see a huge amount of development close by. Which indicates by the time the new BTS stations are 5 years old, we will see much more development and there will be a real shift eastwards for many Bangkok expats.