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Not a Dirty Word

Category: , Posted:28 May 2011 | 07:00 am

There was a time not long ago when just saying the "P-word", "Pattaya", would cause your audience to recoil like a yo-yo.
Mere mention of the word would conjure up visions of debauchery and booze-soaked nights that made Gary Glitter seem worthy of an outstanding citizen's award.
The only thing Phuket and Pattaya seemed to have in common was that they both started with the same letter.
Now there's nothing wrong with a bit of naughtiness, but the eastern seaboard city definitely took the prize for Asia's capital of sleaze. Recently, when I was qualifying a working trip to Pattaya, I found myself clearing my throat, uttering disclaimers and pleading out "Urgh, it was for business," as eyebrows were raised by others. "No, seriously," I added rather lamely, turning to flee the idle chat.
But truth be known, Pattaya has been evolving for quite a number of years into what could be the second city of Thailand.
Its roots go back to 1978, when it was created into a special administrative area similar to Bangkok. That is when it became one of only two areas in the country which enjoyed a degree of political and economic self-determination.
Of course many know the history of Pattaya as an "R&R" center during the Vietnam war. Though, as you may have noticed, the 60s and 70s are long past.
With the expressway that today connects Bangkok and Pattaya, Travel time is a mere 90 minutes. From Suvarnabhumi International Airport it's even less.
To top it off, U-Tapao International Airport in Pattaya is able accommodate domestic, international and charter flights.
Over the past 36 months as prices in the Bangkok property market continued to skyrocket, Pattaya's own real estate sector has been a steady achiever.
One of the key drivers of this was the opening of the Central Festival shopping mall in 2009. As Southeast Asia's largest ocean-front retail center, Thais from Bangkok and elsewhere began to arrive in droves.
Suddenly Pattaya was coming of age, with new branded hotels such as Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Centara and most recently Hilton, arriving.
With nearly 45,000 condominium units – according to Colliers International Thailand – and consistent absorption rates, the market has a healthy mix of domestic and foreign buyers.
Of course there is the mass market argument, with the destination receiving an estimated seven million visitors a year. While this number includes Banakokians and certainly the new tourism darlings of the moment, Chinese and Russians, ultimately the surge still comes down to selling hotel rooms and property.
Indeed the winds of change have smiled on Pattaya. There remains much speculation about the growth of nearby industrial zones.
Some analysts are saying that this would push commercial and office markets from infancy into development mode and spur some companies to actually relocate from Bangkok to Pattaya.
Of course the bar district remains as it has been so keenly known. Driving though town at 9am in the morning I could not help but be amused by the assortment of characters seen bellying up to the bar with a beer in one hand and a coffee in the other. Old habits die hard.
As for the two "Ps", Pattaya and Phuket, in reality they are chalk and cheese. Phuket remains far more dependent on tourism and does not have the locational advantage of being a catchment for domestic property buyers its eastern seaboard cousin does.
Though both do have similar mass-hotel issues share the classic struggle between quality versus quantity, which looks to dominate our horizon for the decade ahead. It should be quite a storyline to follow as the two P's find their own respective pathways.

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