May 05, 2016

    Residents in Bangkok's Chinatown fear getting the boot


    FOR nearly a century, Thanuan Amnueilap has watched history sweep through the bustling maze of alleyways that make up Bangkok's Chinatown, one of the city's few districts yet to be devoured by malls and high-rise condos.

    But change is coming.

    A new metro service will soon plough straight into the heart of the historic quarter and, in the process, transform a chaotic but charming area into a property goldmine.

    "We can't do anything," the 92-year-old said from a noodle stall tucked inside a lane of shophouses.

    His neighbourhood, known as Charoen Chai, lies near the proposed new metro station, which is set to open in 2018.

    Around 60 families have lived there for generations selling joss paper and other wares, but now they fear eviction.

    Scores of homes across the street have already been knocked down to clear a path for the metro.

    Land prices have soared more than 20 per cent over the past five years.

    The cards are stacked against Mr Thanuan and his neighbours, whose land is owned by a charity run by Bangkok's governor - a distant member of the royal family.

    The governor's charity would not comment on its plans for the area.

    But it has stopped offering long-term leases in favour of monthly ones.

    TCC Land, a company run by Chinatown-bred Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, one of Thailand's richest magnates and owner of the Chang beer empire, has already bought up a clutch of shops famous for selling car parts and musical instruments down the road from Charoen Chai.

    Fear abounds that the company will build a mall.

    Unable to outbid Bangkok's billionaire developers, Charoen Chai residents have now focused on making a case for their neighbourhood's historic value.