Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Muang Thong Thani: the district

Muangthong United's stadium and surrounding area is unique. The stadium itself is one of the few in Thailand not to be surrounded by a rarely-used running track. Such tracks are required by provincial governments for most stadiums which are often designed to be multi-purpose. Since most clubs rent their stadia, they have to make do with this. The Thunderdome is owned by the club and hence we have no such hassle.

The district of Muang Thong Thani is even more unusual. This satellite town of Bangkok was - like so many big money schemes in Thailand - conceived by a Chinese immigrant family who founded Bangkok Land. The company implemented the design of the Muang Thong Thani area (which loosely translates to "New Town' in English) at an estimated cost of 1 billion USD.

The plan was to develop a sophisticated shopping and residential satellite suburb of Bangkok that would appeal to the rapidly developing upper-middle class bracket of Bangkokians. To that end a very spacious area was reserved for tower blocks, markets, shopping buildings and an exhibition centre, all accessible by highways. It was probably the intention to build a skytrain link to the area too, since another member of the founding family is a CEO of the BTS.

All this planning and early building started in the nineties, and we know what happened next. When PM Banharn Silipa-Archa (now owner of Suphanburi FC) confessed foreign exchange reserves were lower than the government had stated, speculative attacks on South East Asian currencies - especially the baht - became vicious and the crash kicked in. The result was a domino effect of bankrupt business and unfinished building projects.

The after-effects can still be seen around Bangkok in skeleton, half-built, deserted high-rise buildings scattered around the city that may never be finished or demolished, just left to rot or house squatters, stray dogs and rats. The effect is more pronounced in Muang Thong Thani. Parts of the area are like a modern day ghost town, with trendy office and shopping areas that are often less than half full.
To add to the unsettling feeling is the fact that these buildings are very atypically Thai. They have been designed to have a western look. This includes the residential tower blocks. Once described as 'beautiful', they now resemble the high-rise flats of lower income areas in English cities, albeit without the grafitti and gangs selling drugs outside. These flats now rent out at a very reasonable rate of 2,000 baht per month in an effort to attract residents and the gamble looks to have been successful. They are now treated as a local version of Chung King Mansions in Hong Kong, with everything from restaurants to barber shops within the complex. It's possible that residents would never actually need to leave the building if they didn't wish to.

The unique district has another feature: a lot of MTU fans. I've never walked past the complex on any occasion without seeing one - usually a lot more - Quilins shirt coming in or leaving. So yes, MTU do have a lot of local support.

It's even possible that those MTU locals could kick-start the revival of the area. The resurgence of residency combined with the boom of the exhibition centres and perhaps the success of the club has renewed interest in the area. A major hotel chain is currently finishing off a new structure right next to the Thunderdome and the apartment areas are seeing a slow increase in visitors to the local markets and shops.

Just like Thai football as a whole, the future of Muang Thong Thani is unknown and unclear, but my guess would be that rather than the entire 'high-so' district the founding family envisioned, we are more likely to see a divide between the big business exhibition centres and a smaller, lower income, but unique looking district of tower blocks and market shops behind it. At least they'll be able to say they have a good football team on their doorstep.

Much of the information for this article came from this excellent site.


  1. My friends and I affectionately refer to Muang Thong Thani as "the Inception buildings". They're a bit unsettling the first time you see them, maybe just because they look out of place.

  2. Muang Thong Thani actually means golden city in English