Take a cruise down the west coast of Phuket and from offshore you’ll see construction sites all over the place. This may be a little surprising since, onshore, driving down the coast road you’d be unlikely to see any of them. Tucked away on remote headlands and among the steep hills, a hidden housing boom is taking place. If you’re making the trip in your own private yacht then you’re just the kind of person at whom all this activity is aimed. In less than ten years’ time the topography of the west coast, and probably the rest of the island as well, will be changed forever. For Phuket has now firmly entered the era of the Luxury Home.
Leading this revolution are a visionary group of developers who believe the time is right for ultra-modern, ultra-luxurious and ultra-expensive private housing on the island. From Nai Thon to Kata, and further inland too, demand for these palatial properties is showing no sign of abating. So let’s take a trip down the island and see the sites earmarked as homes for the acutely wealthy.
Our first port of call is Layan Beach, North of Bang Tao. Like Bang Tao, it has only recently come into its own as a viable development option thanks to the vision of Layan Beach Resort owner Pakin Rukteangan and his family. His father purchased the land over 30 years ago and intended to mine for tin on the site. Unfortunately, he never found tin in large enough quantities to make the land a commercial success so, following Amanpuri’s pioneering blueprint for a combined hotel/residential development, the family decided to build the Layan Beach Resort.
Pakim is confident of success. “We understand,” he says, “that the location here is very remote – that’s part of the attraction so it’s necessary to have common services such as restaurants and the spa.” So far, 52 luxurious rooms have been completed on a hillside overlooking the beach. Pakim’s next stage is Layan Burintr, an adjoining site comprising 28 high-end villas. Like the hotel, these will be designed in a modern Thai style and will be sold off the plan. “This is important,” says Pakim, “because it allows the customer to consult with the architect about the number and size of rooms. We will also offer a full interiors service utilising the best in Asian furnishings.”
A short distance from Layan on 350 metres of beachfront land between Bang Tao and Nai Thon, the Trisara development is beginning to take shape. Originally conceived by Boathouse architect M L Tri Devaluk, Trisara is aiming high. “We’re building what will be Southeast Asia’s most expensive and exclusive hotel,” Project Manager Anthony Lark explains. “This will only have 32 rooms and alongside it we are developing 16 villas. I think responsible development is the key to what we are doing here. We’re very lucky to have the coast’s last remaining rainforest on the land, so are doing as much as possible to avoid damaging it.” To this end, Trisara has earmarked 850 trees for special protection and built around them. The centrepiece of the hotel’s lobby will be a mature fig tree.
“We are creating a feeling of being at one with the ocean,” Anthony continues, “and not overtaking nature, so as to reflect and complement the culture we live in.” With 10 of the 16 villas sold at around 4.8 million US dollars each, it seems that buyers are having no trouble sharing Trisara’s vision.
More contemporary Thai property waits further down the beach at Bang Tao – but this time with no sea view. Not that that should bother its target audience too much. “Laguna Golf Villas will be built overlooking the Banyan Tree Golf Course,” Property Sales Manager, Tara Sudlow, explains. “Obviously it would be a very attractive place to live for a keen golfer, but we’re emphasising the fact that the properties are designed very much as family homes. We’re offering four different styles of houses all designed specifically for the site by JP Architects who also designed all the Laguna hotels.” Laguna Property is an established player in the development market having already completed and sold Allamanda, Sheraton and Banyan Tree Villas at the Laguna site. In common with many developments, it offers a rental service, allowing buyers to recoup their investment when they are not in residence. “We’re finding that the hotels’ regular guests who return year after year increasingly want a home to stay in instead,” Tara explains. “They love the
Laguna concept and trust the services we offer. They also understand that Laguna will continue to grow financially, so buying here represents a sound investment.”
So who is the average luxury home buyer? William Pinsent, Director of Phuket Land, first bought property on the island in 1981 and has been involved in six major developments since. He is therefore well placed to comment on the current boom. “The demographic of people buying here has changed significantly in the past five years,” he says. “Before the economic crash of 1998, many Thai nationals bought land and property for investment purposes here and if foreigners did buy property, it tended to be as a retirement home or purely as a holiday home. Now, as Phuket is becoming a business centre in its own right, the trend is more towards business people based in Asia – Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for example – who see the island as somewhere that has the infrastructure to allow them to run their business from here. Some people are relocating here entirely. Essentially, they are buying into a lifestyle. Phuket obviously has great weather, great beaches and friendly people. It now also has world-class flight connections, schools and services.”
Michael Weinstein, Managing Director of Phuket Island Villas Co., agrees that improved infrastructure has led to rapidly increasing prices. “In the last 20 months, land with a sea view has risen from 3-5 million baht per rai to 10-12 million,” he says. “On the west coast ‘Luxury Home’ properties which didn’t even exist a few years ago have now become a reality and may soon become the norm. In some cases prices are increasing so rapidly that a property’s value can rise 90 percent between inception and construction.” Phuket Island Villas is currently marketing Baan Thai Surin Hill, a development that overlooks both Surin and Bang Tao bays. The project will comprise holiday homes and estate villas. “This allows people a range of options,” says Michael. “The holiday homes will be considerably cheaper, but buyers will have greater privacy and more design choice with the villas. Thai-style is also popular with foreign buyers, but these days people expect high quality Western interiors as well.”
This is a point that O. B. Wetzel, MD of Development Management Group Co and project manager of Amanpuri, thinks buyers should consider carefully. “Basically,” he says, “developers and buyers should try to use appropriate technology where possible. We can now build properties with computerised air-con and security, ISDN lines, fibre optic cables, sub-zero refrigerators and other high quality appliances – but all these things require careful maintenance. This can be expensive and buyers should bear this in mind.”
Also in the hills above Surin we find Baan Thai Cherng Lay. MD Veerasak Sirivangsanti completed the project’s show home over a year ago and plots have been selling well ever since. “This sort of Thai-style villa was popularised by the Amanpuri,” Veerasak says, “and I am very grateful to them for that. But those I’m building here are intended for use as year-round residential properties. Building the show house has proved very useful to us – buyers come and see the quality of the building and know what they will be getting. I always try and use the best materials available, such as teak and granite, because they not only look beautiful, but are hard-wearing.”
Cruising on to Kamala we see Laem Son. Utilising a very traditional, freestanding pavilion style; palatial is perhaps the best word to describe the properties. Only seven villas will be built on the site with each one occupying more than 1500 square metres. “Each villa enjoys an uninterrupted sea view,” Somchart Ubolochart, MD of Piyalai Villa Phuket, one of the project’s developers, explains. “As one walks through the villa, the open pavilions change the perspective of the view. Water is very much an integral part of the development and we have added lotus ponds all around the property to create a relaxed ambiance.”
Potential buyers will have to move fast though as five of the seven villas have already been sold for between 2-3 million US dollars a piece. Laem Son is taking the unusual step of building the final two properties unsold to ensure harmonised construction. The group is confident that buyers will soon be found.
Global trends, especially the expected recession, may suggest that their confidence is misplaced. Not so says William Pinsent. “Thailand, in comparison with its neighbours, is enjoying a period of relative economic and political stability. At the same time, the weak baht makes it a good time to invest here and, as dot.com companies’ shares fluctuate and fall, the sort of business people who can afford it, see property as a good, stable long-term investment,” he says.
William Pinsent is happy to put his money where his mouth is. His company, Island Land Sales, is developing Jomchang – 11 villas on 35 rai of land on a headland near Kamala. The development is made possible by a new road, currently under construction, which will stretch around the headland from Kamala to Patong. “I call it the ‘Miracle Mile’,” says O.B. Wetzel whose company is the project management for Jomchang. “Almost all the land on the headland is sold and with good reason – it offers amazing sea views, total privacy and convenient access to Patong, Laguna and the airport.”
“The key feature of Jomchang is privacy,” explains Pinsent. “For this reason we’ve retained ownership of some of the land to ensure no building ever takes place on it and no one overlooks their neighbours. This is made possible by the fact that all the buildings fit into the contours of the land. The development blends smoothly with the natural landscape.” Luckily for Phuket, environmentally sensitive development is very much in vogue. Most developers try to leave natural features in place and intrude on the environment as little as possible. Samsara, on Laem Thip headland close to Patong, takes its environmental responsibilities a little further than most. Samsara will have its own self-sustaining water source, centralised waste-treatment and hot water heated by waste air-con heat.
While buyers will no doubt appreciate this environmental stance, they will also approve of Samsara’s innovative design. “Our architects, Original Vision, have created an ultra-modern, high-specification design utilising aspects of the traditional Thai look,” Tony Daniels of Asia Island Homes explains. “For example, all the properties will have floor-to-ceiling windows and Thai roofs. This not only affords fantastic views, it will create the illusion of the roofs floating above the property when viewed at night.”
Having lived on Phuket all her life, Yaowalak Sangiamkul has seen many positive and negative changes take place on the island. An avid nature lover, she is very pleased to be a part of the current wave of responsible development. “If built properly, properties should blend into the natural landscape. That’s what I’ve tried to achieve at Nakatani and Baan Chai Lei”.
At both hillside villa developments on the road to Patong, Yaowalak, President of the Nakatani Group, has carefully removed all non-indigenous trees and plants and replaced them with local ones. “I try to create a unique tropical garden in each one,” she says. Indeed when she’s not in the office negotiating with prospective buyers she can often be found personally tending one of the gardens.
Sailing down past Patong and into Kata, we find Phase 3 of M.L. Tri Devaluk’s other current development – Baan Kata. With Phase 1 and 2 already completed further down the beach, everyone is confident that Phase 3, on the hillside overlooking Kata Noi, will be equally successful. “Mom Tri will be personally designing all the villas,” GM Khun Pirawat explains. “Each buyer will be able to meet with him and discuss the specifications that are most suitable for them. This process should take about three months and then construction will begin.”
Also in Kata is the Katamanda development. “We’ve had an enormous amount of interest in the last year,” Director of Sales and Marketing Sean Power says. To what does Sean attribute this rapid success? “I think our location holds a great appeal. We’re only a five-minute walk from Kata beach. Many of our buyers are retired or semi-retired and are looking for a permanent home. They appreciate a sense of community. Also, the quality of the construction is very important – I believe our concrete and steel infrastructure is among the finest in the world. High quality and low maintenance is the key.” About 2 million US will allow you to buy into this particular exclusive community.
And there our journey ends, with another developer with a vision for the future. As long as there are customers out there with money to spend on the perfect home, someone somewhere on Phuket will probably have the means to build it. If you already have the necessary millions then be sure to move quickly, dreams are selling fast.
Moving Inland on the Island
A quiet environment, safe playing areas for children, a sense of community – at an affordable price. For those who are raising families, a different set of criteria guides their housing choices. Beach-front property is fine for a holiday, or the wealthier visitor, but for families, the price tag for a sea view puts these luxury villas well beyond reach. Fortunately there are other choices.
Across the island on the southeast end is where, “For the money buyers spend on west coast property, it’s possible to get a palace,” according to O.B. Wetzel. Indeed such palaces exist at the Land and Houses and Ban Prangthong developments in Chalong. Here Sino-Portuguese colonial is very much the preferred style and the buyer demographic changes slightly. “About 60 percent of buyers here are local Thais,” says Ban Prangthong MD, Nopparat Thongtan. “I think local business people appreciate the close proximity of our development to Phuket Town.” In addition to a convenient location, houses at Ban Prangthong can also offer two or three stories, perhaps eight or nine bedrooms, an equal number of bathrooms, 24-hour security and a swimming pool as well.
Over at Land and Houses, MD Pittaya Tantipriyakij has recently completed his first million dollar property – a grand colonial lakeside mansion facing his latest development, Chollada Lake View. “The feedback we’ve had so far from buyers has been very positive,” Pittaya says. “Sales have been surprisingly swift. Really it’s a question of giving people what they want. I think consultation is the key to success. Who knows, in the future if there is enough interest we may dig a manmade lagoon to build property around.”
Another intangible but important advantage these estates offer is the interchange of cultures. It is here, where children play together, where your neighbour might be Scandinavian, English, German or Thai, that tolerance and understanding begin.