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Every year in the middle of April, a peculiar migration of expatriates from Thailand to The Philippines occurs.  This mass exodus from the land of smiles coincides with the annual water festival known as Songkran, marking the Thai New Year.

Songkran is one of those events that is fun and interesting the first time you experience it, but for us Thailand veterans, it simply means a big wet drunken traffic jam.  Nearly all Buddhist countries in South East Asia celebrate some form of this festival and it leaves us with very few options for escape.  The Philippines, and particularly Angeles City, are the safe haven of choice for most of us.

The obvious attraction of Angeles City is the wide-open nature of the night life coupled with the warm hearted hospitality of an English speaking Asian paradise.  Normally, I spend my days partially submerged in the lagoon pool at The Wild Orchid Resort with a good book and a mango shake.  My evenings are highlighted with rounds of cold San Miguel beer and catch-up conversations with old friends I don’t see all year.  It is a break most of us look forward to with great anticipation.

But this year many had a different agenda; especially those of us in the property and investment business.  Last week I spent my days with a group of real estate agents and investors investigating the opportunities in Central Luzon.  We arrived on 12 April, enjoying a colorful celebration of “bike week” in Angeles City, hosted by John Seymour from NT Realty.  The day was spent perusing and taking pictures of some really amazing motorcycles and commiserating about the property market in Thailand.

Thailand is both enjoying and suffering from a booming economy.  The Thai currency is stronger than it has been in over a decade and a rapidly rising cost of living have many who choose Thailand as their residence singing the blues.  Economic pundits are tossing around the dreaded “B” word, fearing a bubble in the property market is about to deflate. I would count our group among the smart and cautious, looking to put some of our valuable nest-eggs in another basket.

Sadly I must admit, many Songkran refugees rarely get outside the entertainment zone in Angeles City and don’t have a clue about the real world that exists there.  Our host was kind enough to squire us around introducing us to the myriad of new and exciting opportunities that exist in Central Luzon.  We were amazed by what we saw.

Well designed and constructed housing projects like Horizon Tower, The Ritz by Best Western and The Balmoral Condominium in Friendship Village easily rival what we have in Thailand.  The development on Clark Air Base is astonishing.  We spent the better part of a day with the principals at the impressive Global Gateway Logistics City (GGLC); a city within a city at the Clark Freeport Zone.  The expansion plans and creation of this “Aerotropolis” is the stuff of property investor dreams.

The attractiveness of The Philippines in general cannot be denied.  The economy is one of the fastest growing in South East Asia and perhaps the world.  This fact was driven home earlier in the year when The Philippines economy was upgraded to “investment status” on par with much bigger countries like India.  Everyone in my group are native English speakers which is another big advantage of The Philippines.  After 14 years in Thailand, I still speak Thai like a toddler.  The ability to communicate clearly in English is both refreshing and liberating.

But the unique selling proposition of Central Luzon resonates with many of us for different reasons.  Most of our group resides in and around Pattaya, a beach resort about 2 hours from the sprawling metropolis of Bangkok on the Eastern Seaboard.  The rampant growth in our community has been fueled by the same element that drives Central Luzon; infrastructure.

Motorways, deep-sea ports, high-speed rail, airports and ever-expanding industrial parks have turned the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand into a bee-hive of frenetic business activity.  Not a week goes by without news reports about some multi-national mega-company opening new facilities and creating thousands of jobs.

Several years ago I made the trip from Angeles City to Subic Bay.  It took five hours.  An old Angeles City expatriate informed me that, “It doesn’t always take that long, but it always can”.  Last week we zipped down the new motorway arriving in Barrio Baretto in about an hour.  What a difference a road makes.  This mirrors our experience in Thailand with the motorway between Bangkok and Pattaya.

During our visit with the folks at GGLC, we learned all about the expansion of the already massive Clark airport facility.  We sat around the table grinning from ear to ear because we know what the opening of our own mega-airport near Bangkok has meant to our growth.  More tourists, more business, better logistics … life and business just got a whole lot easier.

Additionally, Pattaya is expanding its own airport at Utapao Air Base, a military airport built by the US with those oh-so-useful B-52 runways.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

We all immediately felt a kinship with Angeles City.  Pattaya has suffered from a partially deserved bad reputation due to our world famous Walking Street entertainment zone.  We find ourselves defending our growing little paradise by saying, “It’s one street … there is so much more to Pattaya”.  We know residents of Angeles City can relate.  Most outsiders have no idea about what is really going on there.  Just like Las Vegas isn’t just “the strip” and Orlando isn’t just “Disney World”, Angeles City isn’t just go-go bars.

For the past few years we have all been surfing the wave of development on the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand.  But, like all avid wave-riders, we are always looking for the next big one.  After a week of escaping the mayhem in Thailand, we all agree the next monster wave just may be swelling only three hours away in The Philippines.

Bart Walters
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