Thursday, September 21, 2017

Changing faces of Chinatown’s property

The property market in Yangon’s Chinatown is rapidly changing, as its streets become famous for late-night beer shops and a range of stores popular among foreign tourists, expats and Myanmar people alike.

Shops in Yangon’s Chinatown area in Latha township vend their wares. Photo: Zarni PhyoShops in Yangon’s Chinatown area in Latha township vend their wares. Photo: Zarni Phyo

The area to the southwest of Sule Pagoda in Latha township has been a centre of Myanmar’s Chinese community since at least 1824, when the Guangdong Guanyin temple was known to be standing. Although later destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt by 1872 during the British colonial period.

While Chinatown, or Tayote Tan in Myanmar language, has seen many different changes over the last 200 years, it has taken on a new light in the nightlife circuit, as its beer shops and restaurants become popular hangouts for foreigners and locals.

“Chinatown is becoming a tourist attraction,” said U Maung Aye, a central executive member of the Myanmar Real Estate Service Association.

“Lots have Chinese people have always lived there, but now a lot of foreigners have started renting here, partly because they cannot buy land,” he said.

“Of every 10 houses, at least three are now rented by foreigners. The environment is changing and many tourists like this place.”

U Maung Aye said current asking prices have increased substantially to about K30 million a month rent for the best street-level locations. Although sellers are trying to hook buyers, many prices have climbed too high for much of an active market, though renting is brisk particularly for shop fronts on the popular 19th Street, he said.

Phoenix real estate agent Ko Tun Tun said business in the area is booming, with many restaurants opening shops and some hotels following suit.

Although the area is particularly well known for its restaurants, it is also home to shops ranging from gold vendors to grape sellers. Chinese snacks are still readily available, and a potpourri of goods is on display.

Latha township resident Ko Lin Bo Bo said for the most part he welcomes the foreigner influx.

“Chinatown is located downtown and is a central spot for transportation. I have no complaints because Bangkok is also like this,” he said.

“As the country develops, more foreigners will come.”

However, he is concerned that the area may gentrify, with larger investments from foreigners opening restaurants and shops pushing out long-term residents.

“If foreign businesses displace Myanmar citizens’ businesses, that is not okay,” he said.

Still, Ko Lin Bo Bo said he expects the area to keep its unique feel, adding that even as the area becomes more popular it has remained fundamentally the same, protected in part by heritage restrictions.