The road is featureless. It is lined by walls topped out in broken glass or by rubbish-strewn scrubland. A pack of seven dogs lines up behind us to bark us out of their patch. Suddenly a long stretch of wall is broken by an entrance. We come to the centre of the break and look in. It’s like Xanadu.
Between a pair of massive entrance towers the drive leads down to a high building topped by a sharply pitched roof. Below there’s a wide loggia with white curtains wafting in the breeze. We can make out chairs set out as for evening cocktails. In the middle of the wide entrance is a gate lodge, deserted. On one side, a small skinny man dressed in black is calmly sweeping leaves.
‘Can we take a look?’
‘Sure, no problem.’
We advance down the hill. The chairs in the open area are not arranged to receive cocktail drinkers after all. On closer inspection, they’re all higgledy-piggledy. Some are piled on others. The cushions are faded and ripped. There are dead leaves on the floor. The bar is deserted. Small tables are stacked, upside-down on each other. The place hasn’t been used for quite a while.
‘It looks like it used to be a restaurant,’ says Mrs Pobaan.
‘Or a bar,’ I suggest, thinking of the ice-cold beers that must have been served to the ghosts who now occupy these chairs.
‘What was this place, a hotel?’
‘I have no idea. Let’s have a look.’
On a table are dusty Perspex boxes, each containing a white architect’s model of a house. You can have this style, or this. This can be your dream home. Just pay the deposit.
Beyond the loggia a number of raised pathways cross a system of formal ponds in which are healthy looking lilies and, by the look of the swirling surface, large fish. The paths lead to a wide open area in which there is a huge pale blue swimming pool.
‘Look at the size of that!’
It must be thirty metres long; clean blue water but with fallen leaves floating about. I think it must be abandoned, but there’s a current running from the side.
‘The pumps are still on. Someone must live here.’
We forge on, tracking paths that wend through two-storey buildings with large dark windows. We peer inside. Furniture pushed aside, curtains pulled down and carpets strewn with debris. We find a toilet block; gentlemen and ladies both once catered for. Now their signs have fallen from the walls; gentlemen and ladies lying on the floor. There’s no water in the elegant taps. Someone has chucked stuff in the loos.
Around the pool are salas, covered areas each with a table and a few chairs, but no people. We stop at one. There are no plates on the table, no wine glasses, no tea service, no book turned face-down to keep the place of the reader. The people for whom this place was designed have not just gone in for a dip, they have not been called away by nature. They were never here.
We press on through the vast complex of buildings, expecting to hear a peal of laughter or a chatter of conversation. It’s silent. Behind, roads wind around scrub-land expectantly, designed to deliver people to the houses that were never built. But look, there is one house, an impressive two-storey building with a steeply angled roof behind thick white walls. In front of the two-car garage are two cars from the executive section of the salesman’s brochure. Next door we see the beginnings of a similar dwelling—walls and roof beams, but no glass in the windows and no tiles to keep out the monsoon.
‘They only built one house,’ says Mrs Pobaan.
‘One and a half.’
‘No-one’s working on that one.’
For a visitor from somewhere else this place would be extraordinary, hard to comprehend, an architectural freak-show. Yet here in Pattaya I have to report that, despite the other-worldliness of the place, it’s not that unusual. If you drive around the outer suburbs of Funtown, you quite often encounter the same phenomenon—an impressive boundary wall, the entrance buildings of a palace and, just inside, a show home to moisten the taste buds of anyone seeking the good life, with money to spend on the ultimate residence, the family home, the retirement refuge, the bachelor pad.
Usually, the windows are smashed, the door is broken down and the place shows all the signs of unauthorised use. People have had picnics, built fires and despoiled the place with their various wastes. And that’s it. The place is left for nature to reclaim. There are weeds between the paving stones and mould on the walls. A bird screams out of the lounge as you enter.
I’m not a property developer and I don’t know how the business works, but I cannot imagine that it’s good business to invest what must be large sums in the infrastructure of a new village without some plan for how the thing will be funded to completion. These places seem to me to be built entirely on spec without the marketing that’s required to draw residents in to get them finished.
As we leave we stop to talk to the groundsman who is still sweeping leaves from the unused driveway. He has a tattoo of an Apache on his arm.
‘What is this place?’ asks Mrs Pobaan.
‘A village,’ he says.
‘But there are no houses.’
‘There’s one,’ he says, pointing. ‘Someone’s renting it at the moment.’
‘But what of the restaurant and bar, the swimming pool and salas, the tables and chairs, the empty building plots with no houses?’
‘No-one came,’ he says.