Yes, Chiang Mai is home to two Central department stores, Kad Suan Kaew and Airport Plaza — in this post we’ll deal with the former since it’s the closest to downtown and probably more frequented by tourists than its larger, though slightly more out of town, confrere.
The giant red brick monstrosity, situated at the foot of Huay Kaew Road, just off the moat, can be seen from pretty much anywhere in central Chiang Mai so we don’t reckon we need to provide very comprehensive directions.
Now we do usually prefer to frequent local markets, eat in street stalls and generally avoid huge shopping mall chains. But Central is found in most of the kingdom’s larger cities and a lot of useful stuff is hidden behind its ugly walls and it’s certainly a very practical if not exactly necessary evil. Central Kad Suan Kaew contents include a Tops supermarket, Robinson department store, all the regular fast food outlets, a seven-screen multiplex cinema, the Lotus Hotel and four floors of shopping.
If you’re riced out and after some Western comfort/junk food then you’ll find it here: Sizzler, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Company, KFC, Starbucks and so on all under the same roof. Then there are plenty of banks, exchange booths, a Western Union — and some of the shopping is actually pretty good too.
In the basement you’ll find the aforementioned Tops, which does have a wide selection of local and foreign products — the latter often cheaper than at the more expat-orientated Rimping Supermarket, so handy for picking up your favourite home delicacies or stocking up for a picnic, plus it has an excellent bakery section. Also on this level are a couple of half-decent food halls surrounded by camera and mobile-phone shops plus, towards the rear, a Subway sandwich bar, outlet of Mike’s Burgers and a rather dubious Indian/Thai fusion cafe.
Level one houses many of the aforementioned Western food outlets, banks and lots more mobile phone stalls, and forms the ground floor of Robinsons — which goes up two more floors and is home to a reasonably okay English book and magazine department and a camera and computer section.
Level two has one of Chiang Mai’s largest chemists, Boots, plus more junk food chains. You’ll have to adventure into the furthest reaches of the second floor to find it, but there’s also Supersports which has, as the name implies, all your sports requirements but also a good range of camping and trekking items.
In fact some of the more interesting stores are somewhat tucked away, so wander to the back left on these lower floors and follow the narrower aisles that wind towards the rear of the huge building. Here you’ll DVD stores, interesting clothes, accessories, shoe shops and even tattooists.
The third floor has — yes more mobile phone shops — but also numerous smaller clothing stores where you’ll find similar stuff to Robinsons but at much cheaper prices. Head back to the corner on the Huay Kaew Road side and there’s one particularly good stall which sells Western-size clothing seconds at dirt cheap prices.
Above this is the cinema, which shows movies in Thai and in English for 90 baht (film version) or 110 (digital) Mondays to Thursdays, and 110 and 130 baht respectively on Fridays, weekends and public holidays. (Movies are from late morning to late evening.)
By Mark Ord.