Chiang Mai shopping malls: A guide

EVEN in a city as charming as Chiang Mai, the stifling heat, endless temples, haggling at markets and staple diet of  rice and noodles can get a bit much sometimes and the body craves a day of aircon, overpriced coffee, Western fast food and maybe even a movie. When you feel like this, it’s time to find a good shopping mall and luckily Chiang Mai has a good choice.

Thailand’s second city has always lagged well behind Bangkok in terms of high-end shopping and, indeed, many contend this is a key part of its charm. Like it or not, though, Thailand’s northern capital is booming, with three swanky new malls opening in the last 12 months. So if you want splash some cash and spend a day away from the Thainess of it all, you might want to check these out.

Central Festival. Pic: SkyscraperCity.com

Central Festival Chiang Mai

This behemoth on the Super Highway north-east of the old city opened in late 2013 and is easily the largest of the city’s malls.  Its seven floors offer just about anything you’ll want including clothes, electronics, groceries, furniture and more. You’ll find plenty of designer outlets and chains here, such as Marks & Spencer, UniQlo, TopMan and Zara, but expect to pay Western prices. If you’re looking for bargains your best bet is on the basement level, though you’ll find better deals in the markets in the city center. There are countless food options on the upper floors catering to Asian and Western tastes. On the entertainment side you’ll find a cinema, an ice rink and a games area.
Getting there: Central Festival is easily accessible from the city center. Hop in a red songthaew or tuk-tuk, they’ll all know it. GPS: 18° 48.263′, 99° 1.114′

The Maya Chiang Mai

Located at the northern end of trendy Nimmanhaemin Road where it meets the Super Highway, this is Chiang Mai’s newest mall, open just a couple of weeks at time of writing. For the most part it’s standard fare with the usual clothing and electronics outlets. The observation deck on the fifth floor offers something different, and nice views of nearby Doi Suthep mountain. There are plenty of food options on basement level, as well as a Rimping supermarket.  Chris Backe has a detailed review of The Maya here.
Getting there: The mall is located about 1.5km from the north-west corner of the old city along Huay Kaew Road. GPS: 18° 48.107′, 98° 58.061′

Pic: phongthon.blogspot.com

Promenada Chiang Mai

Of all the malls in Chiang Mai, this is arguably the most pleasant to shop in, and the most difficult to access. Marketed as a ‘boutique’ shopping experience when it opened in 2013, a lot of thought went in to designing this place. Open spaces, lots of glass and landscaped gardens, which you have to cross to go between the mall’s two buildings, aid in making this mall a relaxing experience. In the evenings there is live entertainment outside which can be enjoyed from the restaurants’ outdoor areas or a cool ‘natural’ amphitheater. As for the shopping itself and the restaurant choice, it’s the usual fare you’ll find in other malls around town. The Rimping supermarket offers excellent Western-style grocery shopping, though it’s not the cheapest. There is a cinema and ice-skating rink here too.
Getting there: This is about 10-15 minutes drive from the city center and a little difficult to get to without your own transport, but you will be rewarded with a more serene shopping experience if you make the effort. GPS: 18° 45.896′, 99° 2.280′

Central Airport Plaza

A year ago this was the pride of Chiang Mai’s shopping malls, before having its spotlight stolen by the three listed above. That said, this is a modern and pleasant mall with bags of entertainment and shopping options. As usual you’ll find plenty of bargains and cheap eats on the basement level, with a McDonald’s and some other fast food options. Pricier eateries are on the upper levels along with the cinema. In between you’ll find all the electronics, clothes, shoes and household items you could possibly want. If you’re struggling to find something you need, the multi-floor Central Department Store is a good bet.
Getting there: This is right next to the airport and easily accessible by songthaew or tuk-tuk. GPS: 18° 46.139′, 98° 58.574′

Kad Suan Kaew

This is the original Chiang Mai shopping mall and, in many ways, the most charming. While the newer malls do deliver in terms high-end labels and the latest fashions, it’s all a bit sterile compared to Kad Suan Kaew where you never really know what you’ll find in its labyrinthine corridors. Seriously, it’s easy to get lost in here and some areas seem to have been abandoned for years. Still, there’s a good department store and plenty of clothing and electronics outlets. You’ll even still find bootleg DVD sellers here and there a dying breed in fast-changing Thailand. There is a cinema, but most movies are shown in Thai. Plenty of cheap food and entertainment in the basement.
Getting there: This is the most accessible of all the malls situated on Huay Kaew Rd, just off the north-west corner of the old city. GPS: 18° 47.785′, 98° 58.577′

If you’re after a more traditional shopping experience check out our insider’s guide to Chiang Mai markets.

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