One of the best things about Chiang Mai is that, despite being steeped in culture and history as well as traditional arts, it is Thailand’s second-biggest city. While not as densely packed as Bangkok (a plus, not a minus!), it has attracted its share of modern shopping malls, superstores and specialist markets. Though you will be here for cultural immersion and a tour through the temples, botanical gardens and tiger farms, sometimes you just want something with a little more glitz and, not least of all, air-conditioning.
- Central Airport Plaza is currently the most prominent, shiniest shopping mall in Chiang Mai. It is housed in a complex that includes an exhibition hall and huge parking space, offering a range of restaurants and familiar brand names throughout its halls from Starbucks to Pizza Hut, though it is in no shortage of independent and Thai restaurants, clothing stores, and tech vendors. Notable is its unique feature, the Northern Village, which showcases handcrafted goods from local cottage industries in an attractive, well-decorated area spanning several floors. It also has an entire floor dedicated to computers, gadgets, mobile phones and hardware that’ll catch the eye of any tech-savvy traveler. On its topmost floor is the city’s largest cinema, the Major Cineplex. The Central Airport Plaza sends shuttles to prominent hotels to pick up guests and will also send you back: their shuttle is a yellow-green songtaew with their logo and usually stops by hourly. The mall itself is located at Mahidol Road, conveniently close to the Chiang Mai International Airport, a golf course, and several restaurants.
- Central Kad Suenkaew is notable for its brick facade, which distinguishes it from other department stores and buildings in Chiang Mai. Its general layout and setup are similar to that of the Central Airport Plaza, but thanks to its latest renovation being over ten years past, it sports considerably more grunge and less glitz than its larger, more modernized cousin. The Kad Suankaew is located on Huay Kaew Road.
- Lotus, also known as Tesco-Lotus, has been a success in Chiang Mai and opened two branches: Hangdong and Kamtiang, along with several smaller “Lotus Express” convenience stores located throughout gas stations in the province. While not overly glamorous, Lotus superstores do offer a great deal of convenience and travel-sized shampoos, facial foams, soaps and toothpaste that are essential to any trip. They function as shopping arcades, and each Tesco-Lotus includes a bookstore, a Black Canyon (a Thai café franchise), and either a Pizza Hut or Pizza Company.
- Rimping Supermarket, a Chiang Mai-only specialty supermarket, started off small and humble but has since grown into a multi-branch corporation that aims at the more upscale end of shoppers. It offers fresh, made-in-house bakery that is surprisingly excellent, produces from the Royal Project, and many imported snacks, cooking ingredients, breakfast cereals and more. At the time of writing, there are three large branches of Rimping and a smaller one; the largest three can be found by the Ping River, next to the Central Airport Plaza, and at the Ruamchoak Market. The Central Airport Plaza and Ruamchoak branches have the bonus of being bundled into a shopping arcade so you can do your dining as well as your shopping in one trip.
- Central Festival Chiang Mai is one of the new projects that will be open for business in 2012. It is being built on a land that covers 46,500 square meters located on the Chiang Mai – Doi Saket super-highway, aiming for the same market as the Central Airport Plaza, but more: larger, more modern, more everything.
- Promenada Chiang Mai, like Central Festival, will be operating in 2012. The difference is that it will include a resort and is a Swiss project, which hopes to attract truly upscale shoppers much like the Siam Paragon in Bangkok, with the prices and selection of stores and merchandise to match. Being further along in development than the Central Festival, it’s possible the Promenada will open by the end of 2011 rather than mid-2012.