Bangkok’s premiere luxury shopping complexes have redefined this city’s retail experience
Originally called the World Trade Center, the eight-story mall at the corner of Rama I and Ratchadamri roads first opened in 1990. Central Group acquired the property in 2002 and changed the name first to Central World Plaza, and then to CentralWorld, in 2005. On May 19th, 2010, the mall was one of the many properties set on fire when the Red Shirt anti-government protesters were forcibly removed after months of demonstrations which included complete blockage of the Rachaprasong shopping district. But even without this storied history, CentralWorld would still command plenty of attention.
The mall occupies around 550,000 sq.m of retail space, making it the largest shopping complex in Thailand (and one of the largest in the world). It encompasses everything from brand name clothing boutiques to funky fashion retailers, high-tech gadgets, bookshops, designer furniture outlets, health and beauty suppliers, imported grocery shops, and much, much more. In short, if you need a shopping fix this is the place.
The mall is anchored by two large department stores—Zen and Isetan—and the approximately 500 other retailers include: Marks & Spencer; Massimo; Kenneth Cole; Fred Perry; Kate Spade; Coach; Calvin Klein; The Body Shop; Zara; The North Face; and Adidas (to name but a few). Add to this beauty salons, dozens of gourmet eateries—including many in the stand-alone Groove@CentralWorld section—and even an indoor ice skating rink, and it’s safe to say that this is not your average mall.
CentralWorld’s overall design has placed a lot of emphasis on natural light, with daylight filtering through the many skylights and open wells. In addition, eye-catching artwork by famous artists—such as Australian artist Jeremyville—are used as decoration features, while a magnificent mobile consisting of 3,500 suspended glass balls in an open well has become an Instagram hit. Meanwhile, the outdoor square that faces Ratchadamri Road is often used for large-scale events, such as Bangkok’s official New Year’s Eve countdown party.
Another big draw here is the SF World Cinema, an upscale movie theatre complex located on the 7th floor with a total of 15 screens, including the new state-of-the-art MX4D experience cinema, and SF Cinema First Class (with 180° adjustable reclining armchairs, blankets, and pillows). And for parents with kids, the Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park) on the 8th floor provides specialized supervision in an ‘edutainment’ environment. So drop off the kids off with a clear conscience and give those credit cards a workout.
With easy access from the Siam BTS station, Siam Paragon is both a civic landmark and a beacon of luxury shopping. Opened in 2005, it’s a joint venture by Siam Piwat, the company that owns the adjacent Siam Center and Siam Discovery shopping malls, and The Mall Group (who own several other retail properties in Thailand).
Siam Paragon itself contains over 250 shops, with the main floor boasting retail outlets from such luxury designer brands as Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Burberry, YSL, Salvatore Ferragamo, Jim Thompson, Rolex, Bulgari, Mont Blanc, and Versace. Not to be outdone, the next level up is home to such iconic brands as Paul Smith, Armani, Hugo Boss, Gap, Swarovski, Greyhound, and H&M. But it’s perhaps the 3rd floor that really causes jaws to drop, with its indoor car showrooms displaying gleaming vehicles from Aston Martin, Lotus, BMW, Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. Needless to say, this mall caters to well-heeled Thais and international visitors with the urge to splurge.
Of course, not everyone is here just to shop, as the mall is also home to many interesting entertainment attractions. The popular Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World aquarium—Southeast Asia’s largest—is located on the basement level and covers approximately 10,000 sq.m, with hundreds of different marine life species on display (in exhibits that make use of about 5,000,000 litres of water). Meanwhile, further up on the 5th floor, Blu-O Rhythm & Bowl is a 38 lane bowling alley, with karaoke rooms and a restaurant. There’s also a 15 screen Paragon Cineplex which includes the Enigma cinema, a VIP treatment candle-lit lounge with full bar and sofa-bed seating, and the Bangkok Airways’ Blue Ribbon Screens, with comfy adjustable reclining armchairs, blankets, and pillows.
Finally, Siam Paragon’s Food Hall and Gourmet Market are not-to-be-missed foodie experiences, while the plethora of delectable name brand dining options includes such talked about restaurants as Bombyx (by Jim Thompson), the Clinton Street Baking Company Bangkok, and the newest branch of La Crêperie.
Opened in May of 2015, EmQuartier is part of The Mall Group’s multi-billion-baht ‘EM District’ project—a scheme that will transform the area around the Phrom Phong BTS station into one of the biggest retail hubs in Bangkok. Together with the already popular Emporium Shopping Mall, which opened in 1997, this enclave of high-end retail frenzy could easily become an all-day shop-a-thon extravaganza for those with plenty of room on their credit cards.
With its futuristic design—covering 4,000 sq.m of floor space—plus dozens of restaurants, offices, event halls, and a cool atrium garden with waterfall, EmQuartier continues to draw huge crowds of awestruck Instagram-happy visitors. Shopping options here lean towards the more luxurious brand names, with designers like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Jimmy Choo, Valentino, and Fendi all having presence on the ground floor and second floor levels. Higher up brands such as Zara, Uniqlo, H&M, Gap, and Super Dry offer plenty of retail therapy.
The mall itself is split up into three different zones: The Glass Quartier, The Helix Quartier, and The Waterfall Quartier. The Helix, as it’s known, contains over 50 restaurants, all accessed by an impressive spiral multi-storey walkway. Choose between Chinese at Man Fu Yuan, seafood at Crab & Claw, grilled meats at The Chop, or any of the multitude of other dining options. Another highlight is the Quartier Cine-Art which consists of four cinema options, including the full luxury Aeon experience, with bed-like seating and snacks from Dean & Deluca.
By contrast, the Emporium (on the opposite side of Sukhumvit Road) is a tad less eye-popping, but no less luxurious. Within this nine-storey complex you’ll find established fashion favourites such as Diesel, Dior, DKNY, Alexander Wang, Miu Miu, and Victoria’s Secret, as well as upscale local designers such as Misty Minx, Jaspal, Lyn Around, and Jim Thompson. There’s also plenty of food choices, and in fact floors 6 through 9 are just restaurants. You can also catch a film here at the 5th floor SF Cinema, and splurge on the new Emprive Cineclub VIP screening room.
On September 14th this year Gaysorn Village (formerly Gaysorn Plaza) held a very lavish Grand Opening party to celebrate the property’s new branding and new direction. Located at the corner of Ploenchit and Ratchadamri roads, and spanning over 180,000 sq.m, this new interconnected “village” includes: Gaysorn Tower, an eco-friendly office tower; Amarin Plaza, a hub for great shopping and dining; and the Gaysorn Shopping Centre, home to the world’s finest fashion and accessory brands—Bally, Brooks Brothers, Max Mara, Tag Heuer, Davidoff, Tumi, and many more. Meanwhile, to the north, the Gaysorn Walk also offers visitors to access the city’s famed Pratunam area, for even more shopping selection.
There’s also plenty of amazing wining and dining outlets within this venerable shopping complex, including Paste, Riedel Wine Bar & Cellar, and the newly opened Bangkok branch of the London-based Burger & Lobster chain. And if you find yourself knackered from shopping, book a spa treatment at the award-winning on-site Thann Sanctuary.
Back in May 2014, when Central Embassy—located at the junction of Wireless and Ploen Chit roads—first threw open its doors to the public, expectations were high. And while no one could argue that the futuristic design and minimalist white interior was impressive, foot traffic in the 144,000 sq.m mall was a little slow at first. Even the more than 200 luxury brands, including Christian Louboutin, Givenchy, Isabel Marant, Jil Sander, Moschino, Mulberry, Tom Ford, Chopard, and Pomellato weren’t luring in as many shoppers as expected.
However, time is a great healer and now the mall has become a true shopping destination locale. The EatThai upscale food court, which takes up much of the basement level, gradually became a much talked about foodie hot spot, and this past year the opening of the Siwilai City Club and the super-cool 6th floor Open House has breathed new life into the complex. Another consistent draw has been the über-luxurious Embassy Diplomat Screens at the 6th floor Cineplex. Of course, being joined at the hip to the newly opened Park Hyatt Bangkok hotel hasn’t hurt either, and together these top-tier properties have turned this intersection into one of the city’s go-to areas.
In addition, all this renewed public interest in Central Embassy has certainly benefitted the many deserving dining spots in the mall, such as the Water Library restaurant, Ippudo Ramen, Somboon Seafood, Issaya La Pâtisserie, Chickalicious, and Audrey Café Glamour.
Central Chidlom: This grand old dame of the Bangkok shopping scene—it’s been around since 1973—may be, of late, overshadowed by some of its flashier neighbours, but with seven floors of luxury products and notable restaurants it still holds its own. Located at 1027 Phloen Chit Rd.
The Esplanade: Providing sheltered shopping when it’s too wet or too early to visit the adjacent Rod Fai Night Market Ratchada, this seven-storey mall covers all the bases—fashion, accessories, plenty of restaurant options, and a 12 screen Major Cineplex on the top floor. Located at 99 Ratchadaphisek Road (MRT Thailand Cultural Centre).
Show DC: Yes, it’s a shopping mall, but Show DC—located near the RCA entertainment district—also offers a huge range of entertainment-based attractions, including a live music concert hall, a modern sports arena, and a 5,000 sq.m cultural facility called the Himmapan Avatar; a 45 minute 4D walkthrough show of holographic images and other extraordinary audio-visuals showing scenes from Buddhist mythology. Free shuttle bus services from the MRT Thailand Cultural Centre.
Mega Bang Na: It’s a little out of the way, but there’s a free shuttle bus service from BTS Udom Suk that brings you right here, and the bus also makes a stop at the nearby IKEA (which is, for some, the real reason to venture out this far).
By Bruce Scott