A few years ago, I went to Bangkok to visit a mall. And lived to tell the tale (OT, Feb 2013). A few months ago, I went to Bangkok to visit another mall. I have lived, and will now tell you a tale of an incredible thing: a super-luxury mall that a super-snobbish person was pleased to visit.
Don’t get me wrong, my snobbery is usually of the reverse kind, featuring a failure to comprehend the wealthy person’s penchant for inexplicably expensive products. But the brand-new Central Embassy mall in the heart of Bangkok’s mall ‘strip’ takes luxury a step further—it’s so refined, so über-luxurious, that it virtually defies the common or garden-rich shopper’s genuflection before the god of exclusive consumerism.
To start with, the building is a stunner. I am told that its architects derived inspiration from the infinity symbol, Thai temple roofs, Thai silk, 3D technology, the modern skyscraper…The result of this confused, eclectic inspiration is, well, inspired: an elegantly curving, brilliantly shimmering, and beguilingly flowy structure. You enter into a space that was described by someone as “over-the-top minimalism.” I loved it:
the continuing curves, the generous white spaces, the non-intimidating lowish-rise that ends at a modest eight storeys, the discreet art installations. All tricksily convey a sense of naturalness, of culture and sensitivity, in the very epitome of a highly unnatural environment. You could just take in all of this and leave.
But you shouldn’t, of course. I’ll save the best for last, and first, address that baffling constituency—luxury shoppers, who may understandably be equally baffled thus far. Even my prejudiced eyes can see that a visit to the Central Embassy mall should be in the nature of a pilgrimage. This is the next level of luxury retail, and features broadly three kinds of stores. The flagships include Chanel’s largest store in Thailand, Hermès’ flagship with the widest range, Prada’s flagship spread across two levels, Moschino’s flagship with first-line and special-design products; also Miu Miu, Mulberry, Tom Ford, Red Valentino, Vivienne Westwood and more. High-street brands are present, but in a larger and/or more exclusive avatar: Zara’s largest store; Levi’s Vintage, which is only the second such store in the world after Japan.
Then there are new-to-market brands: Isabel Marant, Repetto, Paul, Linda Farrow, TOMS Shoes. This dazzling array is spread from Levels Ground to 3; Level 4 is devoted to lifestyle and beauty brands including Moga Aveda, Motif, Jaspal Home and the like. Level 5 is where you take a break—to sample the wares at famed eateries such as Din Tai Fung, Great American Rib, ChikaLicious Dessert Bar, The Girl & The Pig, Somboon Seafood and many more—and then to be charmed by Thai cutting-edge fashion and home products at the ‘new concept’ Siwilai store.
For rarefied entertainment, one must ascend to the very heights of this temple to all things super-fine. The ‘Embassy Diplomat Screens’ on Level 6 is a collection of five cinema theatres, which can hold a maximum of 30-50 persons. ‘Seats’ at these theatres cost from 1,500 baht, and are seats only in the sense that one can certainly place one’s posterior on them; in one of their ‘CoCoon’ seats, they bid you “forget business class.” How to better First Class then? Why, by heading to Hall 1, where you can expect to recline languorously on a ‘Grand Sofa’ or a ‘Loft Bed’ or a ‘Large Day Bed’ or a…you get the idea. Naturally, there are also such bare necessities as a private bar, headphones that provide language options, complimentary beverages and so on.
Then, for one last time you must arise, and descend, into the lowest levels. If there is a hell on earth, let it be here, let it be here, let it be here: gluttony was never this gratifying. At the fabulous Eathai, Bangkok’s famed street food meets the equally famous, but sanitised version available in malls such as Siam Paragon, resulting in the next level of local-cuisine eating. Spread over 5,000 sq m, Eathai is a refined version of a food court. It is divided into three sections: one space devoted to carts selling street food; another with kitchen counters peddling wares from all parts of Thailand; and the third selling packaged food products (great for gifts). At first sight the mind boggles, being confronted with a dazzling array of dishes from Central Thailand (tom yum goong, yum pla salad, etc), North (spicy sausage, egg noodle curry soup), Esan South (charcoal grilled chicken), Esan North (pounded prawn on sugar cane), South (bamboo shoot and fish yellow curry). Apart from the regional counters, there are also counters that serve exclusively seafood and, yes, vegetarian dishes. Luxury food eats a hole in your wallet, right? Wrong: prices start from 80 baht for a soup, and from 100 baht for mains. Eathai is a deep-concept sort of place so, not unexpectedly, it also features the fascinating Issaya cookery studio.
The whole of this awe-inspiring edifice will be complete when its 37-storey Tower opens this year, where the 6-star Park Hyatt will welcome luxury-livers in its 222 all-suite accommodation. The high life indeed.
Central Embassy, 1031 Ploenchit road, Pathumwan; accessible via either Ploenchit or Chid Lom BTS Skytrain stations; www.centralembassy.com