Chaweng’s Central Festival shopping centre is not only tip-top, but it’s low-key too!
A couple of years ago, an old friend of mine came to Samui. It was his first time here. We’d been mailing each other back and forth, and I’d been trying to warn him in advance. Trying to prepare him for a modern Samui. Trying to gently pave the way for all the changes. The fast food joints and discos. The sports pubs and bistros, and construction everywhere you look. I met him when he arrived, then gave him a few days to settle in. And then, later, when meeting up, the first thing he yelled at me was – “This place is a dream! I was expecting downtown Miami, but Samui is just about as lovely as it gets!”
You see – Samui is special. Just look at the other tourist centers in Thailand. They’re all big, busy, full-on cities. But Samui isn’t. It’s a small island with a flat bit around the edge and a mountain in the middle. And because of this it will never be a proper ‘city’. And that means no highways, no high rise blocks – and little old wooden houses and ancient fisher-folks forever mixed in along with 5-star fantasies and 15-bedroom villas.
“…All of this, all in one place, right in the very guts of Chaweng. People travel all the way from Hua Thanon for this! It’s central, it’s Central Festival – and it’s special !”
And that’s what makes Central Festival Samui shopping centre special, too. Slap a big-city 5-floor concrete mall down on Samui and that’s a grade-one blot on the landscape. But it didn’t happen. CPN Property Development & Investment is one of the nation’s biggest developers (being the company behind the ‘Centara’ hospitality brand, Family Mart, and others), and they took several years to work out an ethos for their planned development on Samui. The result: their award-winning Samui centre. It’s unique and has been thoughtfully and stylishly designed and laid-out to blend into its island setting.
And, boy, has it all been cleverly put together! It actually takes up 30 acres (close to 200,000 square metres) of prime central Chaweng real estate – in itself a huge planning and purchasing feat – but it’s only on two stories to match its surroundings. Effectively, it’s a huge bent strip, with massive, airy spaces in the middle and shop units on either side. Here and there you’ll see full-size palms and greenery, and in places these are rooted right down into the enormous open basement; in one stroke this lower level solved the previously abysmal prospect of trying to find parking in Chaweng.
There are two ways in: right off Chaweng Beach Road via a big open performance area, and more directly from the north end of the road along Chaweng Lake. What’s on offer divides neatly into four categories; the idea was to group each of these together, but that didn’t work out exactly as planned! Suffice it to say that if you want to eat or drink then Tops Supermarket and the Thai food court is at one end, but you’ll need to go to the opposite end to find the Euro-style coffee shops, restaurants and bistros.
But, above Tops and the lakeside entrance and car park, on the first floor is the health and well-being section, with Bangkok Samui Hospital’s Clinic featuring prominently in the upper corner position. Here you’ll find spas, chemists (pharmacies), beauty shops and hairdressers. And you’ll also come across The Spa Center, too.
Following the walkway you’ll swing towards the other extreme with the fun-palace area – take your pick from the cross-Hollywood-titled ‘Pirates of the Marioland’ or pop next door to jolt your coccyx at the thrills and spills of XD Theatre. And it’s worth noting that right next to this is a stairway which runs down to the ground floor. This is where you can park the kids and keep them happy while some of the family go shopping – it’s a lovely little play area with rides, and a sand pit with a slide and a climber. No concrete, only sand and plastic; much safer than some places I could mention. And, talking of entertainment, the recent addition of the Major Cineplex theatre is a huge bonus, being so centrally located.
The five broad categories of the Samui Central experience are health and beauty, food, shopping, technology and entertainment. And as you meander through towards the central area, up top you’ll be able to resolve all your hi-tech needs with the current telecom and internet providers (True, AIS, DTAC and 3BB), together with the two best discount computer stores on the island, JIB and Banana IT. Plus a bunch of phone shops including Samsung. And in the same section is Powerbuy, a large electrical goods store. And then the actual Central Department Store, on two floors, with an escalator between the two.
In the middle section of the centre it’s shop, shop, shop! Fashion, clothes, bags and shoes – then a clean, bright, Perspex and chrome slot where you’ll find all Thai banks with their international ATM machines.
And then, as you emerge onto the Chaweng Beach Road side of things, it’s eat-your-heart-out time. This is where the up-market foodies hang out; cafes and bistros, Black Canyon and The Coffee Club, several restaurants, and the street-watching of Starbucks on one side with Wine Connection on the other, plus a huge performance area between the two. Central Festival stages monthly events – motor shows, gift festivals, dancing and talent competitions – and in this area there’s a weekly (Sunday) Thai Dancing Carnival. And elsewhere there’s the Saturday Art Market, together with the Walking Street, every Wednesday.
But, worthy of note for visitors and those on holiday, is the money-saving Tourist Promo – look out for the signs in participating stores. You register with the enquiry desk, then go and shop. Then you not only get up to 6% of the VAT refunded, but also extra discounts from participating outletsz – just check in the shop windows as you walk. And what pops out right away is that True are offering one hour’s free Wi-Fi and seven day’s free internet access – once you buy their ‘Tourist Sim’ for the special price of only 299 baht.
All of this, all in one place, right in the very guts of Chaweng. People travel all the way from Hua Thanon for this! It’s central, it’s Central Festival – and it’s special !