I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Kad Suan Kaew is like three-quarters empty. The front is vibrant, sterile and well-lit, but if you walk past the botiques and chain restaurants and plumb the cobwebbed depths of unchecked capitalism you’ll find all sorts of weird junk. KSK is much, much bigger than it looks.
Built in 1993 as a mecca of consumerism in the then-low key Chiang Mai, Kad Suan Kaew never quite grew into its lavish expectations. When Central Airport Plaza was refurbished and rebranded in 1996, many higher-end retailers flocked there and KSK lost its spot as the “nice mall”. With half a dozen new shopping centers on the way, it’s unlikely Kad Suan Kaew will reclaim the top spot in Chiang Mai.
There’s a lot of old display detritus – headless dinosaurs, papier mache orangutans, a cinderella carriage – but also an entire disused convention center and ice skating rink. The theater lobby sports a mysterious, ornate staircase winding up to a dark floor, and the attached hotel (Lotus, not the Orchid) has a glass elevator that goes up about a dozen storeys as you look out over the lobby. There’s also an abandoned, unfinished stage theater hiding behind some plywood boards in a fire escape. You’ll find plenty of murals, some surreal, some inappropriate and all worthy of inspection.