Bangkok CNN  — 

Pack your travel bags, grab your credit cards.

Bangkok’s biggest new attraction, the long-awaited Iconsiam is finally open to the public.

Built at a cost of US$1.65 billion, this 750,000 square meter riverside complex is made up of retail, dining, entertainment and residential spaces.

According to the developer – a joint-venture made up of Thai companies Siam Piwat, Magnolia Quality Development Corporation and Charoen Pokphand Group – it’s Thailand’s biggest commercial property project to date.

But why all the fuss for what on the surface is essentially another big shopping mall?

In the Thai capital, retail spaces are famed for being dazzlingly over the top, featuring everything from gardens and waterfalls to Michelin-starred restaurants and parking lots with designated “Supercar” zones.

Iconsiam is no exception. in fact, it might just be the grandest one of them all.

Iconsiam cost developers $1.65 billion to build.

It’s eight floors are filled with more than 100 dining options and 7,000 Thai and international brands, including Thailand’s first Apple store.

There’s also Thailand’s first Takashimaya – a well-known Japanese department store – and Asia’s largest Adidas Original store.

In the “Iconluxe” zone, shoppers will find all the usual high-end brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes.

But there’s plenty to do for those of us not in the market for a new Kelly bag.

Other highlights include SookSiam, a huge, 16,000 square meter themed zone on the ground floor that aims to promote the arts, culture and foods of Thailand’s 77 provinces and has its own small floating market.

There’s also the outdoor River Park – a 10,000 square meter riverside public space – and Southeast Asia’s largest multimedia water feature.

Artworks and architecture by more than 100 Thai and international artists can be found dotted throughout the complex.

Don’t call it a mall

The mega project isn’t quite finished though.

An IMAX movie cinema is due to open in December. In July of 2019, a massive auditorium will open to cater to the city’s meetings and conventions industry. “River Museum Bangkok,” which developers say will host top global touring exhibitions, will also open next year.

In fact, for all of these reasons the developer would prefer we not call Iconsiam a “mall” at all.

“Iconsiam is a destination – not a mall or a mixed-use development – and it is born of a joint creative effort that has united the hearts of Thai people from many different walks of life,” said Chadatip Chutrakul, Iconsiam’s director, in a statement.

There are also two residential towers. The 70-floor Magnolia Waterfront Residences is made up of 379 condominiums. The other 52-floor tower houses the Mandarin Oriental’s first branded residential development in Southeast Asia, which has 146 super luxury units.

Two-bedroom units in the towers start at $2.58 million.

The “other side” of Bangkok

According to Apple, hundreds lined up overnight to be among the first to enter its new Thailand store.

There’s been no shortage of critics throughout the Iconsiam construction process, many saying Bangkok doesn’t need yet another retail center that your average resident can’t even afford to shop in.

But if the opening weekend was any indicator – it opened to the public November 10 – Iconsiam won’t have any trouble filling its shiny corridors. Thousands poured through its doors, a mix of Thais and foreign tourists, leaving little room to move.

According to Apple, hundreds of people lined up outside its new Iconsiam store overnight to be among the first to enter Saturday morning.

What’s also notable about Iconsiam is its location.

The project sits on Charoen Nakhon Road on the Thonburi side of Bangkok, across the Chao Phraya river from the downtown core – an area predominantly filled with traditional shop houses and mom-and-pop businesses.

But, already home to luxury hotels like the Peninsula and the Millennium Hilton, Thonburi has begun to receive more attention in recent years thanks to the addition of venues like the Jam Factory – a riverside arts and dining space – and Lhong 1919, a shopping and heritage zone set in reclaimed warehouses.

More backpacker hostels and small bars/restaurants selling craft beers and have popped up in the area as well.

On the downside, Iconsiam’s presence brings the inevitable traffic issues that clog Bangkok’s traditional retail areas like Sukhumvit Road and Rama I Road, while also driving up real estate prices in the neighborhood.

Iconsiam’s developer has invested in its own BTS Skytrain elevated rail line to alleviate traffic issues, called the “Gold Line,” but it won’t start running until 2020.

In the meantime, those coming in by Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain can hop off at Saphan Taksin station and catch a complimentary shuttle boat or continue to Thonburi station, where shuttle buses make the 1.5-kilometer journey to Iconsiam. A number of riverside hotels also offer shuttle boat services.

Iconsiam, 299 Charoen Nakhon Road Soi 5, Bangkok, Thailand