Myeongdong Shopping District is one of the must visit places in Seoul if you are a city and shopping lover. Visiting Seoul in February turned out to be an eye opener for me as it was my inaugural visit to Korea. The best part - I did not do any research at all, I just packed my bags and headed there via AirAsia X. The weather in February? Cold. That much I knew as usually the upper hemisphere from Nov till Feb is still in the winter and of course I came prepared.
So, what is Myeongdong? Apparently, this is the main shopping and tourism district in Seoul, Korea. Rows and rows of shops are seen where you get almost everything Korea has to offer. Clothes and Make Up Products made up almost 80% of the shops here while the remaining consisted of cafes, restaurants and other nicks and nacks. Note that Myeongdong is not the place for wholesale shopping and Korean young designers as that place is in Dongdaemun.
Shopping in Myeongdong
You can find international brand outlets like Uniqlo, Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Forever 21, Bulgari and the ever popular Louis Vuitton. However, up-and-coming designer brands are also found here but not on the main streets, more into the lanes which makes you explore. Overall, this area is particularly popular for young people and tourists as a center for fashion and sight-seeing. A number of large shopping centers and department stores are in the district including Lotte Department Store, Migliore, Shinsegae Department Store, M Plaza and Noon Square are all within walking distances.
Also, when you are there, check out the Underground Shopping areas as the network is huge! Subway stations are connected by these underground shopping areas where you can find some good deals at times. In the winter, those who cannot take the cold will most likely be seen down here.
Buying Cosmetics in Myeongdong
Korean cosmetics brands are the top items that most tourist are buying when they visit Seoul. If you are a woman or man who is into cosmetics, this is definitely your mecca. Korean brands such as Nature Republic, Missha, The Face Shop and Skin Food and found at every corner of Myeongdong where promoters are seen standing outside luring potential customers in with free gifts. Yes, Free Gifts even if you don't buy anything.
I am serious when I say every corner as when you see a Nature Republic shop while walking, in less than two minutes, you will see another. There must be at least hundreds of these beauty shops in one area. A tip would be to buy the more internationally known brands as one may never know how your skin would react to the basic Korean brands.
Face Mask seem to be the top item that people are looking for. Yes, some places sell face masks fro as low as RM1 ($0.30) a pack but those are the lesser known brands. The international brand face masks go for about RM2.50 to RM3 per pack. But the Korean know how to package them in packs of 10 pieces which is still way cheaper than back home in Malaysia.
BB Cream is another sought after Korean product. These are retailing for as low as RM50 ($16) while it cost almost double back in Malaysia. So you are looking at almost 50% savings when you buy Korean Make Up products here. How do I know all this? My traveling partner who is also my Chinese editor for Malaysia Asia was in awe when she saw the prices of these beauty products. So, when you're in Myeongdong or anywhere in Seoul, be ready to spend some time for this.
For the foreigner, note that a number of the sales assistants here speak multiple languages like basic English and fluent Mandarin! It's a competitive business therefore you will be easily captured by the free gifts and samples that they give or offer.
I have to say that eating here was above my expectations for Korean food as I have had it before in Malaysia and it was not on top of my list. Until I had some real authentic Korean food there. Yes, the famous Korean Barbecue, Bulgogi, Galbi and of course the world famous Kimchi, all of it tasted really good, especially during the winter. My style of eating is to pick a restaurant on the first floor which is usually not commercialized. The less English words on the menu, the more authentic the food, well, that's what I believe and I was not wrong.
For the Muslim travelers, I hate to say it but if you are traveling by yourselves without a tour, it would be a little hard to find Halal food, however walking out of the main Myeongdong area, I noticed a couple of Iranian or middle eastern cafes serving kebabs with a halal sign. There are fast food joints like KFC and McDonald's available but note that McD's serves bacon. So, your safest bet would be KFC.
I found Myeongdong to be very busy in the day right till the wee hours of the morning. Some of the shops here close at about 1-2 am while the best time to visit here would be in the evenings to enjoy the best of the main street shopping and then the night market. If you are into city lifestyle, shopping, people watching, this is the place to make your base. For me, I stayed at a Korean Guesthouse which was 10 steps from the main subway station and about 5 minutes walk to the main street of Myeongdong. The room was cozy and basic costing about RM140 per night, clean and most importantly safe and convenient.
And for those looking for a budget trip to Korea, I flew AirAsia X as they have flights directly into Seoul. The flight takes about seven hours and there is a Quiet Zone on AirAsia X where kids under 12 are not allowed in this area therefore I slept like a baby to and fro. In total, I spent five days here exploring Seoul which took me to Namsan Hill, Changgyeonggung Palace, Dongdaemun, Nandaemun, the ever famous Gangnam area and of course the Myeongdong Shopping District.