Myeongdong (meaning 'bright place') is living up to its name, with young crowds regularly flocking to South Korea's shopping Shangri-la. This chaotic and vibrant district has earned its stripes as Seoul's trendiest shopping area.
At weekends, the streets below its neon signs are packed with people buying, eating, partying or simply wandering around soaking up the lively atmosphere. Consequently, Myeongdong is now home to Seoul's most expensive property: the site of the multi-storey Starbucks cafe is reportedly worth 38 million won (HK$257,000) per square metre.
Rows and rows of shopping malls, department stores and speciality boutiques stretch from Myeongdong station to the Lotte department store. In contrast to the offerings at nearby Namdaemun market, or the endless warrens of Dongdaemun market, the quality of clothes, shoes, belts and other accessories in Myeongdong is high. The goods are trendy to upmarket at reasonable prices.
Lotte and fellow major department store Shinsegae are good places to shop under one roof. Lotte has 11 floors and overflows with everything from jewellery to cosmetics, clothing, home appliances and furniture. It even has a whole floor dedicated to duty-free shopping.
Head to the main street for high-quality shopping malls such as Migliore and U-too Zone, or brand shops that offer local and international names such as Levi's, Bean Pole, Elkanto and Esquire. Migliore might sound like an expensive Italian designer label, but don't be fooled - it's a huge shopping mall, with more than 1,000 stores on 20 floors. A favourite place for local office workers, it has the advantage of signs in English, Chinese and Japanese.
In the side lanes of Myeongdong, the vast rows of cheaper clothing boutiques, no-frills shops and speciality stores are seldom empty. The Korean restaurants, coffee houses and fast-food outlets are frequently crowded with shoppers from Namdaemun market slurping bowls of noodles or sinking their teeth into juicy hamburgers.
Amid the glitzy stores, there are also plenty of internet centres targeting younger shoppers, such as Mizy (Myeongdong Info Zone for Youth). Mizy has an internet cafe, seminar rooms and a performing-arts area. Its reading room is well-stocked with books and magazines in English, Korean and Japanese.
Although shopping need not be seasonal, the most rewarding time to visit is during the Myeongdong Festival, held every spring and autumn, when parades, folk games and fashion shows add even more excitement to the charged atmosphere. But if the energetic vibe of Myeongdong's shopping hub all becomes too much, Chinese Street, near the Chinese Embassy, stands ready with its quaint shops selling tea leaves, books and spices.
For more information, call the Myeongdong tourist information office on (82 2) 774 3238 for brochures, maps and discount coupons, or go to www.tour2korea.com.