Myeongdong

Myeongdong: Cosmetics and food carts galore

Myeongdong gained prominence as a shopping hub with the opening of South Korea's first department store there in the 1930s. By the 1970s, it had become a premier shopping destination drawing the trendiest youth.
Myeongdong gained prominence as a shopping hub with the opening of South Korea's first department store there in the 1930s. By the 1970s, it had become a premier shopping destination drawing the trendiest youth.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

It is a beauty and shopping haven by day, and when dusk falls, dozens of food carts roll into the pedestrian walkways and turn Myeongdong into a foodie's paradise.

From traditional favourites like ddeokbokki (spicy rice sticks) and dakkochi (chicken skewers) to modern eats like grilled scallop with cheese, visitors can munch as they shop to their hearts' desire.

Such is the appeal of South Korea's biggest shopping belt in downtown Seoul - which used to draw 6.8 million tourists a year.

Once a humble residential area, Myeongdong gained prominence as a shopping hub with the opening of the country's first department store there in the 1930s.

By the 1970s, it had become a premier shopping destination drawing the country's trendiest young people.

The position was further cemented by the opening of Lotte's flagship store in 1979, and the government's decision to promote Myeongdong as a tourist destination in the early 2000s, riding on the Korean Wave sweeping Asia.

As celebrity-endorsed Korean cosmetics gained popularity, Myeongdong became a beauty hub with streets lined with multi-lingual promoters standing outside rows of cosmetics stores vying to lure passers-by with discounts and freebies galore.

 
 
 

Today's Myeongdong, however, is reeling from a Chinese ban on group tours due to a diplomatic row over South Korea's deployment of an American missile shield, which caused Chinese tourist numbers to fall by 60 per cent last year.

Chinese tourists only started trickling back after the two countries inked an Oct 31 deal to move beyond the dispute, but experts said it will take time for figures to rebound.

Meanwhile, South-east Asian tourists - many of whom had shunned Myeongdong to avoid squeezing with Chinese tour groups and stores focused on pushing bulk purchases favoured by the Chinese - have returned since the South Korean government boosted efforts to woo the market in a bid to diversify after the Chinese fallout.

Singaporean Lee Si Min, 25, found Myeongdong "more exciting than Orchard Road". The administrative executive, who last visited South Korea in November, raved about good cosmetics deals, freebies, and a unique layout of shophouse-style shopping mixed with street vendors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2018, with the headline 'Cosmetics and food carts galore'. Print Edition | Subscribe