Where to shop and what to buy: the topic is unavoidable for even the most stringent and rabid anti-capitalist and anti-materialist visitor in East and Southeast Asia. You may avoid malls like the plague back home but this is Singapore baby. Or Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Tokyo or Shanghai. When in Rome, in other words, shop like the Romans.
ION Orchard, Singapore – Photo credit
In a city like Seoul, for example, the deceptively simple affair of a day at the market or mall is more bloodsport than trite task. Myriad elusive rules permeate the retail ritual in much of Asia, which, when combined with the promise of sweet, negotiable deals on a titanic array of exotic and colourful products, makes it a compulsory exercise for neophytes.
With this firmly in mind, check out our top 10 retail districts in East and Southeast Asia.
10. Wangfujing, Beijing
The standout place to shop, eat, hang out and people-watch in the capital of the People’s Republic of China is, without a doubt, Wangfujing. A first-rate pedestrian promenade in Dongcheng District, Wangfujing features a desirable mix of architectural eye candy, nightmarket sensory stimuli and copious local brands.
9. Shinsaibashi, Osaka
Osaka is a metropolis that famously lives to eat and, indeed, shop. Shinsaibashi is a dynamic area of the city that fuses the two pastimes in a long, indoor arcade that lures Osaka’s trendy youth. Designer labels compete for space with less upmarket shops and nearby Crysta Nagahori mall tops out at 82,000 m2.
8. Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
The ultimate entertainment, leisure and retail enclave in Malaysia, let alone KL, Bukit Bintang bustles with activity day and night. The list of attractions is enough to make your head spin like a trip up the Petronas Twin Towers: 8 malls, theme parks, food courts, restaurants galore and some of the best hotels in Kuala Lumpur.
7. Xinyi, Taipei
The heart of Taiwan resides, in many respects, in Xinyi, Taipei. The area is not only the nexus of the city government but also prime real estate for department stores, shops, restaurants and other attractions of note. To find your way here, just follow the conspicuous spire of Taipei 101.
6. Watthana, Bangkok
If there is one city in Southeast Asia where shopaholic’s must, without hesitation, unleash the fury of their addiction, it could very well be Bangkok. The capital of Thailand is a retail, wholesale and firesale paradise, with no better examples than Watthana’s Sukhumvit Road and Thom Lo.
5. Dongdaemun Market, Seoul
For sheer people power and diversity, Seoul’s magnificent and massive Dongdaemun Market district takes the cake. From artesanal kimchi jars to K-pop memorabilia, manhwa to radical gadgets, the labyrinthine hive of activity has it all.
4. Orchard Road, Singapore
Orchard Road’s 2009 facelift, a costly and lavish USD 40 million extravagance, elevated the premier hub of the affluent city-state to another plateau. Sleek, immaculate, commercial, upmarket and uptempo, Orchard Road is oh so Singapore and a requsite pedestrian experience for window shoppers on a budget.
3. Shibuya, Tokyo
No international fashionista rÃ©sumÃ© is complete without a thorough tour of Shibuya ward. Tokyo’s whippet-fast commercial soul is a global fashion capital that pulsates with sea of humanity intersections, intense nightlife and Shinto shrines. Hit up car-free Takeshita Street on a Saturday afternoon for a mad adrenaline rush.
2. Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Hong Kong, in and of itself, is a nonpareil city for avid shoppers that practically runs on transactions made per second. The Special Administrative Region of 7 million people is a dense glut of malls, boutiques, shops and open-air markets of all types. Pick a district, any district and the experience is bound to be memorable. For our money, however, Monk Kok reigns supreme. Home to the most outlandish population density on the planet, the area boasts an impossibly rich concentration of, well, whatever you could possibly want. The best of Mong Kok, photography-wise and otherwise, is in the Goldfish Market, Fa Yuen Street, Temple Street and Tile Street. Portland Street, the red-light district of the city, can also be a bit of good fun as well.
1. Nanjing Road, Shanghai
Nanjing Road, the venerable promenade of chaotic, colossal Shanghai, is easily one of the most notable streets in the world – shops or not. Nanjing Road East, between the People’s Park and Peace Hotel, is where the pedestrian action is at. Explore the Central Market, department stores old and new, and fuel your retail quest with traditional street grub.