Myeongdong was a stark difference from the rest of Seoul – the streets were noticeably more compact, as if someone had squeezed them together. It was also a whole new level of bustling, like Orchard Road on a weekend.
These were our first impressions as we made our way to the K-Pop Residence guesthouse, where we would be sleeping tonight. K-Pop Residence was nestled in a narrow alley off the path of one of the main streets of Myeongdong, making it incredibly convenient to explore. We were grateful that they let us check-in early into an unoccupied room. The room was surprisingly spacious, being split into two parts, but we later found out that it might not have been true for all the rooms, just the one in the corner that we were lucky to get. We put down our luggage in the lobby area and headed out for lunch!
Myeongdong Kyoja popped up countless times whenever we looked for suggestions to eat at in Myeongdong, so how could we miss it, especially since it was on the nearest main street from K-Pop Residence? We exited the narrow alley and found ourselves back in the crowded main street, standing literally steps away from the original outlet.
It consisted of two floors, and we were led up the stairs to the second (presumably, the first was meant for larger groups). We looked through the menu, placed an order for the famous mandu and kalguksu, and almost instantaneously were presented with the receipt, as if they already had receipts for every possible permutation of orders printed in advance (I wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually true).
The food came within such a short space of time, too. Before five minutes, we had the steaming mandu and kalguksu ready on our table. The mandu was full of meat and succulent, and its skin was thin to the point of breaking (reminiscent of Din Tai Fung’s Xiao Long Baos). The kalguksu was impeccable, but the soup was a little too bland for our tastes. Both went well with their homemade sauce, which really should have been the star of the show.
Feeling satiated, we rejoined the crowds on the main street. We spotted Yoogane a few shops away from Myeongdong Kyoja, where we would have lunch the day after. Then we dived into the rest of the streets, filled with cosmetics shops and free samples given outside, multi-level clothes and shoes stores, numerous money-changers and banks and finally the Myeongdong Tourist Information Center came into sight. We read that people could have a ‘Hanbok experience’ there, so we were interested to check it out.
Turns out, not only could we don the hanbok once again (in all-new designs), they made use of some green-screen technology to let us appear wherever we chose! We made good use of it to help us ‘appear’ in places we’d missed out on throughout the trip, such as the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain Bridge that we only caught from far away…
and the tranquil Gyeonghoeru Pavilion inside the Gyeongbokgung, which we didn’t get to see.
The staff who assisted us told us she worked in an internship in Singapore before – most likely Korea Plaza, the Singapore equivalent of the Tourist Information Center. Subsequently, we bought some nice postcards from the shop in the Tourist Information Center and posed for some photos at an installation they set up, which looked like the setting of an outdoor picnic!
Then we went on our way. We tried changing money at a bank, and waited in line for 30 minutes before we realised we mixed the buying and selling rates up. Thankfully, we found a money changer offering much superior rates afterwards.
We stepped into a Topten store to grab some t-shirts on offer, and I got a pair of shorts too. Because it was the summer sale, the items were really quite cheap compared to those in Dongdaemun, so really, we should have come to Myeongdong first!
On the way to Lotte Young Plaza, we came across underground shopping circuits like these while taking the underpass. They were ubiquitous and sprawling, and were all around the periphery of the subway station! That really added a new dimension to shopping in Myeongdong.
The main points of interest at Lotte Young Plaza were the LINE store, where we met Cony and Brown, and the SM Town Stardium, where we met SHINee (though not in person)!
We didn’t get any merchandise from those places because they were rather overpriced, but they were great to look at! Especially Brown carrying a toy version of himself in his pyjamas…
That was far from the last of SHINee, though; more of them to come as they seemed to be having a major endorsement deal with cosmetics company The Saem. They were giving out a bag to customers who spent above a certain amount, but we did not purchase even a single item!
Oh yes, South Korea is big on cosmetics, with lots of brands hailing from the country. It was quite typical of cosmetics shops to station a promoter outside to entice customers into the store with free samples in baskets, but a couple of times we didn’t see anything of interest and didn’t feel good about keeping the free sample, so we returned it to the promoter on the way out haha. That said, we did make purchases, but they were mainly for family members.
By now, it was turning into the late afternoon, and street food stalls have begun setting up their tents along the walkways. Passers-by should beware though – I got hit on the chest by a loose metal pole, although the culprit did apologise! We walked past a 32cm ice cream stall, and, that being one of the things on our list to try, we bought one to share! It was 32cm tall for real, and possibly a bit taller than Spotty!
After biting off the tip, though, they were about the same height teehee!
Even when sharing it, we could not lick it fast enough and it succumbed to the summer heat, leaving a mess behind. That was when the wet tissues we brought came into good use! Finding a place to dispose of them was a whole new problem, though – trashbins were constantly a rare sight in South Korea, and finding one of them almost felt like an achievement.
The food stalls were selling all sorts of interesting street food – pomegranate juice in plastic packets, ades in lightbulb-shaped bottles, fried fritters and twist potato. Twist potato, like the ice cream, was also on our list, so we had to get a stick! It was essentially a whole potato cut in such a way that it unravelled into a helix on a stick, then fried in oil and topped with cheese powder.
Although it didn’t look like much, it was, like the ice cream, a mouthful. It was also very difficult to eat, and we actually had to sit down to finish it. After which, we browsed through some more shops like this one selling interesting character locks…
…and an Artbox, which we felt had less to offer than the branch at Edae. We got a red lock to latch on top of Namsan from Daiso, then went into Migliore Myeongdong for a look, and ended up with a few pairs of matching t-shirts from a stall (on the second floor near the escalator) that sold almost every t-shirt we saw throughout our trip at 5,000-8,000 won (or somewhere in that range) – much less than Migliore Dongdaemun! We really should have come to Myeongdong first!
Finally done with all the walking and shopping, we went back to our guesthouse, conveniently situated in the heart of everything, for a breather before making our ascent up Namsan (in a cable car of course)!