One of the biggest mistakes you possibly could make on a trip to Asia would be to arrive with a suitcase already jam-packed full.
Asia beckons even the most resistant shopper-traveller into savvy off-the-cuff buys. Whether cheap and handy on the fly or luxuriously indulgent, you never know what you might pick up when you arrive armed with a credit card and extra space.
So forget online shopping. Come packed light and ready to trod many miles in Asia’s retail havens.
These are the best cities and hubs to get your shop on in Asia.
Best for: variety
If you don’t necessarily know exactly what you’re looking for but you know you want a taste of it all, Hong Kong will embrace you. Here, it’s all about variety. Not just in the range of fashions and goods to be found, but also in the myriad ways and places to find it.
That means that a variety of budgets can also find their happy place in Hong Kong.
On the cheap side, the city’s markets are teeming with fashions, electronics, traditional buys and all kinds of wonderful and colourful cheap buys. They also come packed with atmosphere. Lose yourself in the maze of street markets across the city and see what you find; Kowloon is particularly fabulous for market shoppers.
For mid- to top-range buys, renowned shopping areas such as Causeway Bay, the Central District and Soho are filled with shopping centres lined with department stores, global labels and hip independent designers, as well as world-famous designer threads.
From quality Chinese antiques to the largest Armani store in Asia, Hong Kong really does have it all.
Best for: unique, one-of-a-kind buys
Looking for some really unique buys that you simply can’t find anywhere else? Head straight to Tokyo. There are numerous vibrant and trendsetting districts to explore – even if just for the fun of the browse.
But we’re not just talking about what’s on the racks. The locals love to dress up in the eye-catching street fashions Tokyo has become famous for, whether it’s cosplay (dressing up like a well-known character), Lolita (based on Victorian-era fashion), punk (inspired by the punk-rock era) and gyaru (overtly childlish and girly-looking caricature looks). It’s a sight to be seen in the flesh.
When it comes to spending, there are gizmos and gadgets, beautiful one-off boutique threads, cult cosmetics and no shortage of quirky and offbeat styles to collect.
Harajuku is a great place to start – the centre of youth fashion and counter culture, but also home to upscale boutiques and a number of leading designer shops.
Shibuya is also a favourite for trend-based clothes, including vintage clothing shops and independent designers – plus some way ‘out there’ threads.
Ginza is another hotspot, an affluent shopping district that’s home to gleaming department stores and posh boutiques, including the classic Mitsukoshi and the avant-garde Dover Street Market Ginza, home to edgy fashions on display in the midst of interesting experimental art installations.
Best for: shopping all day long
If a shopping holiday to you means literally shopping until you drop, then Shanghai is where it’s at. Shanghai sees some of the longest shopping hours in Asia. To cope with the high demand, it’s the norm for shopping areas to stay open until 10pm every day of the week, including weekends and public holidays.
With an abundance of department stores, markets and fashion boutiques, Shanghai touts some of China’s best shopping. There are luxury goods and international brands, as well as lots of local fare at markets and bazaars.
Notable shopping districts around Shanghai are centred around Huaihai Lu, Nanjing Lu, Shanxi Nanlu and through the Bund district. For interesting shopping with the bonus of local character, don’t miss the boutique shops in the French Concession district.
Some other highlights include the Dong Tai Lu Antiques Markets for antiques and crafts, the Dongjiadu Cloth Market for affordable silk and cashmere, and the Xiangyang Market for discount clothing.
Best for: huge malls on a global scale
If you believe that bigger really is better – in the shopping department – then turn your attention to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s capital is a well-known shopping haven and it claims a handful of the largest shopping malls in the world to endlessly explore from top to bottom.
Covering an impressive five million square feet, 1 Utama is the city’s biggest mall – and the fourth largest in the world. It flaunts more than 650 shops, Asia’s largest indoor rock climbing facility and a massive rooftop garden with its own indoor rainforest complete with koi ponds and a freshwater aquarium.
Mid Valley Megamall also ranks in the world’s top 10 biggest, while plenty of other favourites continue the trend, from Pavillion Kuala Lumpur to Sunway Pyramid, Berjaya Times Square and many (yes, many) more.
Just head to Bukit Bintang to land yourself in the thick of it; it’s the fashion and entertainment epicentre of the city.
All in all, shopping in Kuala Lumpur brings together a winning combo of high-quality stores (and lots of them), affordable prices and reliable sales. As well as the mid-year sales, KL puts on an unbeatable Year End Sale that can last as long as two months.