Glasses City and nearby Mingjingyuan have likely the largest selection of direct to consumer eyeglasses in the world. This collection of over 200 small shops are wholesalers for frame and lens manufacturers that supply most of the planet with eye wear. Many foreigners have visited these places in recent years and many expats shop here. 

 A few important tips if you consider going:

1. Despite the multitude of individual shops, many sell exactly the same frames, or virtually identical ones. What that means is you won't find too many unique frames (no metal frame without a nose pad for example).

2. Lens options are mostly limited. CR-39 plastic is used almost exclusively, high index plastics and polycarbonate are available but harder to find. Progressive and transition lenses are also harder to find but getting these right will likely require you bringing someone that speaks Mandarin well. Forget Trivex, they don't have it and name brand higher index lenses (like Seiko or Hoya), if they're advertised, should be met with a large amount of skepticism.

3. Overall quality is average. Although many people might not notice much difference, there is a quality difference between what you will find here and what you will find in a good brick-and-mortar shop back in the U.S. But, at 1/10th the price, you might not care nearly as much.

4. Sales people can be "pushy" compared to most of the western world is used to. Be prepared for this, have a clear idea of what you want and even though it always helps to have someone who speaks Mandarin, you can negotiate on the calculator or simply in English, which is pretty well understood everywhere.

5. Contact Lenses are available but selection is limited if you have a more extreme correction (above -8.00/+4.00 range for example). Most lenses are locally made and might not meet the same quality standards as the big brands sold in the West. All told, if you have a normal prescription, you may find a lot to like about buying your contact lenses here - bring the package of your current lenses for best results.

6. Sunday mornings are a good time to go, as some other days and times can get quite crowded.

7. Do your homework. Have a written prescription for eyeglasses and for contacts (they are different), know what the numbers mean. Find out which lenses your current glasses have (if you especially like them) and what size fits you best - the 50 - 17 - 140 numbers written on the inside temple arm of all frames.

8. Most shops can grind your custom lenses within an hour and nearly all will do an eye exam if you want. They usually have you wear your new prescription with "surgeon glasses" for a while before ordering the lenses cut.

 

These places can either be an amazing experience or a fun/annoying waste of time. If you're prepared and have the right expectations, you will likely not be disappointed.