I always imagined that I would move to Seoul to teach English, travel and somehow still save money. That would have played out so well if only I had stayed away from the shops. In other cities this may not be too difficult. Just steer clear from malls, markets and side-walk shops. In Seoul, you cannot even chance walking through a subway without encountering sale signs, this season’s latest wears and a beauty store handing out moisturizer samples. You find yourself in constant temptation to give in to the jacket on the mannequin, the t-shirt that is ridiculously cheap and boots to help you brave the -12 degree winter. If you take a bus, you see the malls, use the subway and there’s no escape from the underground markets, take a cab and you’ll be broke before you can hand your card over to a friend to hide. But if you are looking to shop, these are a few of my favourite spots.
Malls have never been my thing. They tend to be over-crowded, hold hoards of bored teenagers and can be overpriced. If you are in Korea, you’ll know that you no longer have personal space whether you’re in mall or the street. There are two malls worth a visit, Doota and Migliore. They are not so much malls as they are towers of goods. Each one has multiple levels with everything your heart might desire. Women’s Clothing, Men’s Wear, accessories and a level for bags. They have similar clothes, but different pricing. Women’s clothing alone will take you through casual clothes to highly feminine wear, office wear and then fashions that I hoped were only for dress up parties. Some of my best buys from here are a small, brown leather sling bag, a black and white dress for hot summer days and a funky, purple hoodie. Doota seemed to be the most expensive. You cannot bargain in all of these malls, but check first and then bargain away! If you have managed to make it all the way to the top of the mall without bankrupting yourself, you can find food and rest in the food court. There are a variety of foods to choose from and I always find this is the perfect place to reassess your buys and self-control.
Once you get off at this station on subway line 4, you will immediately notice the buzz and festive atmosphere of this area even out of season. There are pedestrian only streets in between the stores, where cars still try to drive. All amongst the international brands like Gap, Zara and Accessorize you can stroll and peruse through the vendors selling their wares at street stalls. This is a great place to find belts, hats, jewelry, belts and sunglasses. I love shopping here Christmas time as fairy lights decorate the trees, music plays from the stores and shops are all about the sales. If you’re into dried squid and other such treats, you’ll find Koreans frying, cooking and selling food to eager shoppers. If you’re lucky, you will spot a Korean holding a “free hug” sign. It’s not for money, in fact I’m not quite sure what it’s for, but spread the love and give them a hug!
Yongsan Electronic Market
If you are in the market for anything that plugs into a wall, this is the place you will find it. Warning: you may become overwhelmed upon entering this mega-storey building. Take Subway line 1 to this station and say hello to the world of laptops, cameras, rice-cooker, toasters and anything equipment that keeps you alive. This is definitely a place where you can chat to the Sellers( if they understand you) and try bring prices down. Always be armed with a calculator and have a really good idea of what you are looking for. I had to visit this place a few times to establish what the best buy would be, find out which stalls were trying to rip me off (many) and bring a trusty Korean friend with me so I wasn’t the “wayguk”(foreigner) who got lost in translation. But to this day I’m still using the Compaq laptop I bought there.
This is one of the remaining neighbourhoods in Seoul that reveals a bit of the old alongside the new. The buildings and some houses are still as they were traditionally. While souvenirs and memoirs of Korea may be little more expensive to buy here, I love wandering through the alleys, popping into old tea-houses and eating curry at an Indian Restaurant. There are incredible art galleries to see and paintings to purchase. Antiques, jewelry boxes, Korean drums, fans, silk slippers and colourful make-up purses are just some of the many trinkets to be found along these alley-ways. Take Subway line 1 to Jonggak station, exit 3 and take your time exploring old Seoul.
Hongdae is the shortened name for Hongik university. Once you leave the subway, you’ll recognise this is to be the area popular with students, young adults and english teachers. There are a plethora of clubs, bars, restaurants and shopping. If you are willing to come here before clubs open, there are wonderful shops and boutiques offering a bit of everything from leather belts, woolen hats to summer dresses. Look around, as some places here can get pricey. Everything is open until ridiculous times, so when it starts to get dark and you need a perk after hours of shopping, grab some icea-cream ( some places stay open until 4am) or pop into a noraebang (karaoke bar).
Found in the Southeast part of Seoul, Gangnam-gu is a local government district and one of the affluent areas. Once leaving north Seoul this part will make you feel like you’ve arrived in the big city with an abundance of skyscrapers, entertainment areas and shopping opportunities in Coex Mall, Apujeong and around and in Gangnam’s subway. Apujeong is for the rich, famous and those who refuse to shop anywhere else but upscale department stores clutching their Louis Vuitton. Gangnam station is a dangerous place, you can disappear there for hours without a trace mid-transit and emerge or board the train with new underwear, make-up or nail polish.