This is my review of the places I shopped at on my (er, not so) recent trip to Seoul. Recording it for my own reference because I feel like my memory is starting to fail lately… Hopefully it will be useful for other people too :)
Wondering where to shop in Seoul and interested in knowing about the best (and worst) places to shop in Seoul? Read on!
Dongdaemun has over 20 shopping malls and is a shopper’s heaven, for both males and females! Guys, you don’t need to be scared of being bored to death, because Fu did most a lot of shopping here and actually bought more stuff than me here!
We shopped most at the “hello apM” building. Something like 8 levels of shopping that opens till 6am! LOVE that they open till so late! (or early, depending on how you see it) hello aPM also has a foreign currency exchange counter on the first floor if you need to change money to return to the hotel after blowing all your cash on shopping lol.
TIP: If you’re expecting Seoul to have low prices like Bangkok or Hong Kong (which honestly isn’t all that low anymore anyway), you’re going to be very disappointed. SGD 10 for a nice top? Think along the lines of SGD 30.
Why am I warning you? So that you don’t go through the same disappointment I did :(
IMPORTANT!: Be prepared to have to bargain like hell at Dongdaemun, or be prepared to be ripped off. Majorly. NEVER fall for the “Ok, I’ll give you a SPECIAL PRICE because… I love Singapore/we hit it off so well/you’re so pretty/insert other random nonsensical reason.”
Remember, it is a conflict of the seller’s interest to give you a low price. While he wants to make the sale, he still wants to get the most money he possibly can out of YOU.
Case in point: Fu saw a jacket he liked, and asked how much it was. The seller was all “The usual price is 150,000 won! (~SGD 185)” *makes a show of digging out the price tag to show us*
When we raised our eyebrows at the price, he immediately caught on and said, “But oh, I really love Singapore and since you’re here today, I’ll give you a special price. I’ll charge you just 130,000 won! (~SGD 160)”
By then we were quite experienced already so we were like “Oh…? That’s a bit above our budget…” Then retract our hands and step back to look like we are backing away from the jacket (and lousy price).
At this point the seller went all “Wait, wait!” and counter-offered (sometimes he will ask you to state your price instead). He leaned in and lowered his voice, “Ok, only for you, I’ll give the special friend price (really now… we’re friends already?) 110,000 won! My jacket is unique and the quality is as good as the ones in Lotte mall, but half the price blablabla…”
Most (if not all!) of the things sold in these wholesale malls and you’ll find replicates of it EVERYWHERE.
After lots of back and forth haggling, we were getting weary and ready to leave. At that point he conceded and was reluctantly willing to accept 70,000 won. That’s more than 50% off the price on the price tag! Imagine if you just accept the 150,000 won price tag at face value without bargaining?!
To be honest, I really hate all the bargaining. It’s just so bloody tiring. I just want to buy the thing I like at a fair price and leave happily! But at Dongdaemun, if you don’t bargain, you KNOW you’re getting ripped off very badly. There’s also the nagging thought of “Could I have gone lower and gotten it for cheaper?”
If you absolutely don’t want to deal with the tiresome haggling, there are also retail malls like Lotte at Dongdaemun. However, we’re didn’t really shop at those because they don’t really fit into our value-for-money scale.
We also visited the entiiiiirreee stretch of these yellow-tented street stalls, and my advice? SKIP IT. 90% are imitation products and they’re bloody expensive for fakes! What a waste of our time.
In short, Dongdaemun has excellent variety and great designs, IF you’re willing to put in the time and effort to haggle (or don’t mind being ripped off, I suppose), or if you have the moolah to blow on the more expensive retail malls.
Reach Dongdaemun via: Dongdaemun Station, Line #1 or #4
EDAE (or Ewha)
Edae is another place jam-packed with shops! The bonus is that there are lots of yummy street stalls!
TIP! Be sure to visit Ewha Womans University! The campus grounds and buildings are spectacular! We were having random fantasies of studying/teaching there haha!
However, Edae is a shopping area primarily for females, which makes sense, because of the nearby Ewha Womans University. Guys need not fret though, you can take the time out to feast on affordable and delicious street food! Or pop by a hair salon (this is the branch we went to) to get a super good head massage or cut?
In some sense, I like Edae more than Dongdaemun because the need to haggle is so much lesser!
Check out this shop I discovered:
Every. single. bag. in this shop is 10,000 won (~SGD 12) can?!! They are of good quality too, not some flimsy bag you have to chuck after one use.
I bought a total of…
I bought all of these from Edae! All were 10,000 won each except the grey backpack, which was 20,000 won.
Edae is a more pocket-friendly place to shop, partly due to the nearby university students with limited budgets. We did bargain for better prices at a couple of shops, when we could leverage on quantity as a bargaining chip.
Reach Edae via: Ewha Womans University station, Line #2
HONGDAE (or Hongik University area)
Like Edae, Hongdae is another area near a university that has many shops and street food stalls.
However, unlike Edae, this was actually a pretty boring place for shopping. Apart from food, I didn’t buy A SINGLE THING! Fu bought a grand total of 1 item – A jacket.
This place does have the rare crispy hotteok stalls though! (crispy hotteoks spotted only in Hongdae)
It’s not that we were all shopped out either, since we visited on day 2 of our trip! I think the things they sell at Hongdae is not to our style. That, and I only remember Hongdae having lots of food. Restaurants, street stalls, cafes. Lots and lots and lots of food.
The university is not much of a looker either. After visiting Ewha Womans University, Hongik University looks so… common.
Reach Hongdae via: Hongik Univ station, Line #2
Insadong is famous for being a traditional street, with many traditional shops and art galleries that blend in with modern conveniences like Ssamziegil above.
Ssamziegil is a pretty new shopping complex and interesting in that you can travel between floors without stairs!
Can you see that the connections between floors are sloped? The entire complex is laid out in a giant winding pattern.
There are many handicraft and unique shops, with items that cannot be found elsewhere, but they somehow fall under the “Nice to look, but not something you will buy” category. Lots of people are window-shopping, but I hardly see anyone buying anything.
Still, it’s interesting to explore! On the first floor, you can find a stall selling poop-shaped snacks. Great for photo-taking! Lol.
On the top floor, you can find…
Similar in idea to love locks at Namsan Tower :)
I rather like strolling down and shopping on the main streets of Insadong because it is very spacious and lined with shops on both sides of the road for easy access!
There is also a good mix of traditional and modern shops. I bought quite a bit of beauty products from Insadong! (Nature Republic, Etude House, Holika Holika, Innisfree, Tony Moly) I also bought more traditional things like the pretty drawstring bags (photo further down).
Reach Insadong via: Anguk Station, Line #3, Exit 6 or Jonggak Station, Line #1, Exit 3
While Myeongdong has several shopping malls and brand shops, I personally think of Myeongdong as the representative of Seoul in terms of beauty products! It’s really a mecca of beauty brands!
Seriously, most beauty brands have multiple branches in that tiny area, some as many as SEVEN branches in Myeongdong alone!!! Redonks.
However, I don’t really like buying beauty products from Myeongdong. WIth the exception of a few brands, most of the sales staff at Myeongdong are less patient and generous when you buy in small amounts. Really, how many of us can buy masks numbering in the hundreds like the many Chinese tourists I saw?
Guys (and girls) who don’t give a hoot about beauty products will be happy to know that from 4pm onwards, push cart stalls come out of their hiding and flood the streets!
One of my best shoe buys is from Myeongdong!
I first saw this pair at Edae for 59,000 won (~SGD 72) but it wasn’t a price that propelled me to take any action to purchase it.
But when I saw the exact same pair at Myeongdong for just 38,000 won… I bought it on the spot! The owner was a bit scandalized when I had the audacity to ask for a discount. But better to ask than to regret later! I guess Myeongdong isn’t like Dongdaemun when it comes to prices, which is a good thing!
The shoes are so pretty! ;D ;D
Something I bought in excess was…
Good god. Only SGD 1.20 a pair and the store is exploding with literally hundreds of designs!!! Quality is pretty decent too!
I bought 20 pairs in total :D
Other places have these sock stalls too, but I saw the most at Myeongdong!
Reach Myeongdong via: Myeong-dong Station, Line #4, Exit 5, 6, 7, 8 or Euljiro Il-ga Station, Line 2, Exit 5.
DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME.
or maybe even
SLEEP IN HOTEL BETTER.
I actually had some expectations for this place, because it’s one of the oldest, largest retail markets, blahblahblah.
The oldest part definitely made sense though.
We probably disrupted the average age that morning with our presence.
The entire place was very crowded, with push cart stalls set up in the middle between two rows of shophouses and severely restricting the amount of walking space. The roads are poorly planned, haphazardly forking off this way and that. The roads slope up and down randomly, which made for horrible walking, especially with my injured knees.
Worst of all? Because Namdaemun Market is a wholesale market, almost everything that is sold in here is also sold elsewhere, BUT NAMDAEMUN MARKET HAS HIGHER PRICES.
OMFG THE CHEEK! Such a bad shopping experience and they still dare charge customers more?!
Seriously, 15 minutes and we couldn’t take it. We would have gotten out sooner if not for the fact we were lost in the crowded maze. We took way longer to travel to this place than the time we spent here!
SPECIAL MENTION: BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE
You’ll probably not find Bukchon Hanok Village under the “Shopping” category of any guide. But I bought some really pretty things there and thought to list it as a special mention! Surely you’ll eventually tire of just fashion and beauty products shopping?
Bukchon Hanok Village houses many traditional Korean houses (called hanok) that dates all the way back to the Joseon dynasty! They are protected by the government so as to preserve the heritage and culture, so even if you technically own the hanok, you can’t randomly just decide to modify it!
It is nice place to perhaps spend half a day to walk around and explore, take some photos, and perhaps buy some lovely souvenirs!
The notebook is soooo pretty! I must show you!
I intended to mail them out, but never made it to a post office, so they’re still happily in my possession :D
Reach Bukchon Hanok Village via: Anguk Station, Line #3, Exit 2
Ok, that marks the end of this long, but hopefully informative post on where to shop in Seoul! :)
For other Seoul posts, check out the master post!