Travel: A Guide to Shopping in Seoul

I just realised that this is a prime period for people to be heading to Korea – it’s time to see the sakura blossoms! Ironically, even though I’ve gone to Korea more than 10x, I’ve never once managed to catch the flowers blooming (I was either too early or too late). Ah well. I’ll just have to continue trying then (hurhurhur, any excuse for me to visit Korea is a great one).

Anyway, for those who are heading there, I’ve decided to sift through my thousands of photos and do up this post with some popular areas that you might want to visit – here’s a breakdown based on what I know (note that it’s not all-encompassing, but ya’know, just trying to help out a fellow tourist :D)

Seoul-Subway-Map-4

First up, a map of Seoul’s Subway system – I mostly travel by subway cos it’s a very similar to Singapore’s MRT system. They identify the lines via number i.e. Line 1, Line 2, etc as well as the express lines such as the AREX (express subway from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station). (ignore the red markup – I pulled this visual from a previous post).

I use this app to navigate my way around – you’ll need to download the Seoul maps prior to using it (so that the database is in your phone, and you don’t need real-time Wifi or a working data connection to use it)

Subway Korea Apple app

 It’s called Subway (search for Subway Korea) – it’s very useful and allows you to chart your journey, estimate the time and number of stops as well as tells you where to change trains.

 —Myeongdong—

This is a heaven for all Kbeauty maniacs. you’ll find almost every conceivable Kbeauty brand here, and it’s not just 1 outlet – in Myeongdong alone, you’ll find at least 3-5 outlets of each brand. This area is made up of streets joined together in the shape of a fishbone skeleton (that’s the best way I can describe it) – one main street that branches out along the sides. Of course, this isn’t the only location that you can get these products, but it’s the most concentration you can get in one location.

What you’ll find here: The Face Shop, Belif, Primera, Holika Holika, The Saem, ONL, Shara Shara, Etude House, Aritaum (which houses Laneige, Aritaum, Hanyul, IOPE, Modi), Laneige, Mamonde, and more. Across the road, there’s also Lotte Department Store (for counter brands such as Sulwhasoo, Hera, O Hui, Lirikos, The History of Whoo, and also your Western brands). Beside Lotte Department Store, there’s also Lotte Young Plaza where you can find 3CE (if you don’t feel like heading to Hongdae). These stores usually open from about 10am-9pm.

What’s fun about this place are the street stalls -they sell everything from food (banana + rice krispies + nutella crepe anyone?) to typical Korean street food to baby shoes, cute hoodie onesies, handphone covers, wigs, umbrellas, DVDs, hair accessories, etc. These street stalls usually only start operations around 3-5pm (somehow, the stall owners will wheel these carts down from somewhere and set up store).

How to get here via Subway: 

  • Myeongdong Station: Line 4 (Sky-blue line), Exit 5/6/7/8. This exit comes up at Migliore shopping mall in the heart of the Myeongdong shopping district.
  • Euljiro 1 (ij-ga) Station: Line 2 (grass-green line), Exits 5/6. This exit is at a huge road junction slightly further down the road and requires about 5-10 mins of walking to reach the main Myeongdong shopping area.

Myeongdong Day time shopping

MYEONGDONG shopping street 1

myeongdong shopping street 2

Myeongdong Day time crowds

Shopping Tip #1: Try to hit at least KRW30,000 on each receipt cos that’s the minimum sum allowed for tax refunds. Most shops adhere by this amount, but note that some may have a KRW50,000 minimum spending before tax refunds are allowed.

Shopping Tip #2: Card it – save your cash for Dongdaemun shopping (where cash payment usually gets you a lower price). However, make sure that your card doesn’t have overseas charges – I remember using a Citibank Rewards card and they charged me some amount for overseas usage.

Shopping Tip #3: Bring your own recycled/shopping bag – you will need it since you will be shopping a lot.

—HONGDAE—

What you’ll find here: Trendy (hipster, edgy, swag) fashion stores, Karaoke joints (known as noraebangs), clubs and pubs, street-side busking activites, food eateries. The area mostly comes alive at night, but if you come in the day time, you can get some shopping done (and then eat, drink and party the night away). 3CE’s Flagship store is also located here.

How to get here via Subway:

  • Hongik University Station: Line 2 (grass-green line), Exit 8

Hongdae Night time Exit 8The overhead view of the crowd at Exit 8 (it’s a very popular meeting/waiting point). Come out, walk straight and turn left or  right to get to the eateries. Left has slightly less stores BUT my favourite meat store is alllll the way to the left. To the right is a much, much longer walk (with much, much more stores, buskers, street performances, etc etc.)

Side note: This photo was taken when I was staying in an apartment rented from Airbnb (host name: Elin). Note that there are many other landlords in that building who are renting out, and Elin is one of the nicest. My friend had a REALLY, REALLY, nasty experience with this host called Andy Kim who chased her out of her room after she complained about it being too filthy on the first night, and almost refused to give her any form of refund until he saw her complaining to the security guard downstairs. The security guard also mentioned that it wasn’t the first time Andy had chased someone out of his room. Now I had a rather okay experience with this Andy, so I honestly don’t know why this transpired. In any case, it’s a very uncalled-for action to chase her group of 3 out of the room just for complaining about the dirt (hair on bedsheets, dusty covers, extremely dusty corners, stained glass panel in the shower, mouldy & stained soap dish container etc). He also supposedly does tours for tourists where his details are available. I tried searching for his Airbnb listings so that I can warn you, but it seems he’s taken them down (and yet told my friend that he’s fully booked). Be careful when renting from / working with this guy.

Hongdae Day time 2

Hongdae Day time

Hongdae night time winter

Hongdae night time soju bottles

Hongdae Night time street dancers

Hongdae Nighttime Luxury Soo NoraebangOne of the more iconic Noraebangs in this area – Luxury Soo is a building on its own, and note the full-length glass windows 😀 You can often see people jumping, singing, waving their tambourines and doing group Kpop dances when they’re having fun in the rooms

—SINCHON / EWHA WOMEN’S UNIVERSITY—

What you’ll find here: Affordable trendy fashion (cheaper than Hongdae, and a little more mainstream in-trend fashion outfits that are rather Korea-style). Plenty of shoe stores where you can do some very, very minor bargaining (KRW1,000-,5000) as well as hair salons. There are also beauty stores here (somewhat similar to those found in Myeongdong but lesser in number). You can also visit Ewha Women’s University (just stroll along the grounds quietly) – it’s a super gorgeous campus. This place is affectionately known as Edae (short form for Ewah Women’s University (uni is known as dae-hak-gyo in Korean), which gives rise to the name E-Dae).

How to get here: 

  • Ewha Women’s University station: Line 2 (grass-green line),  Exits 1 or 2. 

ewha1

Ewha women's university

ewha9

ewha3

ewha6

ewha7

ewha5

—DONGDAEMUN—

What you’ll find here: A street full of shopping malls of the same building concept – abut 6-9 floors of stores that are organised via product category (i.e 1st-3rd floor has ladies’  apparel, 4th level men’s wear, 5th level shoes and bags, 6th floor accessories etc).  There are quite a number of malls but the notable ones are Doota, Hello APM, Migliore (and some others such as Good Morning City). My favourite is Hello APM and Migliore – you’ll get the best value for the widest variety. The prices here aren’t the cheapest – slightly pricier than Sinchon. I’ve bought blazers here for about KRW30,000-70,000 (SGD37-87) but they’re of really good quality.

How to get here via Subway: 

  • Dongdaemun History & Cultural Park Station: Line 2, Line 4,  Line 5, Exit 14
  • Dongdaemun Station: Line 1, Line 4, Exit 8

Shopping Tip #1: Bring cash – they transact mostly in cash, and it gives you a slightly lower price than the listed price. If you run out of cash, there are ATMs in the basement and there’s also a moneychanger on the ground floor near the entrance (of Hello APM).

Shopping Tip #2: Suss around before you buy  (in fact, I suss around even before I TOUCH the item)- I know it’s a HUGE amount of things to take in (my eyes always get blurry), but it’s a 90% chance that you can find the same item at another store

Shopping Tip #3: Try to bargain moderately – about KRW5,000 is possible. Anything more than that and they’ll probably give you the death stare. I think this is due to the influx of tourists from a certain region (I won’t say where) and they ruthlessly cut prices down so much (without giving due respect to the product) that the storekeepers have mostly lost their patience (similar to BKK) 😦 This is also the reason why in Shopping Tip #2, I don’t even touch the item until I’m sure that I want to buy it.

Shopping Tip #4: Be polite. Even if the price is way out of your range, don’t give -that- face (again, like tourists from a certain region). Put it back on the rack, say thank you, and walk away. If you’re lucky (iffffff), they might call you back and automatically lower the price for you.

Laneige Global Beauty Camp Day 1 DDM shopping 5

hello apm dongdaemunimage taken from (http://jpn-world.com/info/korea/seoul/soulsozai/P2220422.jpg)

migliore dongdaemunimage taken from (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SH/SH_EN_7_2.jsp?cid=273759)

Laneige Global Beauty Camp Day 1 DDM shopping 4

Dongdaemun accessories

Laneige Global Beauty Camp Day 1 DDM shopping 6

Laneige Global Beauty Camp Day 1 DDM shopping 7

And there you have it – a short guide on shopping in Korea! I will update this post with more photos whenever I find anything (my store of photos is enormous!). Lemme know if there are other places that you are interested in? If I have the material, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, I’ll be doing up a post on Food to Try in Korea – check back again 😀

23 thoughts on “Travel: A Guide to Shopping in Seoul

  1. Very useful tips, thanks! I’ve been to the Edae area several times, but never knew that I could bargain or paying in cash would get me lower prices — how do I know if a shop allows that?

    By the way, I think shoppers need to be careful when paying with certain SG issued credit cards. I was in Seoul this early Feb and paid for my cosmetics/skincare products using my **B card. I later found out that I was charged cross border fees for my overseas purchases and hotel.com bookings that were billed in SGD. Not sure if all SG banks have cross border fees, but my HK issued card didn’t have. As such, it doesn’t seem attractive to pay by credit card anymore. 😦

    • Hi Lynn, The cheaper prices in cash refer to the Dongdaemun area actually, not Edae 🙂 Yup I’ve also gotten charged overseas charges before, but these days I go by OCBC or Citibank (the miles card) – it gets me points and miles without the extra charges 🙂

    • Hello! Just updated my post after receiving your query – I use this app called Subway and it helps me when I’m taking the subway around. 🙂 Yes google maps works if you have a Wifi/data connection, but I can’t quite remember if it’s listed in Korean or English..

  2. THANK YOU!! for this post!!! 🙂 am going to Korea after 15 years..ahhahahaha totally lost while doing my itinerary. this is soooooooo useful!

  3. Pingback: Laneige Global Beauty Camp Day 2: Visiting Laneige Flagship Store at Myeongdong & Beauty Class | beautifulbuns : a beauty, travel & lifestyle blog

  4. Extremely useful tips 😀 thankyou so much!! 🙂 By the way, are there men’s wear sold in sinchon or is it majority of ladies’ wear since it’s so near Edae?

    • Actually yes! There are some men’s clothing stores in sinchon, and they aren’t too bad. you’ll be able to find more trendy and a larger variety (and pricier) at hongdae area too 🙂

  5. Really useful in helping to plan my itinerary for the trip, I was really lost! Thankyou!:) May I know the name of the airbnb house you stayed? It seems to be very convenient!

  6. May I know where can i find Cuckoo Rice cooker and happycall Pot in Seoul? Cannot find it in Lotte Mall. Prefer near Hongdae. Thanks

  7. Hello! I’m a bit curious how much money you should bring while visiting Ehwa University and dongdaemun? or rather how much money you should allot for shopping in korea? 🙂

    • hey Daisy, It might be a bit more tedious to find that size of clothing in Korea in the street stores (where they usually function on Free Size, which is mostly catered to the Korean standards somewhere along the line of S or M at best). I’m a UK size 10-12 and finding my sizing is a lil tough. If you head to the dept stores / brick-and-mortar established stores, there should be sizing (i.e. H&M, Zara, Lotte, Shinsegae etc). Happy shopping in Korea! 😀

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