South Korea — Shopping and Leisure
Korea is known for its shopping and there are some great bargains to be found. Bartering is the norm, so have fun and negotiate. Popular shopping items include leather goods – anything from jackets and shoes to bags, all of which can be custom-made in just a few days. The latest craze is Korean cosmetics and there are hundreds of products which are extremely popular with locals and Japanese tourists alike. Skincare and beauty goods are well-produced, nicely packaged, and reasonably priced. Popular brands include Tony Moly, Skin Food, Sum37, and Missha, to mention a few. Great bargains can also be had on clothes, accessories, handicrafts, and Korean seaweed.
Shopping in Seoul is divided into three distinct areas:
This is the place to go for bargains and bartering. Everything from food, clothes, toys, and cosmetics can be bought at this indoor and outdoor market. There are hundreds of stalls lining the streets where locals and tourists do their shopping. There are lots of food vendors, making it a great place to try a range of different Korean snacks and goodies. Even if you don’t need anything, it’s a great place to walk around and soak in the atmosphere. It can get crowded here though, so be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close.
One of the most popular shopping and restaurant districts of Seoul in South Korea is Myeong-dong. Visitors will find pedestrian streets full of both international brand names and local designers lined up next to each other along the main Myoeng-dong Street and its alleys. Go from shop to shop to find bargains or just browse. The side streets are full of small boutiques and eateries which are also well worth exploring. Most of the favorite stores are located here, as well as the large Lotte department store.
A must-see for fashionistas! There are five huge shopping malls at Dongdaemun, chock full of small shops selling shoes, clothes, bags, cosmetics, jewelry, and much more. Wander between Hello apM, doota!, Migliore, U:US, and Doosan Tower until you literally feel like you might drop. Strategically to get through it all, your best bet is to start at the top floor of one of the buildings and work your way down. There are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants to rest your feet in between spurts. The area tends to get very crowded on weekends, when trendy Korean youngsters head here to hang out. It is possible to bargain at the malls too so always come ready to barter.
There are three main shopping areas in Busan, as well, which are basically inter-connected: Gukje Market, Nampo-dong Market and Gwangbok-dong Market. These markets sell everything from food to clothes to trinkets. The Lotte Department Store and Shinsegae Department Stores are also in the area for more upscale shopping.
Shopping in Daegu
Shopping is great fun in Daegu, South Korea, especially for those that love clothes. Daegu is known for its textiles and fashion and there are literally thousands of stores to choose from. Your best bet is the Deagu Distribution Complex, which is a huge wholesale/retail market. Make sure to bargain though! There is also a Migliore Daegu (branch from Seoul), which is a mall full of individual stores selling everything from shoes, cosmetics, and clothes to accessories.
Shopping on Jeju Island
Most people do not go to Jeju Island for shopping, rather to enjoy its natural beauty. However, if you’re itching to buy something head to Jeju Underground Shopping Street in Jeju City, which boast more than 300 shops. Popular souvenirs include clothes dyed in persimmon extract and candles.
Not luxury spas by the western definition, but more like the Japanese bath houses (ofuro), chimjilban are popular in Korea and a fun outing for every age group. All are gender-segregated and many are open 24 hours. Visitors pay a flat fee to get into the bathing and sauna areas, but massages and body scrubs are extra. Visitors will receive lounge wear and towels, but will need to bring their own soap and shampoo.
It is important to understand the bathing ritual. Take off your clothes and place them in a locker before heading to the wash area. Cleanse your body, shampoo your hair and tie it up so it won’t touch the bath water before entering the various pools (some are infused with herbs or minerals). Once you have finished, head to the massage area for a body scrub or facial. If you don’t want any additional services, put on the lounge wear and head to the rest area. Most chimjilban will have restaurants or shops inside at which to buy snacks or drinks.
Korea is also known for its popular dome-shaped saunas, called hanjunmak. Visitors are wrapped in a type of burlap sack before they sit inside to sweat it out! The other popular service here is the body scrub, where rough towels are used to exfoliate dead skin. This treatment can be topped with a cucumber facial and hair wash. In Seoul, a favorite is the Dragon Hill Spa & Resort.