Saturday, March 12, 2011

Exploring Seoul's traditional markets

Seoul is a city of tremendous contrasts, where 600-year old palaces sit minutes away from major business centers and traditional houses can be found right next to modern high-rise apartments. In Seoul, the past and present co-exist in harmony.

Korea’s traditional markets have the weight of history behind them, even as they sit at the heart of a bustling metropolis. They also offer a unique chance to meet and interact with vendors, giving shopping a warm, personal touch that no department store or chain can offer.

Gwangjang Market

Gwangjang Market is more than 100 years old, and specializes in agricultural products, food, clothing, fabric, bedding and second-hand items. Shoppers here can find everything from old army blankets to kimchi to curtains. It’s one of the best places in Seoul to look for a custom-made Hanbok or enjoy a delicious savory slice of bindaetteok.

Although one of the oldest markets in Seoul, Gwangjang Market has recently made a name for itself among the trendiest young people, thanks to its vintage clothing market. With everything from sunglasses to sneakers to clothes, there’s something here for any fashionista with an eye for the unique. A quest for authentic jeans from the 1970s or sunglasses from the 80s is sure to turn up something, and fans of vintage will find everything from shoes to fur coats to army uniforms. There are many rare and expensive finds, alongside some great bargains.

Refunds and exchanges are not common practice, and individual stores can be difficult to locate. Visitors are advised to write down the store number and check all items carefully and note their condition before buying. Despite the need for caution, Gwangjang Market is one of the best places in Seoul to find vintage and used clothing, and can add a much welcome dose of nostalgia to any wardrobe.

Hours for different stores in the market vary considerably, but most of the vintage stores close at 7 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday, and are closed on Sundays. The market is located between Jongno 5-ga Station on Line 5 and Euljiro 4-ga Station on Line 2. For more information, please visit

Gyeongdong Market

Gyeongdong Market is the largest herb market in Korea, dealing in 70 percent of the medicinal herbs sold in Korea. The almost unimaginable array of herbs and medicines are sold at wholesale prices, offering substantial discounts and savings to people looking for traditional Asian medical treatments. The market also offers tea, dried fish and fruit.

Everything from ginseng to licorice to mugwort can be found at the market, and the vendors are very knowledgeable about the herbs they sell, providing advice on how to prepare and use them for different maladies. Other stores in the market specialize in processing the herbs into medicine based on the needs of each customer. Many Asian medical doctors take advantage of the market and locate their clinics nearby, making it one of the best places to seek out treatment.

The market is open Monday through Saturday until 7 p.m., and is located near Jegi-dong Station on Line 1. For more information, please visit

Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in Korea, as well as one of the oldest. Thousands of vendors gather here to sell everything from clothes, food and electronics to souvenirs, bedding and kitchen goods.

Tourists from all over the world come to visit the market, which is one of Seoul’s must-see tourist spots. International visitors can soak in the traditional atmosphere and try their hand at bargaining for their items.

Because it receives visitors from around the world, many of Namdaemun Market’s vendors are multilingual and can help visitors in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. Although the opening hours for stores vary considerably, most of the market shuts down by 8 p.m. each day. Namdaemun Market can be reached from Hoehyeon Station on Line 4. A map of the market can be found at

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