If you ever visit Kaohsiung, everyone will tell you that you have to go to Liuhe Night Market. However, if you live there, like I do, you tend to skip it because it's always chock full of tourists. Being such a tourist hot spot has sapped the night market of its local charm. That's the way I felt about Namdaemun Market, so I chose to go to Dongdaemun instead. This decision was also reinforced by my Korean friend, who told me that Namdaemun leans towards food and kitchen things, whereas Dongdaemun is the place to go if you want to shop for clothes and accessories.
Dongdaemun Market is not so much a market as it is a commercial district full of shopping centers. It's divided into two sections: Section 1 (the left side of the below map) is where most of the malls (Doota, Migliore, and Hello apM) and retail stores are located. Section 2 (the right side of the below map) is where most of the wholesale shops are located. The stores here also sell things at retail, but they mostly deal with bulk sales. Since there are sports stadiums in Dongdaemun, there is also a good selection of sporting goods.
|Dongdaemun Market Map, from Korea Hotel Reservations|
I hitched a ride from a friend to Dongdaemun Market and the drive from Hotel Ibis in Myeongdong took around 25 minutes because of all the traffic lights. Alternatively, you can take the subway. From Hotel Ibis, you can walk to the Euljiro 1-ga Subway Station and take Line 2 (green) to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station (3 stops away). Here, transfer to Line 4 (blue) and get off at the next station, Dongdaemun Station. The entire commute should take around 13 minutes and cost 1000 won, according to Seoul's SMRT website.
|Subway directions to Dongdaemun Market|
When we finally arrived, I was shocked at how much shopping you could do here. Dongdaemun Market is so big and there are so many stores, you could easily spend 3 days here and only see a fraction of the place. Boy was I glad I was with a local! I only went to two "malls", Jeil Pyeonghwa 제일평화시장 and Doota 두타, and I didn't even feel like I skimmed the surface of shopping.
One thing's for sure, if you're going to shop at Dongdaemun, set aside a lot of time and bring a lot of money. I was under the impression that since there were lots of wholesalers at Dongdaemun, everything would be pretty cheap, but that was not my experience. I'm not sure if it was because we were a little rushed and didn't explore every nook and cranny, but prices at Dongdaemun could easily rival those at my local Macy's. Of course the styles are different and the selection is great, but it was still more expensive than I expected.
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You can bargain down prices at Dongdaemun, but I found that when I went, the salespeople weren't very flexible and would only go down 1000-3000 won. Maybe we were just horrible hagglers! At any rate, bargaining will be tough if you don't speak any Korean, but you can always borrow the shopkeeper's calculator and punch in the price you want to pay or write it down on a slip of paper.
Most of the shops also won't let you try on their clothes before purchasing. They might be more lenient with foreigners though because they let me try on some pants, sweaters, and shirts. Of course there are no fitting rooms so if you want to try something on, you're pretty much out in the open! My friend warned me to keep my belongings close because there are a lot of pick pocketers at Dongdaemun. I didn't notice any kind of suspicious activity, but it's always good to be extra careful.
Jeil Pyeonghwa, in Section 2, is an area with more "mature" clothes (usually for ladies 30 and older) while Doota, in Section 1, has a bunch of young trendy fashion and accessories. We went to Jeil Pyeonghwa first and even though it's a bit older and smaller compared to the rest of Dongdaemun, I felt overwhelmed from the get-go. It was like a multistory indoor night market for clothes, shoes, and accessories. Every single piece of available floor space was occupied by a stand filled to the brim with clothes and name-brand knock-offs. Think of it like the below picture times a thousand:
|Shopping at Jeil Pyeonghwa|
|Shopping at Jeil Pyeonghwa|
I could barely make my way through the aisles between the stalls and after a few minutes, everything started to blur. All the shops looked the same. All the people looked the same. All the clothes looked the same! With no conspicuous store names and nearly identical display structures, I would've been swallowed by all the leather jackets and polyester sweaters if I didn't have my friend to guide me. But if you're on your own and aren't in a hurry, this would be a pretty neat place to explore!
One thing to keep in mind is, even though most of the shops seemed to sell similar things, comparison shopping is probably going to be pretty tough. If you find something you like at one store and the price is okay, then buy it. You could keep looking for something better, but if you like it already, there's no point in wasting more time. Prices seemed to be more or less the same at different stores. Also, don't wait to come back to get something because you might not even remember where to go again. Shopping at Jeil Pyeonghwa was more of a see-something-you-like and buy-right-away kind of experience. I ended up getting three pairs of capris for $20 each and a sweater for $67. See, not that cheap right?
|Sweater purchased at Jeil Pyeonghwa|
After Jeil Pyeonghwa we made our way to Doota. If Jeil Pyeonghwa resembled a warehouse attic, then Doota was like a Forever 21 on crack. Seriously. I thought I was overwhelmed earlier, but Doota just explodes in your face with rows of mannequins and rhinestone-encrusted everything. However, it's much more organized and actually looks like your average department store. There's a floor map at the customer service desk, so you won't have to worry about getting lost or not knowing where something is sold. Prices here are supposed to be set, but if you buy a minimum of three things, I think you can get away with some bargaining. The first floor of Doota had some really nice clothes. Really modern, really trendy, but also like $100 for a ruffly cardigan. Yikes. I loved looking at all the different styles, but my favorite floor was the accessory floor. There were tons of hair clips, bracelets, rings, pretty much every accessory you could imagine! I bought some studded leather bracelets for $11 each, which I thought was a good price.
|Studded leather bracelets purchased at Doota|
We ended up leaving Dongdaemun Market around 1 to eat lunch in the Apgujeong area. There are lots of food options in Dongdaemun, but my friend wanted to take me to try some boribap (barley rice 보리밥) at Sawore Boribap Restaurant.
Come to think of it, I didn't take full advantage of my time at Dongdaemun. I was too busy taking in all the sights and sounds to focus on shopping. And I didn't know where or how to start shopping or what I was looking for. On top of that, things were more expensive that I expected, so I guess I didn't do that much shopping after all! Dongdaemun is definitely worth a visit though. I plan to go again in the future and spend a whole day there looking for good steals. If I had more time on my trip, 2 half-days of shopping at Dongdaemun would have been perfect.
Please share your shopping experiences at Dongdaemun so I can shop vicariously through you!