Korea is a major player in the electronics industry but that doesn't necessarily translate into incredible prices. Protectionist economic policies keep American and Japanese products fairly expensive. That said, there are 3 areas where you can find great deals: cameras, computers and computer accesories, and illegal stuff (copied DVDS, modded X boxes, stuff like that). Consider shopping through Korean websites as the deals are better there.
Yongsan Electronics MarketEdit
This a huge complex of buildings with hundreds of little stores. It's a pretty bewildering place and frankly its difficult to navigate especially for foreigners. The whole thing seems pretty rag-tag and kinda improvised. But its the biggest and cheapest market in Korea. Don't forget to go outside and check out the vendors on the street because they sell some 'interesting' stuff too.
- Yongsan Station, Line ?, go out the exit labeled 'Electronics Market.' Take a right and walk to edge of the building. From there, if you look right, you can see a long blue elevated covered walkway. That's your path. Those two giant buildings in front of you are part of the market.
I forget the proper name of this one, but there is a large, multi-story electronics market very near the Nambu Bus Terminal subway station (and obviously near the terminal itself too). The sign at the top of the building is in english. They also sell expensive furniture, and in the basement there are a lot of clock shops.
As you would expect, Korea offers a wide variety of stuff you've never even considered eating before, while lacking some of your favorite snacks.
Noryangjin Fish MarketEdit
This is a giant, um, fish market in a big warehouse. Rows and rows of monstrous looking deep sea creatures, writhing octopi, overcrowded crab tanks, and fish getting freshly gutted will leave you with your head spinning. Seriously not for the faint of heart. It's worth going there even if you don't intend to buy anything just to take a look. I would be careful though, because the sanitation conditions seemed a little suspect. (Although certainly no worse than the "Athinas" market in Athens... or many other open air markets around the world.)
If you want to go there for a seafood dinner, here's the way it's done: You buy your own seafood from the market stalls, then go to one of the local restauratns, which will serve it up for you, charging you a cover fee for using the restaurant. Here's what you need to do:
- Step 1) browse through the market for what you want to eat. You will generally choose once place where you will buy your fish and critters, and that place has an associated restaurant that they are friendly with. Now, you could buy things from different places, but save the main stuff (like the big fish for the main course) for last, and then go to the restaurant that is in cohorts with the place where you bought that one.
- Step 2) buy the fish from the market vendors. They will kill it and filet it and leave the final preparation for the restaurant. Many kinds of fish are served as sashimi. Popular fish there include gwang-aw (flounder/plaice), and some others which I can't remember off the top of my head. If you want grilled fish - mention "gui" (pronounced "gooey") - which means grilled, and the fishmonger will help you choose a suitable kind to grill and, once selected, kill it on the spot. (Be warned that there will be an additional grilling fee in the restaurant, if you want grilled fish.)
- Step 3) take your fresh goodies to the restaurant where the stall's worker brings you. They will bring you to a table, and then ask you what you want to drink, and what kind of soup you want to finish off the meal. Usually Koreans get a "Maeun-tang" (spicy stew) to finish off the meal; this is made from a house stock and the leftover bones and pieces of the fish you bought. You could also purchase other things to put in the stew, and ask them to put those things in for you. This is kind of advanced. The first time, stick with the simple stew/soup! (And you can ask for not spicy if necessary.)
- Step 4) Enjoy your meal of very fresh sashimi, grilled fish, and other things! (Strongly recommended, actually, are these bright orange cone/plant/anemone-looking things called "mong-ge", I have no idea what they are in english but they are nice to eat sashimi-style, along with your fish.) The restaurant will bring your soup to cook at the table, at the end of the meal. You then pay the restaurant for their part in the meal - cover charge, drinks, and any grilling charge.
Not all vendors speak english, although some do. Generally you can go in and point and ask how much, and it should do the trick. I have always had a friendly and pleasant experience there, and have tried some very odd stuff.... all of it delicious! Some stalls are associated with nicer restaurants than others. It is the luck of the draw.
- Noryangjin Station, Line 1 (beware that line 9 Noryangjin station is in a slightly different location and not connected to the line 1 station). There is just one exit from Line 1, so you shouldn't miss it! Take the pedestrian bridge over the rail tracks to the fish market. It goes directly there. Cross the tracks, go to the left and then down the stairwell and you are in the market!
Yongsan Army BaseEdit
By far the best place to get American style food. The prices are much lower than in the rest of Korea. The reason the prices are lower is because customs taxes are exempt for military personnel serving in Korea. Unfortunately, you cannot stock up on sphagettios, camel cigarettes, and mac n' cheese. Non-military personnel may not shop in the grocery or convenience stores -- it violates customs laws and is illegal. An Army friend can escort you on base, however, and invite you to join them at one of the American-style restaurants on post. A friend who helps you shop though -- could get into a lot of trouble and lose their own shopping privileges if you get caught.
- you can find it
A market catering to the large foreigner community living around hannam so it's got a lot of stuff you can't find elsewhere. (As well as some overpriced stuff that you can find elsewhere. Things like Nutella, which were once exotic, are now common in large supermarkets like E-Mart...) The selection isn't all that great and prices are outrageous. 6 dollars for American toothpaste? Ouch. Nonetheless, the store has fresh herbs, like basil, dill, thyme and mint. It has genuine Italian food items, from the EU. And... last but not least, don't forget the little shop outside the supermarket. That's the only place you can find Ranch dressing and proper pickles in that building. And the cheese and salami store outside the supermarket is probably the only place in Seoul where you can get a decent selection of genuine European cheeses. It is pricey, but well worth it on occasion.
- Hannam station, Line 1 (Jungang line, these days, but used to be a branch of line 1 in the old days) (this might not be the best way but it's the only one I know) Go out of exit one, take a right onto the main road. Walk for a long time until you come to a major intersection where the intersecting road is bigger than the road you're on. Take a left there. This road is the same road that goes to the Hannam bridge that connects Hannam to Kangnam. Walk for a few hundred meters. You'll pass Danguk University. The supermarket will be on your right. There's a yellow sign.
- Hangangjin station, line 6 (this one is actually closer) Go out of exit 2, and walk straight toward the overpass. Stay on the sidewalk - it will curve to the right, and you will see a pedestrian overpass. Take the ramp up and cross the street on the overpass. Take the ramp and staircase down to the right, and continue toward the direction of the Volvo dealership. The supermarket will be on your left. There's a sign (and a bowling pin advertising another establishment) and a lightly spiraled staircase leading down to the supermarket, which is on the basement level.
Red Door MarketEdit
A market in Itaewon specializing in hard to find foreign items. Apparently one of the only places in Seoul where you can find vegetarian "meats".
- Itaewon subway station, go to the corner with Burger King and head down that street (opposite Hamilton Hotel). Don't expect any signs, just a tiny hole-in-the-wall place with a glass door that has red trim.
The Foreign Food MartEdit
This is an excellent store for foreign, and especially Indian, food items in Itaewon. They have spices, pulses, grains, nuts, meats, some fresh veggies and herbs, and packaged foods. Some items, including spices like like saffran and asafoetida, are behind the sales counter, so you have to ask for them. Prices are fairly decent. There are some other (slightly smaller) middle-eastern and central and south asian markets further down the street and to the left, on the way to the mosque, including some Hallal butchers.
- Itaewon subway station, exit 3, go to the next big corner, just after the police station, and turn right. (You will pass a 7-eleven and a Russian night club clalled the Rio on the left.) The Foreign Food Mart is just after the 2nd street on the left. Continue down the street another block and turn left for some more shops.
In Bangbae 방배 there is a big furntiture district. Go to Chongshin University subway station (also known as Isu station, located on the light blue line) and just about any exit will put you somewhat near a furniture store
High End/Department StoresEdit
Express Bus TerminalEdit
While the name Express Bus Terminal may not conjure up the image of high end retail, there is an extensive shopping complex there. There is a Shinsaegae department store, a good grocery store, a movie theatre, a big bookstore, and a big shopping arcade (rows of little stores) all in one complex. The complex is connected to the Express Terminal subway station.