Living in Korea, you will never, ever need to look far for places to go shopping. Even if you aren't a shopaholic and prefer to quickly get whatever you need and get out, you'll find that this is often outrageously convenient. Areas like Myeongdong are widely talked about, as are the malls and massive department stores. One shopping spot that often gets skipped over, though, is the underground shopping centers. Believe me, it is here that you will find some serious treasures.
Just one small section of the Bupyeong Underground Shopping Mall.
My first glimpse of an underground shopping mall in Korea was the one in Gangnam station. During training week, you'll be staying in Gangnam, so as we headed off to our classes each day, I kept eyeing the stores packed full of stylish clothes and cool accessories, dreaming of my first paycheck from Chungdahm.
Gangnam isn't home to the only underground shopping mall -- you'll find them all over the place. One of the most extensive and impressive ones is in the Express Bus Terminal station in Seoul. Myeongdong even has its own, and I've seen sizable ones in Suwon and Busan as well. Living in Incheon, our go-to underground shopping spot is Bupyeong station, which merits a trip to Incheon in itself. Often bustling and overwhelmingly packed full of things, Bupyeong is a one-stop destination for almost anything you'd need to pick up from a mall or shopping district.
Clothing is definitely the largest focus of these underground shopping malls, with shop after shop displaying the latest fashions. Often, you can find things for a great price here, which is the big draw for me. Cold weather means oversized, chunky sweaters, and Bupyeong is always my destination each winter because many of their comfy sweaters are a mere ₩10,000 (~$10 USD!).
I don't... What?
Odd Engrish t-shirts abound in these underground shopping centers, which make for excellent gifts for family and friends. When shopping, I'm constantly keeping an eye out for strange phrases or logos on the fronts of shirts. I've found some gems over the years, and the majority of my favorite finds have come from racks of clothes marked all the way down to ₩5,000 (~$5 USD). Who can argue with a weird, cheap t-shirt that makes no sense?
Of course, clothing isn't the only thing you can find here. They also carry shoes, any and all cellphone accessories, hats, scarves, bags... In addition, nearly any and every make-up chain in Korea has at least one location in these shopping centers. Express Bus Terminal's underground shopping mall also has quite a lot in the way of homewares and textiles. At Christmas, it will also have an entire section that's so full of lights and decorations that it's intimidating:
The underground shopping centers are also a place to keep in mind if you're looking for new glasses or contacts as well. I have several friends who've picked up new frames and prescriptions in Bupyeong for dirt cheap prices. Just last week, a friend was shopping for some new glasses and I was amazed at the price. The eye exam, frames, and prescription lenses totaled a whopping ₩30,000! And, her glasses were ready for pickup after only thirty minutes! Not bad, right?
Words of advice:
- I'm sure you're wondering about quality, given the low prices. The quality varies wildly: some items fall apart or lose their shape quickly, while others I'm still wearing nearly three years later. Use your own shrewd discretion as you shop, taking time to inspect the quality.
- Clothing is often "free size," meaning one size fits all. Since wearing oversized items is very hip at the moment, shopping in these underground shopping malls is still a viable option for many people.
- Shoes will come in the typical range of Korean sizes, so if you have big feet (like me), you probably won't find much as far as shoes.
- The underground shopping malls are an excellent place for gifts, from the shirts to the socks to the cell phone cases. Definitely something to keep in mind as the holidays approach, especially because it's budget-friendly shopping.
So keeping all of that in mind when you hit an underground shopping mall, you're guaranteed to find some steals. Embrace the madness of this shopping experience, and get ready to hunt for some zany Engrish t-shirts and bizarre cell phone cases!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!