Dongdaemun. Shopping Mall in Seoul, South Korea

Dongdaemun

Shopping Mall in Seoul, South Korea

Dongdaemun Shopping District Explored April 23rd #201 Photo © Matt MacDonald

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Dongdaemun

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Dongdaemun-Seoul-6 - Dongdaemun
Dongdaemun-Seoul-6 - Dongdaemun. Photo by Cecil Lee
While Seoul is home to hundreds of shopping malls, department stores, and trendy shopping neighborhoods, Dongdaemun is the undisputed king of them all. Located in the eastern district of historic Seoul, Dongdaemun is the home to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the Dongdaemun Arts and Crafts Shopping Center, and countless marketplaces selling everything from fabric and accessories to secondhand books and rare cameras.

Most tourists flock to Dongdaemun for the promise of 24-hour shopping malls and boutique shops. That’s right, there are a sea of stores and malls in Dongdaemun are open all night with cafés scattered about to keep the marathon going. The area is bustling at all hours of the day; filled with tourists ready to shop ‘til they drop or at least until the subways start running again in the morning.

Heunginjimun or the Gate of
	Rising Benevolence - Heunginjimun
Heunginjimun or the Gate of Rising Benevolence. Photo by C. Rich Imagery

The Great East Gate

Between 1396 and 1398, the Eight Gates of Seoul (Wikipedia Article) were constructed around what would later become Seoul. Connected by fortress walls and enclosing the royal palace, each gate was built to withstand invasions and wars. Today only six gates, or “mun”, remain. They are scattered throughout the city as reminders of Seoul’s great history.

One such gate, Heunginjimun, or “the Gate of Rising Benevolence”, resides in the eastern, or “dong,” side of Seoul; hence, the name ‘Dongdaemun’.

Unfortunately, during the Korean War, most of Dongdaemun was destroyed and left in rubble and ashes. The area was slowly rebuilt and repopulated with traditional marketplaces. However, it wasn’t until the late nineties that modern malls were added into the mix. Six-hundred years after it was constructed, the fortress walls are long gone and replaced with shiny new malls.

Dongdaemun, Seoul -
	Dongdaemun
Dongdaemun, Seoul - Dongdaemun. Photo by Victor Villanueva
Most recently with the introduction of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the Dongdaemun district has become a mecca for Korean fashion and a “must-see” attraction for visitors to Seoul. Designed by Iraqi-British architect, Dame Zaha Hadid (Wikipedia Article), the Dongdaemun Design Plaza is home to Seoul Fashion Week along with numerous design and fashion exhibitions going on every month.

Markets, Markets Everywhere

Whatever facelift the last fifteen years might have brought to the area, the beating heart is in the brick walls and tented alleys that call Dongdaemun home. There are thirteen marketplaces and an ever growing number of shopping malls housing tens of thousands of stores and vendors.

In an area the size of a city block, the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market boasts over 500 stores with classic antiques to archaic electronics from the sixties. For book worms, the Second Hand Book Street occupies a popular spot just south of the Cheonggyecheon Stream with a city’s worth of classic Korean and foreign literature available.

떡볶이 Tteokbokki in
	retail トッポッキ屋台 - Dongdaemun
떡볶이 Tteokbokki in retail トッポッキ屋台 - Dongdaemun. Photo by J.G. Wang
Foodies are in for a particular treat as Dongdaemun has four food attractions to visit. The Sindang Tteokbokki Town offers a royal buffet of the traditionally simple Korean dish. Visitors can try all the varieties of tteokbokki being served up by the restaurants and vendor stalls here. On the other hand, Gwangjang Market offers a dizzying variety of Korean street food from freshly steamed pork knuckles to fishcakes and servings of Korean sausages known as “sundae” alongside textile stores and bedding shops.

Finally, the Bangsan Market is lovingly referred to as Seoul’s “baker’s market.” Rather than serving up baked goods, Bangsan offers raw ingredients from confections to extracts. Bakers from across the city-state flock to Bangsan for ingredients, supplies, appliances, and tools to get the job done.

Of course the main attraction for Dongdaemun is fashion. From the Migliore Mall to the Designer’s Club, there are thousands of shops just waiting for patrons. On the other side of the needle, designers and seamstresses flock to the Dongdaemun Shopping Complex for the fabric stores piled in together like sardines in a can. Even with the six floors and four buildings, the Dongdaemun Shopping Complex is bursting at the seams with buttons and zippers.

 - Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Photo by Douglas

So Much to See, So Much to Do

Dongdaemun-Seoul-10 -
	Dongdaemun
Dongdaemun-Seoul-10 - Dongdaemun. Photo by Cecil Lee
While Dongdaemun is definitely worth visiting, the area is huge and thick with stores, restaurants, markets, and vendors. Before heading over, it’s best to get one’s priorities straight and come up with a game plan. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, located at the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station, houses some great design and artist exhibitions year-round along with a large in-house library of books and magazines geared towards artists and designers.

For families, the Heunginjimun is definitely sight-worthy and is packed with visitors on weekends. It has the added bonus of being five minutes away from the sights and smells of the Gwangjang Market and the Cheonggyecheon Stream that bisects the historic district of Seoul.

For shoppers, make sure to avoid visiting on Sundays, Mondays, or national holidays as many of the shops will be shuttered. Fridays and Saturdays are always peak days while Wednesdays are the least crowded times to make sure your credit card gets a workout.

As a general rule, the Cheonggyecheon Stream is not to be missed. During the winter it is the sight of the annual Seoul Lantern Festival and in celebration of Buddha’s birthday, children float candles on paper lotus flowers down with the current. All year round, there’s nothing better than to end a day of shopping with a walking along the babbling stream.

Finding Your Way

Getting to Dongdaemun is easy, a myriad of buses travel through the area along with three subway lines that converge on Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Line 2, 4, and 5) in the heart of Dongdaemun.
For tourists hoping to see a bit of history, the historic East Gate is located by Dongdaemun Station (Line 4), while both Dongmyo Station (Line 1) and Sindang Station (Line 2 and 6) drop visitors off on the outskirts of Dongdaemun.

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Author: bludreamers. Last updated: Mar 16, 2015

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