When in Seoul, shop where the locals do
IF STROLLING up and down the maze-like aisles of shopping malls with marked-up prices and pushing shopping carts around is not your cup of tea, it is safe to assume that you will be pleased with the Gyeongdong Market. It offers customers the same goods in a wildly contrasting, yet pleasantly more thrilling, old-time atmosphere.
Sandwiched between the Yangnyeong Market and the Cheongnyangni Market, this traditional market area in Jegi-dong is largely overlooked or unknown to non-locals, despite being only minutes away from the glitz of the Dongdaemun Market.
"We are not like Dongdaemun, Namdaemun or those other really famous markets, because unlike our market, they have become big-time tourist attractions more than anything. And honestly, that makes it less appealing for us Koreans to visit," said a Gyeongdong Market vendor.
"Gyeongdong Market is solely focused on the locals in this area," he continued. "Although we do get the occasional tourists who stroll through here, for the most part, this is where people who live in this neighbourhood come for their bargain shopping."
Despite not being a heavily marketed tourist attraction, visitors should not make the mistake of concluding that it is a small, quaint market area - which I admit was what I had assumed at first.
In fact, the massive size and seemingly endless labyrinth of food stalls and fork-in-the-road alleyways at every turn are what surprised me the most. I almost wished I had a map to make sure I did not miss all that the market had to offer: from hanging dried fish heads and whole squid to edible tree bark, or a simple bunch of bananas.
The market has a long history. Following the Korean War, local farmers used to gather in the area to sell their produce, leading to the establishment of the market in 1960. Today, it is best known as one of the nation's largest suppliers of oriental medicine ingredients.
"Because of the history of this market, we are mostly known for our herbal medicines," said one of the market's traditional herb sellers.
"But over the years, the Gyeongdong Market has grown far beyond this. It's more than just a place for herbal medicine. It doesn't matter if it's herbs, exotic seafood like live eels or even something as generic as apples or grapes, you can find it fresh right here at very reasonable prices that you can't find at those big chain stores."
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
If you go:
The Gyeongdong Market is located in Jegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, just a short walk from Jegi-dong Station (Subway Line 1), exit 2.
The market is open daily from 4am to 7pm. However, the operating hours of certain shops may vary.