• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 4:32pm

Seoul

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 May, 2006, 12:00am

Seoul could never be considered one of Asia's great destinations for a bargain but it does boast some of the region's largest and liveliest markets.


A good-quality leather jacket can be picked up for about 95,000 won ($795) and sporting goods - non-designer track suits can be had for 38,000 won - are good value. Reasonably priced bespoke tailoring is available in the tourist-friendly area of Itaewon, where suits start at about 190,000 won


and shirts 19,000 won.


Koreana, such as calligraphy ink stands, paper fans and screens, traditional masks, mother-of-pearl inlaid gift boxes and silk cushions, makes for good souvenirs in the 19,000 to 29,000 won range. For those with a collector's eye and a forgiving credit card, celadon and antiques - chests and Oriental medicine cabinets, especially - are good buys.


Gifts such as do-it-yourself acupuncture kits and chocolate-coated red peppers might raise eyebrows at Christmas, as might packets of salted, dried seaweed, possibly the world's greatest beer snack, at 2,900 won. Wines and spirits, such as baekseju (ginseng and herb wine) and maekjisun (plum wine) can be found in small bottles for about the same price.


Some guidebooks claim Dongdaemun Market is the world's largest - yet it is less a market than an extensive district of shops and sub-markets offering everything from toys to clothes, food and home decor. Whole streets are dedicated to fabrics, vegetables, lighting, furniture and more. The scale of the place means that unless you have an experienced local guide, the smaller but equally chaotic Namdaemun may be a better bet.


Namdaemun Market (subway: Seoul Station) is a fascinating labyrinth in which to lose yourself and watch people, as well as a great place to hunt down bargains in low-end fashion goods, sportswear, leather, footwear, household goods and souvenirs. Haggle like hell and don't worry about the language barrier. The best time to go is about midnight, when the wholesale trade arrives. Much soju swilling goes on between deals, but tourists with delicate stomachs should avoid the food stalls. The market sits just behind Seoul's best-restored medieval gate: the Great South.


Previously a traffic island, the gate was last year re-dignified when a small park was created in front of it and it was opened to the public. During the day, ersatz gate guards in silk robes and glue-on beards parade around it.


Sometimes known as the 'Beverly Hills of Korea', the ritzy Apgujeong-dong district is known for upmarket shopping, palatial restaurants, bars and clubs, and some of Asia's busiest cosmetic-surgery clinics. The Galleria department store is renowned for top brands, so don't expect to find any bargains in this area - or convenient subway stations.


South Koreans compete with the Japanese and Chinese to be the world's greatest hypochondriacs; the range of products in any average pharmacy would do justice to a mid-sized western hospital. But if you want to see what they did for tonics and remedies before there was a pharmacy on every street corner, visit Gyeongdong Traditional Medicine Market (subway: Cheongyangri or Chegi-dong; sometimes closed on Sundays). Stalls and shops sell ginseng and other herbs, fungi, dried animal body parts and other allegedly medicinal objects that defy description or categorisation. Prices are usually a few thousand won for simple remedies but can reach the hundreds of thousands for special potions.


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