The Daunting Namdaemun Market
It is the largest traditional market in the country and is open around the clock so, of course I found the idea of Namdaemun Market to be daunting and hadn’t once gone there in my seven years of living in Seoul so far. Some people love shopping and some people love haggling and getting down and dirty with the vendors, but I tend to be an in-and-out shopper. I hit one store, I know what I want, I find it and then I’m out. Meandering in and out of alleys lined with small stalls that are overflowing with goods can be overwhelming and not that much fun, but sometimes, we have to brave the elements.
This past weekend, a friend and I were between Dongdaemun, an entire shopping district, and Namdaemun Market and we needed to find some stationary. We decided to head into Namdaemun to see what was offered and I’m happy to say that it was a successful trip and even better was that when we got lost multiple times we managed to bump into a red-vested patrolling tourist information guide to give us directions every time. These guides speak English, Chinese and Japanese and if you’re ever in need of some assistance and you spot a guide, take advantage of them. They’re always happy to help.
Namdaemun Market was first started during the reign of King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty from 1367 to 1422. It was a popular trading post until the Japanese occupation from 1922. After the liberation in 1945, the market started to thrive again, though hit some walls when the Korean War later started. The Seoul Namdaemun Market Co. Ltd. tried to revive the market from 1954, but lost funding and then there was a fire in 1968 that caused a lot of damage. Though the market has seen some ups and downs, it’s still a must see for shoppers from everywhere. Everything from stationary and clothes to glasses, kitchen items, toys and outdoor equipment is sold in the market and the stores not only sell to general customers but they also cater to the wholesale shopper. With more than 10,000 stores, there is sure to be something for everyone here.
The clothes spill out of the shops and the prices are rock bottom. Bags and paper in every color is stacked to the ceilings and piles and piles of cups, bowls, plates and more sit everywhere the eye can see. Be ready for your senses to be overloaded with the sights, the sounds and maybe the smells wafting out from the restaurants that are also smooshed into the little alleys. This is an outdoor market and cars cannot access the roads here, so expect to do a lot of walking and take the necessary coverage for inclement weather. Pack some water, put on some good walking shoes and hit the pavement. I have to admit, it’s not so daunting anymore.
21 Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu Seoul, Korea
서울특별시 중구 남대문시장 4길 21
Directions: Hoehyeon Subway Station exit 5 OR Buses 103, 104, 105, 108, 152, 163, 261, 262, 263, 300, 371, 401, 402, 406, 500, 501, 503, 504, 505, 604, 700, 701, & 704 stop here.
Hours: 11AM – 3AM Everyday, some shops are closed on Sundays