The World's Largest Wholesale District...

by Audrey Lim, May 15, 2002 | Destinations: Korea, S / Seoul
Busy streets at Dongdaemun Market

Busy streets at Dongdaemun Market

Busy streets at Dongdaemun Market
A street that sell items for tailors; includes buttons, zippers, etc.
Narrow streets, with goods stacked up outside the shop...

I am not exactly sure whether this place is home to the world's largest wholesale shopping district or not but that is what I gather from the tour guide at my recent trip to Korea. To the Koreans, Dongdaemun Market is known as the "world's extraordinarily large shopping town" - definitely the biggest ever! Having spent many hours (and days) roaming the streets of Dongdaemun, I can't help but agree to this claim as well! If anything, at least my sore feet are testament to it.

Dongdaemun Market in Korea is wildly popular with the locals as well as tourists. It is here that you can obtain every imaginable product under the sun at really cheap prices. Built in the year 1905, Dongdaemun Market has over 30 shopping centers and 30,000 stores with more than 50,000 manufacturing companies all in one spot! Be it clothing items, shoes, sports goods, bags, textiles, sporting goods, stationery, toys, household goods or accessories, you can find that all at Dongdaemun Market.

There is simply no way I can pronounce the name exactly as how it should sound. My Korean tour guide tried his best to make me say it right, but their accent are different from mine and it came out sounding like, "Dongdaymoon" while his is a little like, "Doongdaamun". Frustrated but laughing nonetheless, he later told me that the origin of Dongdaemun Market came about from the gate of the same name that is located just next to the market. In Korean, Dongdaemun simply means "East Gate", which is one of the four gates that were built 600 years ago during the Chosun Dynasty. Another famous shopping district called Namdaemun Market is the one located next to the South Gate, but that's another story altogether.

Dongdaemun is a shopping district that never sleeps! Practically open 24 hours a day with the wholesale market doing its business from 8 pm to 9 am whilst the retail malls serves the public from 10 am to 6 pm, Dongdaemun serves as a huge attraction to tourists and your everyday business people. It is amazing just what you can possibly find here. There is something for everyone with many shops that will cater to different expectations. Somehow, Dongdaemun Market leads the trend of Korea's fashion industry.

Traditionally, wholesalers used to operate from 1 am to 1 pm while retailers will do their business from 1 am to 6 pm. This is the best time for buyers to check out their goods during the wee hours of the morning. The nightlife scene is rather unusual, thanks to this factor. Now, with the new business hours, most shoppers can go around doing their stuff whenever they feel like it. However, most stores are close on Mondays and public holidays.

For most people, this place could be the shopping paradise for cheap items. However, you won't find high-class shopping malls or designer goods at its best here. Shopping malls are huge and tall but once you step into it, you are in for a surprise. Well I was, at least. Used to shopping malls with little boutiques or shops, the shopping malls at Dongdaemun are very clear-cut. For example, if you want clothes, you go to the first floor. Bags on the second floor. Food on the highest floor, while shoes are on the fourth floor. Unfortunately, each floor does not have shops or outlets for each brand. What these shopping malls have are little stalls for each retailer. Here, you display your wares for sale. This is a setback especially for those who want to buy clothes. There is no fitting room for you. Just view yourself by using the stand mirror and if it is okay or if you think it is okay, buy it. However, one cannot complain about this as Dongdaemun is only serving its purpose as a warehouse shopping district.

My tour guide did warn us against bargaining at Dongdaemun though. She mentioned that the items are already at bargain prices. However, my husband and I decided to try our hands at bargaining as well and we came away surprised! The retailers were more than ready to bargain and at the end of the day, the deal came through well and the discount was considerable. However, the funny part was in communication. We could not speak a word of Korean neither could we speak Mandarin, a language which some Koreans are familiar with. Unfortunately, Koreans do not speak English either therefore bargaining was a little comical. If you face communication barrier like we did, all you need to do is point to the item that you are interested in. Ask, "how much?" in English. These are basic words that they are okay with. However, most items should have the price tags on it. Later, take the calculator, key in the price you are willing to pay and let this little charade go back and forth until you are both happy. Most often than not, the price is not the main factor. Just find the right item that you like and it is yours! Truly, there isn't anything you cannot get at Dongdaemun.

There are two parts to Dongdaemun - the old and the new. The newer stores are targeted at college and high school children. These are the high-rise buildings with wide walkways, bright lightings, modern styles and loud techno-pop music blaring from the speakers right at the entrance and within the store. Shopping malls under this category include Doosan Tower (affectionately known as Doota) and Migliore. They are located across from Dongdaemun Stadium. This is the hottest spot for young people nowadays. Here you can find the latest clothing, shoes, bags, colored wigs, CDs, inexpensive jewelry, and other fashion accessories. You can also check out this place if you are looking for traditional Korean costumes. You can miss them, as there are frequent concerts, performances or exhibitions right in front of the malls, therefore you can see the large stage built for this purpose!

The older side of Dongdaemun Market is merely shop lots of 2 or 3 floors with narrow walkways and exposed plumbing, and wares stacked up outside thus narrowing the road even more! Amazingly, each of these stores is very specialized in their fields. You have one whole street selling just shoes, and another selling just items for tailors including buttons, thread, hooks, pins and the whole works!

For a true Korean experience, you must walk along the streets of Dongdaemun. Here, you will get the full effect - dust, crowd, noise, and food! There are many interesting little stalls set up along the streets that sell snacks for the hungry shoppers. This is fast food at its best! One of the more famous items is the sausage-on-a-stick. Priced at KRW1,000 for each (same pricing throughout all the stalls), the sausages are simply delicious! Some are fried coated with batter, some are fried then dipped in a delicious sauce, whilst there are some that looks grilled. During my time there, I have tried about 8 to 10 different kinds of sausages. Bottled drinks are also interesting and very much in style with their neighbors, Japan. Packaging of their food items is cute and I had spent a lot of money buying cute bottles for keeps. Most bottled drinks are priced at about KRW1,000 to KRW 1,500, depending on the drink. The food and drinks are naturally cheaper on the streets than anywhere else in the country. However, if you refused to waste money on water, fret not for there are many places that serve hot and cold water for nothing. Just bring your own bottle and you are set to go.

Because of the popularity of Dongdaemun Market, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) has opened a Dongdaemun Market Information Center to assist foreign buyers in Dongdaemun Market. Should you require more information or help, head over to Fraya Town Building where you will be offered assistance in English, Japanese or Chinese. There is even some information available in Russian. The center is open from 12 pm to 10 pm daily.

Tel: (02) 2261-2192~4
Fax: (02) 2261-2195

For a virtual glimpse of Dongdaemun Market, check out this site at Here, you can even search and purchase products from Dongdaemun Market. Anyhow, for a really great time, you must have at least a whole day or two to roam the streets of Dongdaemun. You can't say you have been to Korea if you have not step foot there!