Posted by: Matt Kelley | 10 July 2009

Video: Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade

Late June is typically when the jangma (장마), or monsoon season hits the Korean Peninsula. This means three weeks or more of heavy downpours, and even when it’s not raining, it’s still muggy and hot. Given these conditions, I thought it time to profile a good place that’s inside and air-conditioned.

The Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade (강남지하상가) is located beneath the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul’s Seocho District. From the terminal you can take a bus basically anywhere in South Korea. Since three subway lines converge here, you can imagine it’s a busy place. Come here during rush hour and it’s quite a slog trying to move against the current of human bodies that’s transferring between subway lines.

20090708_expressterminalThe Express Bus Terminal is where you can find a bus to go virtually anywhere in South Korea. Underneath it are over 1,000 shops.

But if you make your way beyond the subway traffic to exit #8, you’ll come upon the Arcade: side-by-side shopping aisles stretching almost a kilometer offering some 120,000 square meters of merchandise. Every time I tried to count the number of small, vendor shops, frankly I got distracted. But there must be 1,000 or more of them. And while I’m not much of a shopper, even I could appreciate the Arcade’s scale.

20090708_flowershopMany of the shops feature quite beautiful decoration and product displays. The arcade’s wholesale flower shops are a popular destination.

On the east end are shops selling furniture, dishes, lighting, blankets, toiletries and framed art, among many other things. The vendors present their goods in beautiful displays that make the most of their minimal floor space. This side of the Arcade is famous for its wholesale plants – potted plants, cut flowers and silk ones. One shop specialized in water plants while the vendor next door, sold furniture, along with – I was amused to see – fake water plants. In the winter, a popular Christmas Market pops up on a 200-meter stretch of the underground mall, selling ornaments and trees for 20% less than what you would find at most other places.

20090708_shoesSome displays are less fancy than others.

Whereas the Arcade’s east end has a diverse selection of goods, the west end is almost all clothing shops. And despite being located in an affluent part of Seoul, the Underground Arcade is all about trendy fashion, priced cheaply. Hundreds of boutiques sell bags from 10,000 won, or less than $8, I saw simple printed dresses for 6,000 won and t-shirts and skirts were on sale for just 5,000 won.

20090708_hatsWell-stocked shops offer a surprising selection given their very tight quarters.

I followed my friend Eunhae as she perused the countless wheeled clothing racks and the seasoned sellers. She quickly collected some black heels, a hat and two pairs of sweatpants, all for under $30. She said the arcade’s heyday was in the 1970s and 80s, but there seemed to be plenty of 20-, 30- and 40-something female shoppers when we were there on a late Monday afternoon. Come to think of it, despite the awesome selection, I only saw two stores that sold men’s clothing.

20090708_menuThe underground shopping arcade also includes a sizable food court.

If you need to rest your feet or wallet while at the Arcade, the food court has several decent inexpensive restaurants, specializing mostly in Korean and Japanese cuisine. Also attached to the Arcade is the 9-story Shinsegae luxury department store. There’s also a multi-screen movie theatre, a bookstore, a J.W. Marriott hotel and several coffee shops.

20090708_cheappantsCheap pants at one of very few shops that sell men’s clothing. 10,000 won is less than $8.

So the next time you need somewhere to go on a rainy day, and a no-frills shopping experience appeals to you, I’d recommend making a day of it at the Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade.

Getting There:
→ The Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade is located underneath the Express Bus Terminal (고속터미널). Subway lines 3, 7 and 9 (opening July 2009) all stop at the Express Bus Terminal Station. Use exit #8 to access the Arcade.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on June 24, 2009.)

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Responses

  1. Underground shopping areas are really popular in Seoul, right? I’ve seen the one in Myeongdong and was impressed by the small CD shops for their comprehensive selections. So this one in Gangnam is even larger? I’m curious on how it compares with the one in Jamsil as well (if I got the place correct that is…).

  2. Hi Lunare,
    Thanks for your comment. You’re right! Underground shopping areas are really popular in Korea. I haven’t been to the one in Jamsil, but I know the Myeongdong one you’re talking about. The Gangnam Underground Arcade is definitely much larger. I also recall a big one around Incheon Station, west of Seoul. Thanks for the tip on the CD stores.

    Best, Matt

  3. Much larger, you say … very interesting. This underground shopping thing is one of those treasure finds that tourists might miss on visiting Seoul. This is a great feature on it. Thanks too! ^_^

  4. Hi I’m the owner of webpage http://www.nowseoul.comI have something to tell you so please e-mail me to let me know your email address my mail address is [kwonsoonb@naver.com]

  5. hey matt!

    oh man I totally missed this place. I visited this terminal during my last trip but only to catch a subway somewhere. I shall def. check this place out for some shopping next time.

    thanks for the info.

  6. Hi Stella,

    Nice to hear from you again. Talk about a missed opportunity! ;) If you go next time, let me know what you score.

  7. […] hub, the Express Bus Terminal. As mentioned in a previous show, it’s also home to the huge Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade. And, finally, just two stops later is Sinnonhyeon, the terminal station, which empties out beside […]

  8. wow, it it huge, and the prices there, some stalls sell low, some higher priced. It is a maze, really, no joke. I’ve been to underground of Guangzhou and the one in Taipei main station, this one exceeds my other shopping experience. I shall be going back with my 2 daughters.


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