What to Buy When Shopping for Souvenirs in Seoul, Korea
Here's what you can get beyond quirky socks and face masks.
(SPOT.ph) Seoul in South Korea has turned into a popular vacation spot for Filipinos, and we're sure you've gotten your fair share of socks or face masks from friends who’ve gone over the years. We love them, of course, but if you want to go beyond the usual, here’s what you can get your friends and family the next time you’re in the land of kimchi.
From LINE Friends to Moomin to KakaoTalk Friends, Korea is filled with merchandise for all sorts of popular characters. They’re also big on teddy bears, and while the Teddy Bear Museum at N Seoul Tower is closed, there’s the Teseum at the CIZM Building in Jongno, which also sells bear souvenirs.
Don’t have the money to splurge on character merch? Shops along traditional Insadong sell teddy bears too, and they even come in hanbok (Korean traditional wear). You can get a pair for KRW10,000 or less. You can also test your skills at claw machines, which are around all the university and shopping areas—but skip them if you’re not particularly good with this arcade game, because you might end up burning more than you can spare.
Aside from face masks, hand cream makes great pasalubong for the skincare fanatics in your life. Most popular brands have scented hand creams, and they’re often discounted (like 1+1 deals or boxed sets) when you buy a lot. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes like The Saem’s Chocopie-shaped hand cream or Etude House’s MissingU line, which are animal-shaped. Aside from shopping mecca Myeong-dong, student haunt Edae (Ewha University area) has a good selection of beauty brands as well.
You can never go wrong with stationery! While we already have Artbox in the Philippines, there’s nothing like going notebook-hunting in a branch in Seoul (you can start with the one in Hongdae). They’ve got lots of other paper products and accessories available too. While you’re in the area, visit KT&T Sangsangmadang, a giant culture complex that sells design products including notebooks. Also drop by the multi-storey Alpha store in Namdaemun, which has all the supplies your crafter friends will ever need.
Skip the magnets and keychains and go for unique postcards. You can get them just about anywhere in Seoul, but there are a lot of boxed sets available in specialty shops in Insadong. Head to the Hongdae Free Market at Hongdae Playground on weekends to buy handcrafted postcards from young artists too.
The Little Prince merchandise
Korea loves Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, and you'll find plenty of merch dedicated to him in places like Petite France in Gapyeong and Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan. From phone cases to figurines, they’ve got the whole range. You don’t have to leave Seoul for your book-loving friends, though. Visit the shopping complex Ssamziegil in Insadong and look for the crafts shop with a Little Prince cut-out in front. They sell English novels illustrated by Korean artists, including The Little Prince, of course.
Yes, you can get them at the Korean grocery down the road, but they're cheaper and much better to hoard in the motherland. Get directions to the nearest E-Mart (they sell stuff wholesale) from your hotel and do some grocery shopping ASAP. Don’t limit yourself to spicy noodles and noodles with broth; you can get variants like jjajangmyeon (noodles with blackbean sauce) and cheese bokki (a.k.a. mac and cheese using noodles) too.
Seoul is a haven for coffee lovers because there are specialty cafés at every corner. Head to Samcheongdong or Hapjeong for an afternoon of café hopping, then check if your favorite coffee shop has coffee beans for sale. Take a bag home for your coffee-loving friend (and yourself). Tip: We love the coffee bean variants at BAOK Coffee in Hannam-dong. The area is quiet and relaxing too.
Have a friend who lives and breathes K-Pop and K-Dramas? Stay within Myeong-dong Station and explore the underground mall for shops dedicated to merch like Korean actor-themed calendars or BTS keychains and nameplates. If you’re willing to go all out, you can get official merchandise at official stores such as SMTOWN at COEX Artium and K-Live at Lotte Fitin.
Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
This famous hot pepper paste tastes good with everything and makes a great gift for a friend who loves to cook! If you’re feeling adventurous and you’re visiting Korea in winter or spring, go strawberry picking in Gapyeong, then take home some strawberry gochujang. They’re the perfect mix of sweet and spicy—a good match for Filipino taste buds. Just make sure to pack your gochujang jars or tubs in your luggage since they’re not allowed in carry-ons.
If you’re willing to invest and would like to take a little bit of Korea’s tradition home with you, you can get the most affordable prices for custom-made hanbok at Seoul’s oldest market, Gwangjang Market. The place is also famous for its wealth of street food, so after getting your measurements done, you can enjoy some bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), kimbap (rice rolls), seafood, or dumplings. You can also check out the large shopping complex at Dongdaemun for more hanbok choices.