Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade (강남 고속터미널 지하강가) is a perfect destination in late June, when the jangma (장마), or monsoons, typically hit 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.
Recently rechristened as the “Go-To Mall,” the Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade 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.
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.
On the Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade‘s 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 Seoul 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.
Whereas the Gangnam Underground Shopping 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 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.
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.
If you need to rest your feet or wallet while at the Gangnam Underground Shopping 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.
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.
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About Matt Kelley
Matt Kelly is native of the US Pacific Northwest and is half-Korean by ethnicity. He lived in Korea for five years and has written hundreds of travel guides for Wallpaper, TimeOut, the Boston Globe and Seoul Magazine and was a host for several different variety shows on Korean radio and television.