It's been over a year now that I've been living in South Korea (Incheon/인천 to be exact), and lately I've been thinking about the common places that I go now that I absolutely can't live without at this point. In any place you live you have those shops that you visit all the time. Some of these are chains/franchises, and others are a type of store that I visit. I'm listing these in to particular order, so it's not being sorted by my favorites.
Daiso is a chain you see all over the place. In fact, when I visited California over the summer I noticed they were opening a few there even! Basically, Daiso is like a "dollar store" of sorts. It's a bunch of discounted things that you can buy that the quality may not be fantastic, but the quantity of what you can buy is great! When I moved to Korea the first store I went to was Daiso. I needed basic things for myself like cotton swabs, tissues, soap, a bowl and mug, etc. I didn't have much money and I really needed to save what I could, and ever since Daiso has been the place to go to when I need something generic for cheap.
Most of the items here will cost between 1,000-5,000 won each. I've really lost count of how many times I have bought something here. From Chopsticks to a Mini Christmas Tree, snacks, accessories, children's toys, and more, they seriously have a lot. There are small Daiso's as well as ones that are several stories high, and you can find this store chain in most places around Korea. This place is also great to get souvenirs if you're on a budget.
While I've said it isn't top quality, that doesn't mean that it's terrible either! I still have my bowl and chopsticks from over a year ago and they're still in good condition. Sometimes it may be cheaper to go to a place like Homeplus/홈플러스 or Emart/이마트, especially when buying larger quantities of items. However in general, if you're a student or just visiting it's worth visiting.
This is more of a cute store in general that sells lots of great things for gifts, as well as items you don't technically need, but really want. I got my cactus from here, along with notebooks, bags, shorts, art supplies, bookmarks, and (again) mugs. There's lots of keychains, microblocks, stuffed animals, clocks, toys, comfortable clothes, and seasonal items as well. Part of me doesn't recommend going into this store because it's possible that they will take all of your money once you enter because you just want to buy everything (that's in my case at least). Most of the things have a type of "character" or theme on them, mostly animals like bears and rabbits. They also have marvel and just cool design looking things. I might compare it to World Market in the USA, but much more focused on being cute at times.
The cost range here is pretty big. Some things may be cheap, around 1,000won, and others may be up to 50,000. Really it's about looking closely on the tag to see the price. I'm often surprised at how much cheaper or more expensive an item is compared to what I would guess. It's always worth looking in this store to me, and again it's a pretty popular chain so it's easy to find.
The quality of the items varies as well. I bought one backpack that started to tear once I put a bunch of books in it, and another that I put 3 textbooks and a laptop into and it didn't budge. The shorts I bought are fine, but my cactus grew less healthy because of how small the pots are (for the "aww" factor of being small), although they were very healthy at first. Really ARTBOX is about looking closely to ascertain the quality before buying.
There are many convenience stores around and some people may argue that others are better, but to me, I love CU. No, you should not eat here every day if you want to be healthy. But I love their variety of snacks and drinks. There are several near where I live and I'm sad to admit that I used to go there almost every day.... Each store has some of the same items, but others differ depending on which convenience store chain you go to. For instance, the brand of the Kimbap/김밥. I love tuna kimbap and the brand that CU has tastes really good to me. Yes, I know it's bad to eat prepackaged kimbap, but nevertheless it's delicious.
Obviously since it's a convenience store things are cheap because it's mainly snacks and drinks. The price range is around 500-4,000 won, depending on what you buy. If you're going to study late or need snacks for a movie or to meet friends, this is the type of place to get it. I never really bought things from a convenience store when I lived in the USA, but I go a lot more often since i went to Korea. (Though now I usually buy fruit instead of coffee and ramen, for health reasons.)
4. Street Food Vendors
If you've ever seen a show or read a book about Korea, it's likely you've seen street food. But you don't realize how much you going to them until the owner knows who you are (and probably gives you a little extra). Usually they'll sell similar things, and the food can also change depending on the season. Roasted chestnuts, bread with eggs in it, takoyaki, ddokbokki, mandu, dried rice snacks, ice cream, and every fried thing imaginable are just a few of the things you can buy for around 500-2,000 won! This should not be your constant diet, but it's great in a pinch. While there are stores that you can buy these in, it's cheaper to buy from the small stalls along the road. Most of the time you're scared of sanitation, but I've never gotten sick from street food, even liver. The owners tend to be really nice to you, and of course you should pay in cash. When you're hungry and walking around this is great, and in winter it's crammed but really warm to sit on the stools next to the food and eat to get out of the cold.
I want to make a separate article about the wonders of cafe culture in Korea, so I'll make this brief. I usually drank coffee at home or got it to go before I moved here. But in Korea there are cafes everywhere, both chains and locally owned, and they are wonderful. There are so many to choose from, and they have unique drinks, decorations, themes, and furniture. I go to study, read, meet friends, or just to get out of the cold or heat for a while.
Of course the downside to cafes is that they can be very expensive at times. Drinks can cost from 3,500-8,000 won each. Some places an Americano (the most basic of coffee drinks in Korea, and the most popular) is 4,000-5,000 each... So while these places are cozy, it costs about the same as a cheap meal to get a drink here.
Sometimes the things you find in bakeries may be off-putting if you're not used to it at first, but after a while you start craving those things. Paris Baguette and other bakeries become a regular part of life for most people who move here (especially students). One of my favorite things about bakeries in Korea are the cakes. Everything either looks rustic or really pretty because a lot of attention is paid to the details. I usually can't help but stop and look at the different cakes or pies in the window display. You also find that the advertisements are pretty close to the real thing in most bakeries.
The price range really depends on what you're buying and where you go. Usually you can find bread and pastries for around 1,500-4,000 won. Cakes range from 15,000-30,000 depending on the size and toppings.
Again it may take some time to get adjusted to the taste, and some thing I just don't really like (and that's totally okay). Sometimes the cakes are really soaked in liquid and aren't that firm, and also a lot of things aren't very sweet. I don't really like sugary things, so I enjoy the sweet baked goods because they aren't overwhelming. Overall, I visit these places way more often than I probably should, and I even got a Happy Point card for Paris Baguette and have a lot of points saved up at this point!
Those are a few of my favorite places since I've moved here, if you've visited or live in South Korea please let me know what some of your stand-by places are! I'm sure there are so many other places to love but I just wanted to choose a few of my basics. Thank you for reading!
See you next time you jump down the Rabbit hole,