Lately, with globalization around every corner it is hard to go somewhere and not think to yourself that the whole world now looks alike. Window shopping at Pottery Barn looks the same in Kansas City, Calgary and Sydney. That is the point, I suppose, but for a traveler it is just plain depressing. Where is the unique to the place items and where are the local customs…Often you begin to wonder …where the hell are we?????… in this oh-so identical world.
That is what I love about Namdaemun Market. Opened in Seoul in 1964 it is the largest market in Korea but it really dates back to the reign of King Taejong where it operated as a government managed marketplace. This place is truly the SEOUL of the city.
While there are certainly an overabundance of crass commercially made products it is the pulse of the place that draws you into the market and into Korea herself. Some of the best street food can be found here including noodle dishes, pungent kim chee, hottoek and comforting warm red bean cakes. Follow an alleyway to the place where you find the most Koreans sitting on shallow stools, chopsticks and bowl in hand. This is where you want to enjoy an authentic lunch.
Because the market was built so long ago it is predominately a walking market. While you will see motorcycles delivering goods and boxes being transported by wooden carriers strapped to the backs of men smaller than the load they are carrying; this is a place to explore at your leisure and just soak up the sounds.
Here at Namdaemun you can shop for such things as rare ginseng, fresh fish, raincoats, shoes and even silkworms to be eaten for lunch. Traditional clothing (hanboks) can be found in a variety of bright colors and styles along with Korea’s world famous celadon pottery. Beautiful wrapping papers, paint pigments and calligraphy supplies are also easily found along with the paintings of various artists. But my favorite are the luxurious silks and tapestries that can be found within. The variety of what is sold here is enormous and there is always something you “need” to take home with you.
Just outside the market lies Sungnyemun Gate. It is one of the eight gates that were located in the fortress wall that surrounded Seoul. It is a wooden pagoda style building that dates back to the 14th century and has stood there ever since until an arson fire burnt part of the gate in 2008. It was restored and was re-opened in 2013.
To get to the market take the green subway line (number 4) to Hoehyeon Station. It is a short escalator ride up the the market.