November 17, 2014

My Trip to Korea - Sights, Shopping, & Travel Tips

      As some of you may know from my posts and if you follow me on Instagram, I recently went to Korea. I'm now back in the States, and can finally share all the pictures I took! In addition to sharing some lovely scenic pictures of Korea, I'll also be discussing my shopping experience in Korea. Warning! Long post ahead with tons of pictures!

Some Scenes from Seoul
The wish ribbons at the 38th Parallel (Demilitarized Zone)

"Blue House" (Korea's equivalent to the White House)

Tree ribbons at Minsok Korean Folk Village

The wish rock with people's tied written wishes at Minsok Korean Folk Village.

The squirrels on Nami Island have furry black ears!

The trees on Nami Island. This is also where the Korean drama Winter Sonata was filmed.

The gazebo and moat at Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung's Main Throne Room

The Buddha statue at Sinheungsa Temple

Up close detail of the roofs of many traditional Korean Buildings.

Shopping for Clothing in Seoul

      This may be somewhat controversial when I say this, but I didn't enjoy shopping for clothing in Seoul at all. There are several reasons why; 
  • Most of the clothing is "one size fits all": Around 75% of the clothing in Seoul is "freesize" which means it only comes in one size. As a rather petite person, it's one of the worst things you can hear when shopping for clothing. I would say that Korea's freesize is equivalent to a size 4 or medium in the US. I pretty much gave up on clothing shopping after one day. If you're smaller than a medium, a lot of the clothing in Korea won't fit you properly.

  • The prices are often more expensive: Imported brands are taxed pretty high in Korea which means that the prices are more expensive there than here in the US. Granted, most visitors from America probably won't be shopping for American brands in Korea but even British, French, Italian, Japanese brands, etc. are probably at least 30% more expensive in Korea compared to America. Sometimes they were even as much as double the price. I recommend sticking exclusively to domestic Korean brands when shopping for clothing in Seoul.

  • You probably can't try on that top before you buy it: Unlike in the US where you almost always have the option to try on any article of clothing, you can only try on jackets in Korea. You can't try on any clothing that goes over your head. This means you can't try on blouses, sweaters, t-shirts, etc. The reason behind this is because shop owners don't want makeup residue on their clothing because then they can't sell it. If you want to try on tops, you have to first buy it, take it home with you, try it on (make sure you have no makeup on!), and return it if it doesn't fit you. As a tourist, this can be a huge hassle because you won't always have the time to come back and make a return.

  • Quality control is an issue: This is a more personal opinion of mine, but I found that the quality of a lot of clothing in Korea wasn't on par with the price. What I mean to say is, a nice jacket in Korea may cost you around $300, but for that price you could get a jacket in America that may be of even better quality. Coupled with the fact that everything is practically freesize, I just couldn't justify spending that much on a jacket. Lastly, sometimes the clothing doesn't always list the materials used. Subsequently, you're basically relying on the Sales Associate's word when they tell you what the clothing is made out of.

Shopping for Cosmetics & Beauty Products
Amore Pacific is Korea's most prominent cosmetics brand.

Holika Holika, The Face Shop, & Tony Moly shops in Myeong-dong

Aritaum carries exclusively Amore Pacific brands such as IOPE, Laneige, and Mamonde.

Missha, Banila Co, and Innisfree shops in Myeong-dong

Primera - an apothecary like brand that feels like a hybrid of Origins and Aesop.

The BB Creams, BB Cushions, and CC Creams at Olive Young

Some of the sheet masks on offer at Olive Young.

L'Oreal has some Asia exclusive products.

Peripera Peripera.

There was a whole section dedicated to the entire Bioderma line in Olive Young.

Club Clio

Nail Polish selection in Innisfree

Too Cool for School

Skincare in Primera

More Skincare in Primera

Mamonde's store. Up front features products from their Rose line.

      Moving on from clothing, I did enjoy shopping for beauty and cosmetic products in Korea for the most part, but there were some things I found really surprising as well. 

  • Makeup & beauty stores are in abundance: Innisfree, Skinfood, Nature Republic, It's Skin, Etude House, Aritaum, Missha - they're really everywhere. Just like how America has a Starbucks on practically every block, these brands literally pervade the streets of Seoul. If you pass by one of these stores but don't have the chance to shop inside, fear not, another store is probably one or two blocks away.

  • Korean drugstores carry brands that are hard to find in America: Bioderma, Nuxe, Dr. Jart, are among some of the brands that you can find in Korean drugstores like Olive Young and Watsons. I found Nuxe to be slightly cheaper in Korea than in America. Olive Young carries the entire Bioderma line, although Crealine/Sensibio was around $38 which is $3-6 more expensive than the price here in America. There was also a lot of Dr. Jart products including BB Cushions, BB creams, skincare, and face masks all at prices cheaper than here in America.

  • Duty-free shopping: The same rule applies to both clothing and cosmetics - stick to the domestic Korean brands. They are usually cheaper than the prices in America. The imported cosmetics brands are often either the same price, or they're slightly more expensive. The higher end brands like IOPE, Hera, Sulwasoo, and History of Whoo are cheaper in the Duty Free stores (for example; the Hera BB Cushion was $39 in the duty free shop but $45 in a normal department store). If you're looking to buy anything from a mid-tier to high-end cosmetic brand, a Duty Free department store is the best place to purchase it.

  • Bulk Packages & Bundles in Myeong-dong: Practically every article I came across in my research said that Myeong-dong (Seoul's equivalent to NY's Soho) was the best place to shop for cosmetics. That is true to some degree because all of the cosmetic brands are in Myeong-dong. However, a lot of the stores bundle most of their popular items. For example, the sheet masks were bundled in packs of 10, 20 or even more. I saw bundles ranging from $15 to a whopping $60. As someone who wanted to try a variety of sheet masks from a range of brands, I had trouble finding a store that sold one sheet at a time in Myeong-dong. If you ask the sales associate if you can only buy a couple, they usually won't allow you to. Hence, if you don't want to buy in bulk, you need to venture away from Myeong-dong.

  • You usually have to proactively ask for samples:  Maybe this was just my personal experience, but I found that the stores have become stingy with their samples. Several times I encountered that the shop greeter outside would lure you in with a sample and if you take it without going into the store, they won't let go of the sample - I found this somewhat disturbing since in the States a sample is a sample regardless of whether you enter the store or not. I also had to usually ask for samples after purchasing products which surprised me since Korea and the Myeong-dong area is notorious for being generous with their samples. Thus, if you want samples, be proactive and ask for them since stores might not always give them to you automatically.

  • Overly-attentive Sales Associates: In terms of customer service, I found that the sales associates in Korea are overly attentive. While in the States the SA will briefly ask you if you need help and let you casually peruse, the sales associates in Korea hover right next to you and watch you try on every product. Sometimes they even pick up a similar product and give it to you to try. While this is probably just a shopping custom in Korea, I was not prepared for it since nobody had warned me of this before. If you've read this, you're now prepared! When shopping in Seoul, expect that a Sales Associate will not be that far behind you.

  • Lack of English-speaking Sales Associates: I did not expect there to be an over abundance of English speaking people in Korea since it obviously isn't an English speaking country, but if English is your only language, you may have trouble communicating to Sales Associates in Korea. If however you are able to speak Mandarin, you'll have no trouble because almost all the Sales Associates in Korea are able to speak Mandarin. That being said, you shouldn't have too much trouble even if you can't communicate to a Sales Associate because practically all the products in Korea have an English name or have an English description.

      I hope this was helpful for those of you who are curious or are planning to visit Korea in the future! As for my beauty and makeup haul from Korea, watch out for the post soon!


  1. Beautiful pictures. xx

  2. Thank you Nina! My only regret though is not taking more pictures of the skyscrapers in Seoul! Perhaps next time!


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