The wide range of wares on Jongno
Jongno is often known for having lots of adult hagwon and office buildings, as well as restaurants and bars for students and office workers to eat and relax after they’re off the clock. But Jongno has more than just places for you to chow down and blow off steam - it also offers some great places to find items that are cheaper than their counterparts at department stores or private boutiques.
Nakwon Instrument Market
Just a stone’s throw from Insa-dong, you can find a shopping complex that sells nearly every instrument you could possibly toot, strum or beat.
From traditional Korean instruments such as the janggu (hourglass-shaped drum) to Western instruments such as the saxophone or violin, you can find it all at Nakwon. Some stores even have rare instruments: harps, mandolins, tubas and ukuleles can be all found here. Guitars, both acoustic and electronic, are popular here among young customers, who are perhaps dreaming of future musical stardom. Stores also sell all of the microphones, amplifiers, cables and mixing boards you need to create a sound system for your own rock band.
The shopping complex is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and some stores even keep their doors open on Sunday, though you’ll certainly find a wider selection during the week or Saturday.
Aside from selling new instruments, customers can also peruse used instruments or get repairs made on their own old instruments. Repair shops in the complex have different specializations, so make sure to find the right person for the job.
There are several ways to get to Nakwon Instrument Market, and all are within five to 10 minutes of the subway station.
The closest way is to go to Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 5, exit 5, and walk toward the SC First Bank.
The next way is Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 1, exit 1. Walk toward Tapgol Park and turn right on the street just past the park, toward Insa-dong. Instead of turning left onto Insadong-gil, simply keep going until you see the building.
Finally, you can also go to Jonggak Station, line No. 1, exit 3, and walk straight. Turn left onto the street before Tapgol Park and walk straight again past Insadong-gil.
The Nakwon Instrument Market does have an official Web site, but it’s available only in Korean: http://www.enakwon.com.
Nakwon Tteok Street
Running just along the edges of the Nakwon Instrument Market is a road famous for its tteok houses. Tteok, a food staple in Korea, is rice cake made with chapssal, or glutinous rice flour.
There are literally hundreds of different varieties of tteok, with hundreds of different distinguishing ingredients such as sesame seeds, nuts, dried fruits and red bean paste.
Certain kinds of tteok are traditionally eaten on major Korean holidays or special occasions, such as a wedding or a baby’s first birthday. For example tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is eaten on New Year’s to signify the addition of one more year in age. Songpyeon (tteok filled with sesame seeds and honey) is eaten during Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, while gyeongdan (tteok filled with red bean paste and rolled in sesame flour) is often eaten at weddings or other celebratory events.
Jongno Jewelry Row
As you get closer to Jongmyo Park, you’ll start to see multi-floored complexes that host a dizzying area of glittering jewels, sparkling precious stones and luminous pearls.
In all, there are more than 1,000 jewelry vendors in the area offering their wares at discount and sometimes even wholesale prices. Most of the stores show their wares in glass cases, but since they also often partner with different jewelry manufacturers, if you can’t find the exact style, shape, or stone you’re looking for, they’ll usually be able to make it to your specifications - and depending on your desired design, usually within only a few days.
While stores in the area are willing to negotiate on their initial price, don’t expect the price to drop as far from the original offer as it might in some other countries’ jewelry markets.
Korean vendors tend to state prices that are only negotiable between 10-15 percent, if at all. Ten to fifteen percent may not seem like a lot, but when you’re buying high-ticket items, you can still save a pretty penny in the end, so it doesn’t hurt to at least ask - and, as in any negotiation process, asking politely can go a long way.
Instead of giving you a discount on less expensive merchandise, they may offer to give “service,” or free accessories, such as an extra set of gold earring backs if you’re buying a set of earrings, or an upgraded clasp for those who are in the market for a necklace or bracelet. If you’re a frequent jewelry shopper, becoming a regular at one store, of course, is always helpful.
For those who need jewelry repaired, reset or resized, there are also repair shops along the street. To get to Jongno’s Jewelry Row, go to Jonggak Station, line No. 1, exit 3, or Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 1, 3 or 5, exit 1. There are also many buses that service the area and you should get off at the Jongno 2-ga or Jongno 3-ga bus stops.
Jongno’s Watch and Clock Row
When buying a watch in Seoul, you could always go the obvious route of buying one at a department store or a watch specialty store. Then again, you could go the modern way and try to find a good deal online. But if you’re looking for a wide variety of watch designs, cheap prices and a unique experience, you could drop by Watch and Clock Row in Jongno.
The stores here, located near Gwangjang Market, have been around for about 60 years and once had the market cornered on watches sold in Korea.
More recently, however, department stores and Internet sales have cut into the stores’ profitability. In particular, as Koreans become more affluent, imported and designer watches have become more and more popular and Watch and Clock Row has had trouble keeping up.
Still, for those who are interested in shopping for antique, rare watches - ones that can’t be found on anyone else’s wrist - Watch Row is a great place to find original timepieces with interesting details. It’s also a great place for watch shoppers on a budget who aren’t necessarily interested in the flash and glam of name brands, but instead prefer practical prices for dependable products.
As the name suggests, Watch and Clock Row is not only host to hundreds of watch merchants - ranging from standalone shops to humble street stands - but is also home to clock specialty stores as well. Walk into a clock store and you’ll be stared down by the faces of hundreds of clocks in all different shapes and designs. The street also has watch and clock shine and repair shops.
To get to Watch and Clock Row, you can go to Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 1, 3 or 5, exit 12. Walk straight until you pass Jongmyo Park, where you’ll take a right. The street is between Jongno 4-ga and the Cheonggye Stream, with Gwangjang Market to the east.
You can also go to Euljiro 4-ga Station, line No. 2 or 5, exit 3, and turn left after you cross over the Cheonggye Stream.
By Shannon Heit Contributing writer [email@example.com]