Letâ€™s be realistic. A vacation isnâ€™t a real vacation if you canâ€™t spend at least one day exploring the areaâ€™s locals shops, restaurants, and vendors.
Shopping isnâ€™t quite the same as spending an afternoon in a local museum, but it certainly holds its own merit â€“ especially if you particularly enjoy spending a few dollars here and there. Itaewon is one of the busiest and most popular shopping districts within Seoul, and itâ€™s one you wonâ€™t want to skip.
Where is Itaewon?
Itaewon isnâ€™t just a silly nickname for a shipping center. Itaewon is actually a formal city district located in the Yongsan-gu section of Seoul in South Korea. While it isnâ€™t one of the most densely populated residential districts, it is home to about 22,000 locals. Because of its close proximity to the Yongsan Garrison army base, the Itaewon district is incredibly popular amongst not only locals and tourists, but amongst US Military members as well.
The history behind the naming of Itaewon is just as interesting as the shopping district itself. According to the stories published by theÂ Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Chinese characters representing the name of the city represented two different meanings. The first one, I, represented things foreign or different. The second, Tâ€™ae, represented conception or pregnancy.
According to history, the Japanese invaded Seoul during the late 1500â€™s. While there, they went to a temple that sat in the area where Itaewon is today, and raped the female monks living there. The burnt the temple and left the female monks to fend for themselves. They built a tent house and the monks who had become pregnant stayed there. Locals started to call the area Itâ€™aewon because it represented a place of foreign pregnancy.
Shopping and Dining in Itaewon
Itaewon is well known for its shops, restaurants, and even hotels. The main street running through the district is lined with a number of unique stores and stalls, many featuring regional clothing and tailors. You could, if you chose, purchase a dress or suit and have it tailored within a day. Other stores sell nothing but typical souvenirs to remind you of your trip to South Korea. The area is also popular because of the pool joints, or gambling halls, found throughout.
If you are in Itaewon for the shopping, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for counterfeit goods at ridiculously low prices. While it is possible to find high-quality goods â€“ especially leathers – at reasonable prices, youâ€™ll want to make sure the deal youâ€™re getting isnâ€™t simply too good to be true. You will need to haggle to get a good price on truly valuable merchandise.
Dining in Itaewon
The restaurants in Itaewon are distinguishable as well. While youâ€™ll love the traditional South Korean fare found here, youâ€™ll definitely want to try some of the Indian and Turkish dishes served in the local restaurants as well. Seoul is known for serving some of the best Turkish and Indian dishes in Asia.
The nightlife in Itaewon is notable as well, as the streets get very lively during the evening hours, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. The restaurants get very busy and the popular German pub, 3 Alley, is always packed with locals and visitors. The clubs and bars are usually littered with locals, soldiers, teachers visiting from abroad to teach English, and other tourists.
Known for being one of the most gay-friendly zones in Seoul, youâ€™ll find a number of trendy gay hangouts packed with visitors as well. There is always a strong military presence â€“ both US and Korean â€“ both keeping the peace and making sure the soldiers return to base before their 3am curfew and avoid the few establishments that have been deemed off-limits to military personnel due to their reputations for prostitution or violence.
Do make sure you stay away from Hooker Hill. While prostitution is visible in the area, and was once legal, it is no longer acceptable. Brothels are easy to find but, as noted, so is trouble with police officers if youâ€™re found in the wrong place.
Right now, Itaewon is a bustling district full of life and vitality. Visit when youâ€™re in Seoul and enjoy the incredible atmosphere. The US military may move troops away from Yongsan Garrison to a new base in Pyeongtaek within the next 5-10 years. If this happens, the face of Itaewon will certainly change as a result of what will certainly be a huge economic blow to the area.