Buying a laptop, camera, or any electronics in Seoul

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a big shopper; if I do shop I’ve got a purpose and that is usually to buy a laptop, some component or camera part at Yongsan Electronics Mall.  Whether you’re looking for a component, piece of hardware or a whole new machine Yongsan is the place to go.  It has a few big advantages over online shopping, mainly that you can physically try out what your buying, price compare with different vendors and haggle!

Getting to Yongsan Electrnoics Mall is easy, hop on the subway and head to Yongsan station on line 1 or Sinyongsan station on line 4.  I’ve been dozens of times and bought things from $5 to $500.  Camera lenses, tripods, headphones, SD cards, computer parts and of course laptops.  Just recently I bought a notebook to travel with so I can leave my bulkier laptop home.

So lets get down to what you’re probably here for.  Advice & prices! (Scroll down for some useful Korean phrases too)

Good news!  The best internet prices ( are attainable at Yongsan.  Usually they’ll quote a price 10-20% higher than what you’ve seen online and haggle down.  I just bought an Asus notebook for ₩360,000 (see below) and in 2013 an HP laptop for ₩460,000 ($450 at last years rate).  The HP was my first time going to Yongsan and I spoke precisely zero Korean so I brought a Korean friend with me.  The vendor offered the equivalent (in KRW) to what I found on Amazon as long as I paid cash.


As far as cameras go I’ve had great luck haggling for lenses, filters, tripods and SD cards.  The first floor when you walk in is jam packed with camera vendors.  Most of them have the same products and will let you try out the lens if you bring your camera.  Just like with the laptops I found their initial prices to be slightly inflated on internet price but willing to haggle roughly 10-20% depending on the vendor and the level of your Korean.

 3 tips for the best price at Yongsan Electronics Mall

1) Research your item ahead of time.  Go into the conversation knowing how much its worth and what you’re willing to pay for it.  Ask questions using the right terminology and they’ll know you aren’t messing around but most importantly bring a smartphone with the website & price you found!  Don’t forget to price check within the market itself!  Talk to multiple vendors and don’t be afraid to WALK AWAY.  The best prices I’ve gotten are in the middle of the market.  Near the doors vendors have the highest starting offers. Doing research and knowing the items has been my biggest tool for haggling and saved me hundreds!

2) Take your time thinking and firmly state a price halfway between what you want to pay and their offer.  The vendor WANTS to make the sale.  He can’t go below a certain price but if he realizes you’re serious about buying something today he’ll do everything he can to make sure he’s the one that sells it to you and not his neighbor.  They’ll invite you to sit down, have a cup of coffee and try out the item.  That’s when you know he’s serious.  If you sit down he knows you’re serious too.  Our conversation went like this: Continue reading

A bullet train to Tokyo, where weirdness is only trumped by deliciousness

Shinkansen to Tokyo

_DSC0514After spending the weekend in Shimanto City made our way to Tokyo for a 48 hour stay.  My travel buddies Susan and Steph joined me for what_DSC0519would be a LONG train ride, the first 5 hours of gorgeous rivers, forests and ocean views were on a standard train before we were able to transfer to the Shinkansen, more commonly known as the bullet train.  Riding the bullet train is quite a novelty, it feels like you are in an airplane gliding over the ground with port holes slightly larger and more comfortable seats too.  Accelerating in and out of each station gives a little sense of wonder but the craziest part is trying to find a seat.



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We had unreserved seats and swayed back and forth walking down the aisle.  As the train came to the next turn I had to brace myself on the seats nearby in this 320 km/h (200 mph) journey.  Napping and writing the time away we finally arrived in Tokyo, grabbed a subway card for ¥500 ($5) and charged it with about ¥2000 ($20).  We were told that should be enough for a day or two and we ended up only needed to add a few more dollars.


Mt. Fuji from the bullet train aka Shinkansen

The subway itself is slightly confusing; its owned by multiple different companies and depending on where and how you buy the ticket you may not be allowed to ride certain trains.  Suicide doors in almost every station keep people away from the tracks and everyone lines up allowing passengers to disembark before they get on.  Its safe, clean and on time but the lack of cooperation between subway lines was frustrating and the best thing to do for directions is find a good app. Android’s Tokyo Subway Navigation worked wonders for me and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Tokyo!

Advertisement in the Tokyo subway

Advertisement in the Tokyo subway

Asakusa, Tokyo_DSC0565

_DSC0630Next stop was Asakusa where we would spend a few nights at the Asakusa Khaosan Ryokan Hostel.  Susan, Steph and I joined our buddy Blaine and split a 4 “bed” private room.  The beds were actually just mattresses on the floor but were immensely comfortable and at roughly ¥160 a night split 4 ways it was one of the cheapest options in Tokyo.

Asakusa is a quaint part of Tokyo with many restaurants and a bustling market.  The market goes from the main road to the Sensoji Temple with many shops along the way.  These stalls sell everything from touristy knick knack souvenirs to delicious snacks and even samurai swords!  Be sure to check out the kooky mask selection and taste the local treats before venturing to the incense filled temple for a cleansing of your mind and body!  As Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji is worth checking out.


Market near Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo



Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple

Continue reading

Buying a Laptop in Seoul

This post was from my first time buying a laptop.  Please see this post for advice & recommendations on how to get the best prices!

I came to Korea with a Samsung Galaxy and a tablet, the Nook HD.  Together I had internet when I needed it and it met my needs but I knew I wanted to get some upgrades.  After I got my Alien Registration Card I replaced my phone with an LG Optimus but was waiting until my first paycheck to buy a laptop.  While in the States I read that non-Apple products were significantly cheaper in Korea but upon first inspection I didn’t find that to be true.  Yes, my phone is paid off in monthly installments with my data plan and will only cost me about $50 but the first laptops I saw at E-mart were about the same as what I found in America.

In E mart I found Samsung laptops with prices between ₩1,000,000 and ₩1,800,000 ($1,000-$1800).  They had some LG and other off-brand models for ₩800,000 ($800) and a few bare bones laptops with minimal specs for about ₩490,000 ($490).  After a little internet research and speaking to a few Koreans I realized the place to go was Yongsan Electronics Mall but heard that I should bring a fluent Korean speaker to make sure I get an English version of Windows and everything else I wanted.

Luckily Ben wanted to see the electronics mall to look at camera lenses while I was working and confirmed that there were some great prices, what appeared to be about 30% cheaper than at E-mart.  I convinced my new Korean friend Rachel to go with me in exchange for dinner afterwards at the Itaewon Global Food Festival.  We hopped on the subway Saturday after I got back from fencing and took the 30 minute ride to Yongsan.

The mall is very easy to find.  There are signs in the subway station that say “Yongsan Electronics Mall” and we arrived at about 7:30.  Luckily even though they close at 8:00 PM there were still a few vendors open.  Walking in there are dozens of vendors selling what appears to be the same thing.  We passed about 12 camera & lens booths and 5 or 6 monitor stations before seeing the sign that said computers – 5th Floor.

Taking the escalator up we found multiple desktop booths with huge gaming rigs, tons of monitor stations and even a festive furniture section with colorful lounge chairs and sofas.  While walking around we eventually found a laptop booth with Samsung’s in the ₩700,000-₩900,000 range ($700-900).  There were a few other models and prices went all the way down to about ₩390,000 ($390).  The best part was the attendant spoke nearly perfect English!

I told him I wanted a laptop that had an SD card for my camera, made sure it had wifi and an English operating system and said I’d like an upgraded display card but don’t need the top of the line.  He asked about brand and price and I told him price was more important than brand.  I wanted more bang for my buck and didn’t need it to say “Samsung” if all that meant was I would pay an extra ₩300,000 ($300).

He immediately asked if he could make a recommendation and pointed to the HP Pavilion G6 sitting on display.  It had a nice widescreen display with a numpad built into the keyboard and was listed at ₩490,000 ($490).  I immediately started playing around on it and found it easy to use and navigate.  I asked if it could come with English windows and he said of course.  I asked about Microsoft Office and he said that was included too!  He showed me the display specs and that it was bluetooth capable before pulling up a K-pop video.  The display quality was superb and I was practically sold.  The upgraded graphics card made this machine cost about ₩800,000 ($800) in E-mart so when he told me he would give me “best price” of ₩460,000 ($460) for cash I just asked him where the ATM was.

In hindsight I wonder if he would have negotiated even lower but in my mind I just picked up a high end laptop for around $450.  He threw in a laptop bag, a headset and a mouse for free too!  Turns out I didn’t need my Korean friend but I would recommend bringing one to anyone else visiting the mall because I doubt all the vendors are this fluent.

Switching to a Korean Phone

Switching to a Korean phone network was was easy, or so I thought.  I checked with Verizon when buying the phone and before I left for Korea, my globally activated Samsung Galaxy Nexus would work here.  I was told all I needed was a new SIM card and I could join another network.  Just to be sure they didn’t try and sell me anything extra I asked my Korean co-teacher, Mary, to come along.  She speaks excellent English and obviously is fluent in Korean.

We walked down the street to the local SK store.  There are literally phone stores on every block if not every corner so it was just a matter of finding a convenient one.  Walking in it was evident that English wouldn’t get me very far here.  Mary did all the talking; I told her about my old phone and she understood that I hoped to use it but if they couldn’t get it to work I would buy a new one.  A quick Korean exchange and she told me to hand over the phone, within seconds he confirmed that it should work.

Some Korean was left untranslated as they talked back and forth; Mary knew what I wanted so I sat patiently waiting.  A few moments later he asked what phone number I would like.  I could pick the last 4 digits and opted to keep the same final 4 as I had in the states.  He pulled up about a dozen options for the first 4 numbers and I picked out an easy to remember 7150.  With that he pulled out a new SIM card and was powering up my phone.

I was given a tablet and must have signed a half dozen times as we sat waiting or him to finish. He was taking forever. After another Korean exchange Mary asked if I could wait until tomorrow. I said that I was fine leaving my phone with them and we parted ways. We could be able to pick up my activated phone after work the next day.

Work came and went; it happened to be a crazy day at school with our “favorite” student providing hours of “entertainment.” But, as it always does, the day came to an end and Mary and I went back to the SK store once more. We arrived and found the same sales rep. He sat us down and with a quick X gesture and a few words he explained that it didn’t work.

Unfortunately I’m not sure if it didn’t work because they were unable to figure out my English phone, I was lied to by Verizon or they just wanted to make an easy sale. Either way I found myself in need of a new phone so he brought out my options. I don’t mind spending a little money on a phone; I find its worth the price since I’ll be using it literally everyday and sometimes for hours at a time.

In Korea you pay for your phone in monthly installments with your regular plan. I like that better than in America where they make you shell out hundreds of dollars right when you buy it. The first phone he showed me was a white LG. It looked nicer than my old phone and was the right price, about 2000 won per month for 24 months, so 48,000 won or roughly $48. Just for fun I asked to see how much the Samsung Galaxy would be. He brought out the 2 next generations of my old phone, a S4 and an S3.5 (he said it wasn’t really a S3 but similar and more affordable). The 3 was about $10 a month and he said the same specs as the LG while the S4 was $45/month.

It was an easy choice, I went for the original LG that he showed me.  My new phone came with an extra battery with an external battery charger, a wall charger and headphones.  I’ve had it for less than 24 hours but have customized so that the home screen is nearly identical to my old phone. So far so good. I immediately signed up for KakaoTalk (a messaging app that is widely used here). Feel free to download the app and utilize some free texting at MikeS86.