Korea offers many new and exciting sights to see and foods to try. But as you prepare for your visit to South Korea, consider what reminders and souvenirs you want to bring back and what gifts you will give to family and friends. You do not need to spend a lot, especially if your list is long. Below is my list of recommendations for affordable and unique gifts to bring back home.
Facial products/sheet face masks
K-beauty, or Korean-beauty, is the latest thing in America and around the globe. Korean women and men adhere to routine facial care practices that may surprise the average individual. Korea’s well known 10-step skincare regime may seem like a lot to undergo on a daily or weekly basis, but in my personal experience with dry skin the results are noticeable. As to whether you actually need all 10 steps, that is for you to determine. Give it a try and see if you like it. In Korea, beauty products for both women and men are available everywhere. Korea is particularly famous for their sheet masks. These masks, which are infused with serum, are used twice a week by many Korean women. Unlike the United States, these face masks are very affordable and cost between 75 cents USD and $8 for the higher end sheet masks such as Tony Moly’s Intense Care Snail Hydrogel Mask. Though Korea did not first discover the benefits of snail mucin, they can be credited for bringing the skincare craze to popularity in recent years. Many Korean skincare brands carry snail mucin products, including sheet masks, facial cleanser, and creams. These products claim to moisturize skin using the slime that snails excrete. Keep your eye out for these products as you shop.
The best place to shop for K-beauty supplies is Myeong-dong. Here you will find all the major brand names, including Tony Moly, Innisfree, Etude House, and others. As you walk about the Myeong-dong shopping area, remember that just because people appear to be offering you a free sheet mask next to a store does not mean these are free. Don’t be tempted to grab one and keep walking unless you want to be chased by store employees. Many stores do offer bulk discounts. If you buy a 10-pack of masks, they may offer you another 10-pack free. Also note the many different masks they offer. You’ll find lip masks, eye masks, forehead masks, laugh line masks as well as masks for your hands and feet. If sheet masks aren’t your thing, take a look at the K-beauty sunscreen products. Korean sunscreen products tend to be less greasy and much lighter than their U.S. counterparts. Innisfree carries a wonderful lightweight 50+ SPF sunscreen for the winter that is an absolute gem.
Take a look at other cosmetic stores around Korea if you can’t make it to Myeong-dong. Places like Olive Young are found all over Korea and offer a large variety of Korean skincare products, including Dr. Jart+. In addition, some top Korean products can be found in the United States or online, including Tony Moly, Innisfree, or try Amazon.com for the big Korean skincare brands.
Korean 10 Step Skincare Regime
1) Oil cleanser
2) Foaming cleanser
3) Exfoliate 2x per week
4) Toner or softener
5) Essence (like a serum but watery)
7) Mask 2x per week (sheet mask or other mask, do not use a serum if you decide to use a sheet mask that day)
8) Eye cream
The beauty of Koryo Celadon pottery is apparent. Celadon pottery has a translucent jade green color and is made in various beautiful shapes, such as vases, planters, boxes, figurines, and more. Celadon pottery is made from a mix of soil, water, fire, and glazing. The green color comes from the chemical transition. Celadon pottery can be grouped into two main categories, those with inlay and those without inlay. There are 8 subdivisions that may better describe the categories: glazed without design, incised design, low relief or impressed molding design, three-dimensional sculpturing, inlay decoration, reverse inlay decoration, gilded decoration, and iron or copper underglaze painted design.
Celadon potter is very affordable. Small boxes can run $5-15. A set of tea mugs can run $20-55. A full tea set, including tea pot and tea cups, can run $50-60. Male-female vases can run $25-35 for a small pair up to over $100 for a large pair. Insadong is a good location to find celadon pottery in various shapes and sizes.
Lacquer and Mother of Pearl inlaid jewelry box
Lacquer artwork and designs are found in most countries in East and Southeast Asia. Korea produces some beautiful and intricate jewelry boxes made of lacquer and mother of pearl inlay. Common themes include cranes, a symbol for long life, and butterflies, a symbol for happiness. You will also find intricate landscapes. Small, simple boxes can run $10-15, where the much larger jewelry boxes can run over $100. You can also find other items, such as compact mirrors and business card cases, that are smaller, easier to transport, and less expensive at under $15. Take a look at Insadong for shops carrying these beautiful items.
Stainless steel chopsticks and spoon set
Wood and bamboo chopsticks are commonly used in Asia. However, the Koreans are known for uniquely using stainless steel chopsticks at home because they are known to be easy to clean (and therefore hygienic) and for their durability. It is believed that Korean royalty used pure silver chopsticks to prevent poisoning since the silver reacted to poisons. There are numerous theories as to how the use of metal chopsticks came about. However, obtaining your own set from Korea is a very affordable souvenir to bring home. Chopsticks can be purchased with various themes engraved on the handle and are commonly sold with steel spoons also commonly used in Korean cuisine. A set of 2 Korean steel chopsticks and spoons can run about $7. A full set (x5) of steel chopsticks and spoons can run about $25. The price depends on where you buy. If you are looking for just a basic set, take a look at Daiso – Korea’s popular dollar-type store.
If you are going to buy socks super cheap anywhere in the world, Korea is the place! A quick look around any Korean shopping district, such as Myeong-dong, Namdaemun, or even Lotte Mart, and you will see tons of different socks and designs. Some believe the Korean tradition of taking your shoes off before entering a home may be the reason for the astounding number of socks to be found in Korea. Whatever the reason, if you are a sock fanatic, know someone who is, or are looking for inexpensive and fun souvenirs, Korean socks should be on your list. Korean socks run about $1 USD, possibly $2-3 if they are thicker or heftier. Socks are good quality and are sturdy. In Korea you will find no-show socks, ankle socks, knee-high socks, lounging around socks, winter socks, and more. Take a look at all the character themes available, including cartoon characters, living politicians and other famous people, sci-fi themes, and much more.
There is a fascination with Korean snacks since they are so numerous and various. Why that is, well ask a snack person. Korean snacks come in every shape, size, and flavor. Korean snacks are a unique gift to give family and friends and will certainly be an adventure for the palate if you can’t read what you are eating. Nonetheless, grab a few bags to take home and give your taste buds and adventure. Korean snacks can be found at GS25, 7-Eleven, Emart, and other supermarkets and convenience stores. Korean snacks run the gamut in price from under $1 USD to over $3 depending on size and quantity.
If you love trying new alcohols or know someone who does, give Soju a try. This drink, typically made from rice or sweet potatoes, is strong and served in a shot glass. With the resurgence of Soju’s popularity, Korea is now producing flavored Soju for the market. Soju is a distilled liquor and is about 20% ABV (alcohol by volume), so stronger than beer or wine but maybe not as strong as vodka. Soju can be found at most supermarkets and convenience stores, including GS25, 7-Eleven, Emart, and Lotte Mart. Grab a few small bottles to take home, but remember your Customs importation limits before purchasing too many!
Korean Red Ginseng
Korean red ginseng is touted as one of the world’s top ginsengs, along with China’s ginseng. Red ginseng is believed to provide numerous health and beauty benefits, such as skin elasticity and cardiovascular health. Ginseng extract comes in many forms, including pills, tea, powders, and chewables. If you are interested in the herbal benefits of Korean red ginseng, take a look at what is on offer when you visit Seoul. However, keep in mind that ginseng may have reactions to other medications and should be used only after consulting your physician. Though Korean ginseng is pricey, you can find many items to fit your price range. Try the Korean Red Ginseng Corporation or the airport duty free for credible places to buy ginseng.
Korean Mink Blankets and Robes (not actual mink)
Korea produces “Mink” Blankets, which are not actually mink. These blankets are usually made of thick, warm polyester yarn and fibers. The blankets are thick, warm, and durable. A king size Korean mink blanket can weigh about 12lb and can cost you about $60 or more. A throw can cost you about $15-20. A warm robe, good for the winter time, can cost about $55 or more. The Korean made blankets are a good bargain, but be careful not to purchase the Chinese made version which are often poorer quality and not as durable.
Traditional Korean Masks
Korea has a long tradition of masks, including use in dance, drama/plays, and religion. Masks can be found in miniature forms or larger masks for decoration. These beautiful masks can be found all over Seoul and Korea. Take a look at Insadong or Incheon duty free for affordable masks. These masks are to be found everywhere in Korea and are a common souvenir for travelers. If you are looking for something more unique and a bit more expensive, you will find hand made masks around Seoul or in the duty free area in Seoul’s Incheon Airport.
Looking for something different?
Try Korea’s 1,000 year old traditional Azalea Wine. This was offered as a gift to Pope John Paul during his visit to Korea. Or, keep an eye out for traditional Korean wines, such as plum or raspberry wines. In addition, Korea is known for its many unique teas, including buckwheat tea and jujube tea. But try some of the many tea offerings and determine which ones you like.