The alarm went off at 5am and I thought to myself, “What on God’s green earth am I doing up at this time of day on vacation?” There were no reports to write, no classes to teach, no destinations to explore…” and that was it. There was nothing exciting planned for the day and it was eating away at me. I needed to do something new. I needed to do something bold. I needed to go shopping.
Yeah, that wasn’t quite the answer I thought I would come up with, but nonetheless, it’s what popped into my head and before I knew it, I was showered, shaved, and on a KTX bound for Busan. Sure, Myeongdong and Dongdaemun may be the shopping Meccas for Seoullites, but there is a bigger and better place to spend your hard earned cash, or in my case, explore, for there is one thing that Busan has to offer shoppers that Seoul does not: the world’s largest department store.
Shinsagae has many shopping establishments throughout Korea and is known for the famous displays near City Hall, but the Busan Centum City Department Store that opened in 2009 is larger than any other and has been certified by Guinness to that effect. Getting there is quite easy. Hop on Busan Subway Line Number 2 to the Centum City station (a mere 10 minutes from Haeundae Beach). It’s here where I began my shopping adventure. Once exiting the turnstiles, I knew I was in the right place, being greeted by pillars proclaiming the size of the shopping structure above my head.
Ascending the stairs, I started exploring the massive retail site on the B1 Level. The floor maps simply list this as a fresh food market. That’s an understatement. What lies in this unassuming basement is a complete E-Mart. But this isn’t any normal E-mart. Sure, it has all the staples of the discount store (school supplies, food, clothes, etc.), but it has a ton more to offer. What first caught my eye was a massive event space. On my visit, vendors were showcasing various kitchenware – all designed to make the inner chef cry out, “I WANT IT!” Also of note on this floor was a well stocked wine cellar, with some vintages north of the W400,000 price range. Then there was the food court. Whether it was traditional Korean meals one wanted or hand crafted, wood-fired pizza- this floor had everything.
From here I moved upwards, opting to take the escalators rather than the elevator. In a place so grand, why be confined to a tiny box? Centum City is a place that’s meant to be enjoyed. Floors 1-4 a heavily skewed towards the fairer gender. The pattern of the store follows suit with others in Korea, with the ground floor being primarily reserved for cosmetics. (Incidentally it’s here where the actual Guinness Certificate is on display.) Among the over 40 make-up brands on display, one stands out more than most: Chanel. Not only is Centum City the largest department store in the world, but the Chanel boutique inside it is the largest in Korea. If you’re pocketbook can’t handle the W500,000 dresses you see or the expensive designer jeans, don’t worry, there is a place for you to shop on the higher floors.
Amidst all the feminine apparel on the third floor was one section that resonated deeply with my soul… the Sports Area. What ever kind of climbing or hiking gear you could dream of, it was hear. Once my legs stretched into this section, I could feel a little spring pop back into my step. All the usual players were present, so immediately squealed with joy.
The fourth floor is also home to a massive food court. When I say massive, I mean, ginormous. The restaurants here range from American Fast Food to glorious coffee shops. Couple this with an affordable ice rink, this puts the perfect end the women’s section. From the look on the children skating, I think they shared in my enthusiasm, or perhaps it was just the sugar high from all the sweets available.
The fifth floor was also a blast to explore. Not because its the Men’s Department, but rather due to the full-sized Kyobo Bookstore that occupies most of the area. Perusing the stacks, a shopper can walk away with nicknacks, music, or the latest hard-cover. Like all Kyobo Bookstores, the stacks are well organized and spread out. Plenty of space is available to sit and read your find and enjoy that perfect cup of coffee.
The sixth floor was probably the most interesting. In addition to the children’s section, golf equipment, and lingerie, the floor was home to the Shinsagae Academy. Normally when one hears “Academy” in Korea, an image of the after-hours cram school comes to mind. What Centum City has done with space is amazing. Available is a complete Pre-School and adult education classes. Passing by the cooking lab instantly made me jealous of the large stove tops and ovens. The programs are open to the public for a nominal fee. The last item of interest on the sixth floor is the Shinsagae Gallery. This space showcases rotating art exhibits.
The seventh floor possesses home goods. What ever you need for your home or apartment, you are sure to find it here. They have everything ranging from stove top espresso pots to the latest 3D televisions. The floor also has an impressive display of camera equipment if one is looking for a new toy.
Riding the escalator up one more floor, one will reach Fashion Street – or the affordable, action, youth oriented clothing section. While the floor is heavily geared towards women, men will find a few items to their liking.
The ninth and tenth floors are reserved for high class restaurants. If one is looking for something really nice, this is the place to go. Whether it’s bokguk (Busan’s famous blowfish soup) or Jeonju Bibimbap, these high class restaurants are sure to please your palate. However, for most, the draw of the ninth floor is not the food, but the outdoor Sky Park, which offers amazing panoramic views of the city.
Three other features of Centum City should be mentioned. First, on the ground floor is Spa Land. This upmarket spa has just about everything one could want for a luxurious day of relaxation. Saunas, exercise spaces, and soothing pools to soak in. On the eleventh through fourteenth floors the facility houses the largest indoor driving range. If one doesn’t like shopping, either of these entertainment facilities could be a great diversion while your partner unleashes their inner shopaholic. If the spa or driving range don’t tickle your fancy, no problem – a CGV (cinema) is conveniently located on the seventh floor.
As you can tell, Shinsagae’s Centum City is a major retail space and deserving of its title as World’s Largest Department Store. Even if you don’t need to buy anything, walking the aisles and sipping coffee in one of the many cafes is an enjoyable way to spend a day. I had a blast on this adventure, and I think you will, too.