Shop with the locals of Pyongyang's Kwangbok Street!
The Kwangbok Department Store and Supermarket
The Kwangbok Department Store and Kwangbok Supermarket (광복지구상업중심 | 光復地區商店中心) is a modern shopping complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. Shopping at Kwangbok is one of the only opportunities you will have to visit a local Korean supermarket and use DPRK Korean won. It was originally set up as a joint-venture with Chinese company Feihaimengxin International Trade Company.
Centrally located, the Kwangbok Department Store is a favourite amongst the Koreans for its reasonable prices and large selection of goods all under one roof. This makes it a great place to hang out with the local Koreans and experience their local life.
It is one of the few places in North Korea where you can use North Korean Won. You can also use Won in the market in the Northeast region of Rason. In fact, since it is a local supermarket you can ONLY use Korean Won to pay for your goods. For this reason, there is a money exchange booth located within the supermarket. The exchange rate of the day is written in Korean at the exchange booth. Here you can exchange the following currencies: Chinese Yuan (RMB), Japanese Yen (JPY), Euro (EUR), and US dollar (USD).
For travel advice on which currency is best to bring to North Korea, check out our previous post on the advantages and disadvantages of the EUR, USD, and RMB on tour.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE
*Photography is forbidden inside the Kwangbok Department Store.
*While you can exchange for North Korean Won, it is technically not permitted to take the currency outside of the the country.
*All Korean Won should be spent inside the department store and should not be spent in other locations.
Nevertheless a visit to Kwangbok is a highlight for many on any North Korea tour. Here you can can shop among the locals and pick up some unique DPRK-made products.
The Kwangbok Department Store is a three floor indoor complex with an additional outside area mainly in operation during the summer months. It also has a small lobby area inside the entrance.
Main Entrance Lobby - Snacks & Ice-cream
At the main entrance to the Kwangbok Department Store, just before you enter the Kwangbok Supermarket area, you will find a small selection of Korean foods and snacks to each side of the doors.
First Floor - Kwangbok Supermarket, Money Exchange, Electronics, snacks
The first floor of the department store is split into two areas. To the left hand side, there is the Kwangbok Supermarket. Many North Koreans who live in the area will visit the Kwangbok Supermarket to do their weekly shopping. To the right hand side, there is a small food court, bike sales area, make-up counter, and money exchange booth.
You should first head to the money exchange booth to change your currency into Korean Won. This is the only currency you can use in the Kwangbok Department Store. The money exchange booth is located to the back of this Korean supermarket as you walk in.
The make-up and beauty counter is located directly behind the money exchange booth and opposite the Kwangbok Supermarket.
The electronics area is directly to the side of the make-up area, which is also where you will find the snack area.
Second Floor - Household, Clothing, Jewelry, Pharmacy
The second floor of the Kwangbok Department Store has several sections. This includes a small pharmacy, jewelry counter, household goods, hardware, and a clothing area.
Once you get to the top of the escalator, there is the pharmacy and jewellery section right in front of you. To the right hand side, you will find the household goods area of the Kwangbok Department Store.
Third Floor - Food Court and Children’s Play Area
The third floor of the Kwangbok Supermarket is a large food court. To the left hand side of the escalators as you get to the top of the third floor is a small children’s play area. This includes a ball pit and slide.
Outside - Outdoor food court
Outside, there is a small area where you can sit and sample some Korean foods and drinks. This area is located to the right hand side of the Kwangbok department store. There are several long tables under umbrellas in the summer time.
What Can I Buy?
In the main entrance lobby area you can find Korean snacks. You can also purchase foreign and Korean ice-creams.
The make-up counter is situated just behind the money exchange booth. It has a variety of Korean-made beauty products, including make-up, lotions, shampoos and conditioners. They also sell products in gift-sets, which make a great souvenir for those back home - or for yourself. Famous Korean-made products include those made with ginseng, which are also for sale at the Kwangbok supermarket make-up counter.
The electronics area includes foreign and Korean-made goods such as Arirang TVs.
The small food court opposite the Kwangbok Supermarket area sells typical North Korean snacks and foods. These are goods cooked and packaged to take home, or there are snacks that can be eaten in the small seating area. There is also ice cream and a range of drinks on offer.
The Kwangbok Supermarket has a great selection of reasonably priced goods. You can expect to find many things here that you can in any Korean supermarket, or any ordinary supermarket around the world. This includes meats, vegetables, alcohol, beverages, cigarettes, toiletries, sweets, snacks, and a lot more for you to explore!
The pharmacy sells both foreign and Korean-made medicine. Foreign medicine includes a lot of goods from China and Russia. Korean-made medicine is often plant/ginseng based.
The jewellery counter sells a range of jewellery made in North Korea. Here you can have a look at various items of jewellery including watches, rings, earrings, necklaces, and even engagement rings too!
The household goods section to the right hand side of the second floor of the Kwangbok Supermarket. It sells a range of furniture both foreign and Korean-made. It also has a new Ikea section selling goods from everybody’s favourite Swedish home-goods store.
The clothing department is a large section on the left hand side of the second floor of the Kwangbok Department Store, right above the Kwangbok Supermarket. It sells clothing both made in Korea and made in China. The clothing made in China is more expensive than the Korean made goods. You can expect to find a range of items here. There are various sections for various items in this large clothing section. The sections change seasonally. At the back of the clothing section is a large selection of shoes. Behind this, you will find two areas for suits and smart clothing. Other areas include dresses, shirts, jackets, winter wear, bags, and menswear.
If you are specifically looking for Korean made goods, you can ask the cashier to point them out for you.
The food court area located at the top of the Kwangbok Department Store has various food items on offer. This is a popular place for families to get their lunch, especially on national holidays when it is particularly busy. Food items you can find in this area include both Korean foods and Western foods. This food court offers fast-food style dishes, including fries and burgers! You can also buy ice cream, desserts, and Korea’s cheapest pint of beer!
In the outdoor food court area, you can purchase Korean BBQ items, North Korean beer, and other Korean snacks.
* It is not permitted to take photographs in the Kwangbok Department Store. You should leave your cameras (and mobile phones) on the bus. Do not attempt to take photos inside the store.
* To get into the ground floor Kwangbok Supermarket area bags must be packed into a separate bag that is then sealed until you leave the supermarket area after paying. This is an anti-theft measure. To avoid this hassle, you should leave any bags on your tour bus and just take in a purse or wallet. Bags are available at the checkout and cost 500 Won.
* If you do take a bag in with you, make sure to keep your purse or wallet out otherwise you won’t be able to pay at the checkout!
* If you are after some Korean-made souvenirs, the Kwangbok Department Store is perfect. Whilst there are many souvenir shops around Pyongyang, at the Kwangbok supermarket and other areas in the department store, you can pick up great North Korean snacks and goods at very fair prices.
* The recommended amount to exchange is approx. 5 EUR. You cannot take Korean Won out of the currency, so you should spend all of your exchanged money before you leave. If you wish to make a big purchase or run out of money, you can always go back to the exchange booth. If you find yourself with lots of Korean Won left, you can also exchange it back at the money exchange booth.
* There are men’s and women’s toilets located at the back of the Kwangbok department store.
* There is a smoking area just outside the main entrance to the Kwangbok Department Store.
* The Kwangbok Department Store is famous for being one of the last places in which General Kim Jong Il made a public appearance before he passed away. General Kim Jong Il visited the Kwangbok supermarket in December 2011.
Location and Access
* The Kwangbok department store is located on Kwangbok Street in Pyongyang. It is close to several restaurants, and the Pyongyang Circus. It is easily accessible by car or bus, and there is parking at the front of the department store.
* If you go outside, make sure not to venture further than the Kwangbok Department Store carpark and outside food/bar area.
* You can walk around freely within the Kwangbok Department Store. Your guide will give you a time and location that you should meet the rest of the group after you’ve finished with your shopping. It’s important to stick to this time. The location set it usually at the entrance, and you’ll usually have between 30-90 minutes to explore what the Kwangbok Supermarket and Department Store has to offer.
You can shop at the Kwangbok Supermarket and Department Store on some of our longer trips to North Korea. Or, you can have an independent tour and request it to be in your own custom itinerary. What else can you do and see on a trip to North Korea? Have a look at Koryo Tours' 75-page guide to the DPRK. It's free!