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May 28, 2015

An Interview with Joey Rositano, Photographer of Jeju Shamanism

Joey Rositano is not your ordinary expat. Hailing from Nashville, the Tennessee native has called Jeju-do, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, home for the past nine years. 

But it's not just the island's tropical charms and beautiful beaches that keep him there. Rather, his interests in shamanism, a religion that has all but become extinct in recent years, as well as his desire to protect it and share its stories with the world, have driven him to produce a documentary and publish a book of photographs that document his experiences on the island.

Spirits: the Photo Book, which will feature 220 full color images that highlight Jeju shrines, as well as shamanic religious practices that are often carried out by its elderly population, including rare ceremonies performed by haenyeo, the island's famed women divers, to ensure safety while performing their treacherous work.

The book is set to be released in mid-June and will be available for purchase in Jeju, as well as on Joey's blog and Facebook page.

Despite his busy schedule preparing for his book launch, Joey took the time to chat with me for an exclusive Seoul Searching interview to discuss his experiences in Jeju, his efforts to preserve shamanism and the future of the island religion.

What is it that fascinates you most about shamanism?

Shamanism is so fascinating, especially an intact system like Jeju’s muism. After immersing myself in the practice and exploring a number of shamanic communities here, I waver between being fascinated by the familiar and the unfamiliar. 

There is so much in shamanism that mirrors the world’s major religions. There are points at ceremonies where I feel I am at a religious gathering back home; the emotions, the sense of community is really familiar. Then there are times when it is so clear that the elderly practitioners of muism view the world very differently than I do. It’s really fascinating that people with intensely different world-views live beside each other on Jeju Island, the elderly and the younger generations. 

How common is shamanism in Jeju?

It’s in every village but to varying degrees. This is a difficult question to answer because we would have to first agree on what shamanism is. I’ll try to answer simply though. As far as fully functioning systems with a living village shaman and regular shrine rites, perhaps around 25-30 villages out of some several hundred villages practice shamanism in its original form. In villages where the line of traditional village shamans has broken, people still worship at shrines and contract shamans from outside to perform ceremonies. 

Elements of shamanism can be found everywhere in Jeju, in Buddhism and even in Confucian rites. For example, people in Jeju celebrate the Mountain God and Sea God ceremonies with Buddhist monks and at each family’s memorial services a table is set for the Door God who is one of the central deities in Jeju muism’s cosmology. Shamanic funerary rites are often performed in houses even if the younger residents aren’t practitioners of shamanism.

How is shamanism and the religion's shrines in Jeju different than shamanism on the mainland?

It’s really different, though it was more similar in the past. In Jeju, the village shaman, called shimbang in Jeju-eo, a variation of Korean that is only orally spoken on Jeju, is the religious leader of each village. The shimbang is responsible for leading ceremonies at shrines and performing ceremonies in village residents’ homes. These ceremonies are performed to call on the gods to bless a new home, to heal the sick or to ensure the souls of the dead are able to reach the afterlife. 

These are just a few examples. The position of shimbang is generally inherited through family lines and the community is organized around this person who has the unique ability to recite the island and village myths. This is no small feat. We’re talking about up to thirty hours or more of recitation in some cases. I understand that this type of village shamanism is more common in Jeju still than the mainland. 

Also, the music is quite different as are the deities. The female deities are more prominent in Jeju. Of course, all these practices take place in Jeju’s language. Some of the gods overlap with gods in the mainland but they play a different role in Jeju’s cosmology. 

In the 1980s, the Korean government attempted to eradicate shamanism in an effort to shed its reputation as a superstitious, "backward" nation. Even today, it is often viewed by mainlanders in a negative light. Are these sentiments shared by those in Jeju? How is the religion perceived by the general public there?

The Anti-superstition Movement had a great effect on shamanism in Jeju. Many village shamans were coerced to give up their practice during that period. Shrines were also destroyed. Yet, the people of Jeju resisted and fought back. That is certainly a theme in the story of shamanism in Jeju. 

Outsiders have tried over the centuries to destroy the practice but the fact is the people of Jeju always pick up the pieces and rebuild their shrines. That said, the movement did a lot of damage. It successfully erased shamanism from the minds of the younger generations. 

I am constantly educating younger people in the city about muism’s myths and shamanic practice. I’m not trying to be arrogant when I do this. I am always shocked to find out how little they know. So I give presentations at high schools and talk to whoever I can. Many younger people from outlying villages know about muism though, as they grew up around their grandparents. Many of them have had encounters with the village shamans when they were young.

What efforts are being made, if any, to protect the shrines?

There are around 400 shrines. A handful have been protected as cultural assets and individual villages have been making efforts to protect their shrines as well. But the overwhelming majority aren’t protected and many are near to being entirely forgotten. 

There are people working on this problem in Jeju and there is a sense that it is an eminent problem as so much development is occurring. Recently two shrines have been damaged and both are seriously threatened. I’ve been working with a local group on this issue and have played a prominent role in the case of Sulsaemit shrine, which was desecrated last year. I want to work on an initiative to protect all of Jeju’s shrines.

You mentioned that each shrine is associated with a myth. Which is the most interesting you've heard?

I really like the myth of Miss Hyun’s shrine on the southeastern side of the island. Miss Hyun, unlike many of Jeju’s deities, is a young goddess, not a grandmother goddess. She was an actual person, a village shaman, who lived several hundred years ago. It is said that she died of grief after discovering her brother’s corpse on the nearby beach. He had returned to Jeju from the mainland with a ceremonial dress for her but then shipwrecked. Today, villagers still hang ceremonial dresses for Miss Hyun in a tree in her shrine. You can see these dresses in some of the photos I included from the book.

Throughout your research on shamanism, for both your book and your documentary, what is one event or discovery that sticks out the most?

There are so many. It seems like every time I go out I learn something new. I particularly like hearing people’s personal stories, stories of miracles or stories of times when people had no one to turn to except the shrine gods. 

I have enjoyed getting to know one elderly shaman called ‘Oh Halmang’ (Grandma Oh) in her village. Over three days we recorded about fifteen hours of Jeju’s myths. She’s a very comical woman and often would clarify the plots of the myths by comparing them to situations in Korean dramas. Also, hearing stories from the period of the Jeju Uprising, also known as the April 3rd massacre of 1948, has been very sobering. 

In your opinion, what is the future of shamanism in Jeju?

Many believe that Jeju’s native shamanism is on its last legs. Many village shamans agree with this view. Ten or fifteen years is generally a number given. Yet, there is a movement building in Jeju. The youth are starting to embrace the mythology and learn a little bit more about the religion. Shamanism is being incorporated into many art forms. Time will tell if this is only a fad. 

It isn’t unheard of for a community to rebuild its traditional religion. Estonia is a great example of a place where shamanic shrines and practices were essentially entirely reinstated. It will be difficult though. The training that village shamans go through is very extensive and takes great commitment. There are some new shamans in training now.

Anything else?

On Jeju, there is a living example of Eurasian shamanism that is extremely valuable. By examining it, we can get a sense of what it was like to witness the pre-Christian era in places such as Europe as well. I want to bring people’s attention to this and show them that shamanism is not what they think it is. As far as protecting the shrines, it’s time to make some noise. 

Interview by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Images courtesy of Joey Rositano.

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April 20, 2015

A New Beginning, Part II

It was almost exactly two years ago that I wrote this post.

In a nutshell, it went on about how I had decided to quit my day job altogether, become fluent in Korean and embark on a new journey as a freelancer, all the while pursuing a job in Korean tourism and teaming up with a start-up company on a big business project. And so on and so forth.

Needless to say, things didn't necessarily go as planned. I dropped out of Sogang University's language course after only one semester due to a lack of time and money; the business that had promised me partnership had deceived me; and I realized that a career in tourism marketing was a lost cause, for many reasons I won't even try to get into here.

No, things didn't go as planned at all.

After about five months of endless nights of struggling to keep up with my lingually-gifted classmates, and barely scraping by financially on a diet of cup noodles and kimbap, I started focusing more on my blog.

Life had given me lemons and I was ready to slice those suckers up and pour the tequila.

Once I started blogging more, companies began approaching me to collaborate, publications began to hire me for writing gigs, I ended up on the cover of SEOUL Magazine and before I knew it, jobs started rolling in and the rut that had me consumed in self-doubt and uncertainty began to wane.

2014 was one of the most exciting years of my life (thus far, at least), and allowed me to tick off at least half my pre-existing bucket list bullet points. In addition to traveling to a number of new places, I befriended some of the most interesting souls I've ever come across who have been pivotal in getting me where I am now. I was also presented with some amazing opportunities.

Some of the more noteworthy include hosting the Little Secrets: Seoul in-flight travel series for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, participating in a policies discussion with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, writing the online reviews for Frommers.com's Seoul listings, working with a number of Korean actors and actresses, and being a production assistant on the Cooking Channel's Avec Eric. Each taught me something different and gave me the chance me to get my name out, grow professionally, network and understand more clearly what I wanted (and what I DIDN'T want) out of my career.

I also dedicated a lot of my extra free time to trying to better myself and improve my skills. I enrolled in a number of online writing and photography courses, made it a goal to learn something new everyday, started writing a collection of short stories and read as much as possible.

My flexible schedule over the past two years allowed me to reflect on my life and who I wanted to be and be around. I learned that sometimes, it's necessary to let go. No matter how much you want to be a part of something — be it a personal relationship or a business partnership — if the other party isn't willing to put in an equaled effort, or refuses to value your worth by taking advantage of you, it's time to move on.

I've learned that other times, things just aren't meant to be. And that's okay, too. Because better things are waiting and trust in this belief, with steadfast effort and continued hard work, is the only thing that will lead you to that point. And once you get to that serendipitous crossroads, you will realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs that what you thought you wanted.

So here I am, at the crossroads, exactly six years after the day I arrived in South Korea for the first time.

I was very recently presented with a job offer which would put me in a 9-5 (or, more likely, 9-8) office position. At first, I disregarded it, thinking that continuing down the path of working for myself might be the better option. But I thought about it again. And again. And again. And after much consideration and weighing pros and cons and reading far too much self-help material about how to make a decision (WHO HAVE I BECOME?!), I realized that there's no one right way. I made a choice.

Next week, I will be the proud owner of a much coveted E7 visa, and will be an official employee at Edelman, one of the world's top PR firms. I'll be creating and managing digital content for the blogs and social media accounts of Samsung Electronics and POSCO.  I have a lot to learn (and adjust to, being in a corporate setting, and all), but I'm confident this company will help me develop both professionally and personally, and I am excited for what's to come.

And there is more to come. Drum roll, please.

Last fall, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting the great folks of Tuttle Publishing here in Seoul at a book launch. After tossing some ideas around, Eric Oey, the CEO, made my life dream come true by offering me a book deal. So, if everything continues to go as planned, by the end of the year, my own personal guide to Seoul will be published and on sale in book stores around the world.

Now let me set one thing straight. While I feel that each little step I've taken along the way (sometimes so little I felt like I wasn't even moving) has gotten me to where I am now, none of it would've been possible without the help and support of my family and friends, here and abroad. They've stuck with me and supported me, introduced me to new job opportunities, remained patient through all my annoying questions and favor-asking, and most importantly believed in me.

And I'm so thankful to all of you, my readers, for your continued support, as well, as absolutely NONE OF THIS would've happened without Seoul Searching. I'm so thankful for your comments and e-mails and even those few of you who have approached me out and about in public. Nothing makes me happier than knowing you guys learned a little bit about Korea or found the travel information from a certain post helpful.

I hope that I can continue to be of help to you guys, and to give back to Korea at least a tiny little bit of what it has given to me.

Stay tuned!

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April 15, 2015

Wax and Relax at Catchup Waxing

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year here in Korea, but sadly, it's short lived. Soon enough, summer will be here which means bikinis, beaches and bright sun... all of which can cause great distress among us gals. Fortunately for us (and willing guys, too), Catchup Waxing offers premier services to ensure that its customers' bodies are in tip-top shape for the season.

With multiple branches throughout Korea, Catchup Waxing is accessible and convenient for just about everyone. I decided to check out the franchise's Apgujeong location in Seoul, which also happens to be its most luxurious, for a few treatments.

Upon entering, I immediately felt relaxed, which isn't necessarily something typical wax salons, which usually feel clinical and sterile, have the ability to do. After all, getting waxed can be a bit nerve-racking and stressful. But the beautiful wood paneling of Catchup's brow bar, along with the plush treatment rooms, really do create a peaceful atmosphere. The cleanliness, as well, gives one some peace of mind.

I was greeted by an attendant who was at once very friendly and professional. Although she didn't speak much English, she completely understood what I said to her and we kept up a bit of a conversation going in both our languages. During my waxing treatments, the waxologist was very confident, gentle (a must in these situations) and thorough. I was very happy with the results.

And I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything less, as the salon has 15 years experience in body waxing, making Catchup the leading waxing salon in Korea and the exclusive distributor of Lycon, Australia's leading wax brand, known for its ability to nurture the skin leaving it soft and smooth.

They also used a number of products to soothe and neutralize my skin and prevent ingrown hairs and redness. With my history of redness and sensitivity, I was shocked that the redness only lasted about 24 hours. Obviously, this place knows what they're doing so consider them for your waxing needs this summer.

More Information: Catchup Waxing

Address: 589-19 Sinsa-dong Gangnam-gu Seoul

Hours: Daily 10:30am-10pm

Reservation: Call 070-7725-8100 or e-mail relocations@naver.com

Prices: Click Here

Website: Click Here

How to Get There: From exit 3 of Apgujeong Station (Orange Line / Line 3), walk straight for about 5 minutes. After reaching the MiniStop, take a left and continue walking for about 3 minutes. Catchup Waxing will be on your left on the 5th floor just before Tom and Toms cafe.


Disclaimer: Although this post was sponsored by Catchup Waxing, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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April 8, 2015

How to Enjoy Spring in South Korea

After a long winter, spring has finally sprung here in Seoul. But it won't last long so be sure to get out and enjoy it while it does. Here are a few of my favorite springtime activities to partake in here in Seoul. I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy them just as much as I do!

See the Cherry Blossoms

Perhaps no other symbol is as representative of Korean spring than the cherry blossom. And while they might not stick around for an extended amount of time, they are most definitely a sight to behold and seeing them in all their glory should be at the top of your travel itinerary.

Expect to see them around April 9th here in Seoul this year (2015). One of the more popular places to take in the beautiful blossoming of the beotkkot is Yeouido Park, where canopies of pink hang over crowds of camera-toting love birds. For less crowded cherry blossom sightseeing, head over to the tranquil Seokchon Lake in Jamsil or Seoul Grand Park.

Yours truly among the cherry blossoms on Yeouido.

Picnic in one of Seoul's parks

While you're at it, why not pack a picnic? Picnicking is a favorite pastime of Koreans and when they do it, they do it big. Think all day drinking sessions, complete with kimbap and chimaek. Don't forget to check off these 6 items when packing for your outdoor escapades.

Go to a Festival

While winter has its fair share of festivals, spring offers pleasant weather that actually makes the festivals enjoyable. Many of these celebratory events focus on flowers, but there are also a number that glorify regional cuisine and cultural traditions.

Not to be missed are the Lotus Lantern Festival, which showcases thousands of colorful lanterns and traditional performances, and the Boseong Green Tea Festival, held on a gorgeous tea plantation in the southern part of the country. Both of these events are held in May. For a complete list of spring festivals, visit the KTO website.

The verdant rolling hills of Boseong's green tea plantations are a wonderful spot to spend a spring afternoon, especially during the annual Green Tea Festival.

Bike Along the Han

Seoul is often portrayed as a city of concrete and neon, so many are surprised to learn that there are a variety of green spaces strewn across the Korean capital. My favorite place to soak up some sun is the Han River and the parks that border it. In addition to featuring riverside cafes, basketball courts and fishing spots, the Han River also has its fair share of bicycle rental shops.

To rent a bike, all you need is a photo ID. Prices are extremely reasonable (around 3,000 won per hour) and the river is equipped with safe and well-marked bike lanes. For more info and a list of routes, click here.

Wander a Cafe Street

It's no secret that Korea is known for its cafes. So much so that there's practically one on every block. There are even entire streets dedicated to the caffeinated beverage that boast cafe after cafe, many of which have great patios or terraces that open in spring.

You don't need to look hard to locate said streets, and many, like Garosu-gil or Samcheongdong-gil are already quite famous. To get off the beaten path, make your way to Jukjeon Cafe Street in Bundang, or Seoraemaeul Cafe Street near Express Bus Terminal, both of which exude a sophisticated European atmosphere.

Visit a Palace

Few places capture the essence of Seoul in spring as well as the palaces of the capital city. Not only are the flowers of the royal gardens in full bloom, but there are often outdoor concerts and performances held here, allowing visitors to truly experience pungnyu.

Pung (wind) and yu (flowing) refer to the enjoyment of tasteful activities that combine the elements of nature, life, and art. It also symbolizes being close to nature, knowing music, being well learned in arts, and being composed yet merry, free from worldly cares.

Changdeokgung is known for its secret garden but my personal favorite of the five palaces is Changgyeonggung. With fewer people, a large pond and a number of picnicking spots, it's got plenty of pungnyu.

Walk the Cheonggyechon

Although not as impressive as the expansive Han River, the Cheonggyechon is a picturesque stream located smack dab in the middle of the city. Often decorated with artworks in the spring, it also functions as an outdoor cultural space. Grab a lemonade or a bottle of makgeolli from a convenience store and dip your feet in the water to enjoy a nice break from touring nearby Insadong or shopping in Myeongdong.

Go Camping

Take advantage of the short-lived gorgeous weather and reserve a spot at one of Seoul's many camping spots. Like picnicking, camping is a favorite outdoor activity of Koreans which involves barbecue, drinking and lots of laughs with friends and family. For a luxurious (and expensive) experience, take a day trip outside of Seoul to Raventree Camp Grounds in Gapyeong.

Happy spring, y'all!

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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March 29, 2015

Six Things You Need for a Korean Picnic

Is the weather not glorious right now?!

In sunshine like this, I refuse to be inside for any longer than I absolutely have to. This includes for meals. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in this weather is picnic. And with all the great green spaces the city has to offer (like Naksan Park, the Han River and the Dream Forest), a picnic can be had just about anywhere.

Koreans picnic under a canopy of cherry blossoms, an icon of spring. (Photo by Travel Unmasked)

And I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, Koreans love outdoor dining. Whether it be on a mountain hike or simply outside a convenience store on plastic furniture, they know how to do it right. I've taken a few cues from my Korean friends to get the picnic techniques down perfectly. So, I decided, why not share all the valuable know-how I've learned over the years with you guys, so that you too can have a great Korean-style picnic.

So, without further ado, here are six things you absolutely need for your Korean picnic:

6. Picnic Mat

Why get grass stains on your favorite duds when you can pick up a picnic mat at Daiso for a few bucks? These easily toteable mats pretty much last forever and come in handy a lot during picnic season, whether at the park or a rooftop party.

5. Selfie Stick

Because let's face it. No Korean outing is complete without one. Enough said.

4. Sun Protection

Everyone knows that Koreans have gorgeous skin and this is no doubt thanks to their skin care systems, which they follow religiously. Be sure to follow their lead and slather on the sunscreen, don a giant sun hat and if you're a really serious picnicker, order one of these sun tents, easy to pack and perfect for the beach or park.

3. Kimbap

The Korean equivalent of America's sandwich, kimbap makes for a great picnic snack. It's easy to eat. It's healthy. It's delicious. It's cheap. And thanks to the recent trend of gourmet kimbap, there's a flavor to suit everyone's taste. My go-to is Robot Kimbap, which sells varieties like Wasabi Tuna and Cream Cheese. Pick up a few rolls or make your own and your picnic will be perfect.

(Photo by SamIsHome)

2. Fried Chicken

A less healthy but even tastier Korean picnic staple is fried chicken. But even better than the dish itself is the picnic culture that surrounds it. In many of the green spaces around Seoul, like the Han River and the Dream Forest, nearby chicken restaurants will actually deliver your order right to your picnic spot. For reals. Just keep an eye out for their fliers, make a phone call, let them know where you are and they'll bicycle it over in record speed. Did I mention they also deliver beer?

1. Makgeolli

Chilled makgeolli and picnics go together like peanut butter and jelly. Just ask any Korean hiker, farmer or me. More refreshing and tangier than beer, it's a great way to get a bit of a buzz on your weekend outing. Available at any convenience store, it's easy to get your hands on and not so strong that you'll get out of control. In small doses, that is.

So there you have it. Your packing check list for a great Korean picnic. Plan out your picnic spot using this list of the top 10 outdoor spaces in Seoul and enjoy!

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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March 14, 2015

A Taste of Local Korean Cuisine with Gastro Tour Seoul

These days, there are so many ways for visitors to Seoul to explore the culinary treats of the city. With a practically endless list of taste tours and cooking classes available, it seems easy to delve into Korean cuisine. But the fact of the matter is that there are so many hidden treasures tucked away into the back alleys of Korea's capital that even most long-term residents like myself will never find most of them.

Enter Veronica Kang, founder of Gastro Tour Seoul. Having worked in the food and beverage industry for more than 20 years, Veronica not only has an extensive knowledge of the roots of Korean food, but also has many connections with those most influential in the industry. Many of these include the owners and chefs of Seoul's oldest restaurants, along with master brewers who have been preserving the methods of making Korea's traditional beverages for decades.

I was lucky to tag along with Veronica on a recent tour, which happened to be filmed for a promotional video (scroll to the bottom of the post to see the video) directed by the creative minds at NYK Media Group. My friend Chris also joined and the three of us explored the most obscure, off-the-beaten-path streets of Insadong, an otherwise touristy area.

As Veronica explained the history of the restaurants, I was surprised to visit places that I had so easily overlooked on previous visits. During our tour, we were first treated to a demonstration of a makgeolli making session by one of the masters in an age-old hanok. The visuals were quite stunning and it was such a treat to watch the process -- an art in my book -- being carried out. Afterwards, the master joined us for a bit of conversation over the restaurant's incredibly smooth and tangy makgeolli (Korean rice alcohol) and savory pajeon (green onion pancake).

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed a spread of tofu-based dishes at one of the district's best tofu restaurants. The tofu, which was made in-house, was incredibly soft and tasty and was served alongside succulent bossam (boiled pork slices) and plenty of sides, a truly stunning visual beautifully photographed in the video. It was a lovely afternoon and Veronica shed some light on areas and foods I had never even known existed.

Veronica also offers a variety of food-focused walking tours of Seoul (think traditional market tours and walks through Little Tokyo), as well as day trips to Seoson, which she calls the "Tuscany of Korea."

Be sure to keep an eye out for yours truly in the video below and visit the Gastro Tour Seoul website for more information on all her tours!

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Photos by Veronica Kang. Video by NYK Media Group. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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March 2, 2015

Guesthouse COOOOL: A Grown-Up Hostel on Haeundae Beach

Once a hostel fanatic, I've found myself disliking them more and more as I get older. I'm no longer up for the late night partying I once enjoyed in my younger days, and I much more prefer a clean, comfortable and private space to grimy communal ones. Of course, because I travel frequently, I do appreciate a good deal, but budget accommodations that don't compromise these aforementioned qualities aren't so easy to find.

So, I was extremely happy to discover Guesthouse COOOOL on my latest visit to Busan. Situated just a block from the famous Haeundae Beach and a short five minute walk from the subway station, it is one of the more centrally located hostels in the southern coastal city. The neighborhood is packed with fantastic restaurants, bars and even a traditional market. The location was a selling point for me, as I was participating in the Sea Life Aquarium Shark Dive, located smack dab on the beach.

When walking into COOOOL, one immediately gets a sense that the guesthouse is a place of tranquility. Unlike most hostels, COOOOL is roomy and decorated with modern furnishings, making it feel more grown-up and refined. Yet, at the same time, an open kitchen and a spacious living room complete with comfy leather couches and a big screen TV, give it a homey atmosphere. The spaces themselves seem to invite guests to mingle over a glass of wine or to relax in solitude with a good book.

The guest rooms, which are sex-segregated, are just as nice. I stayed in an eight bed dorm room which was stylish but simple, and equipped with both ondol (floor) heating and air conditioning -- a must-have in the summer heat. The bunk beds and linens were clean and each bed was equipped with a power outlet. Each also had a very large locker and an additional open space to hang clothes, which is super convenient for travelers staying a few days or more. It would have been great to have a personal light, as other guests continuously turned on the main light throughout the night, so hopefully COOOOL will incorporate this into the room plan in the future. Another problem with the rooms is that the walls are paper thin and there's no "lights out" policy, so it's a good idea to bring along a pair of earplugs.

The bathrooms were also sex-segregated, so I didn't see what the men's looked like. However, the woman's was fantastic. A separate powder room contains plenty of spaces to keep one's belongings while showering, as well as all the amenities a girl might need during her travels. Hair dryers, brushes, facial creams and a number of cosmetics were available for use, and fresh towels were consistently replaced, which is not the norm in most budget accommodations. The shower room is communal in true jjimjilbang style, which might be off-putting to more modest guests, but it didn't bother me.

One of the main selling points of COOOOL is the excellent hospitality and service offered by the owner, Chris. She was absolutely wonderful from the moment I arrived to the time I departed. Although her English is limited, she went out of her way to recommend restaurants, made sure I had an umbrella when it started raining and gave me coffee coupons when I mentioned I was going to a cafe. Her tomato, egg and cheese sandwich and freshly ground hand-drip coffee, which is included in the price of the room, were also stellar... one of the best breakfasts I've ever had at a guesthouse.

It's obvious that Chris, a former interior decorator, has not only worked hard on the aesthetics of the hostel, but has ensured that every need of each guest is anticipated and taken care of. Free maps, communal laptops, free WiFi and even a BBQ pit have been provided to ensure everyone has a pleasant, memorable and cool stay.

More Information: Guesthouse COOOOL

Address: 626-2 4F, Woodong haeundae-gu Busan, South Korea

Phone: 010-7357-6001

Price: Basic 8 Bed Dorm ₩40,000 (weekdays); ₩45,000 (weekends)

Reservations: HostelWorld Booking ; Airbnb Booking (If it's your first time using Airbnb you can get $25 off by clicking here!)

How to Get There: From Exit 5 of Haeundae Station, walk straight for about 200 meters. Take a right at the Y-intersection at Baskin Robbins. Walk straight for 40 meters and you will see the CU convenience store. Take the road on the right just before it. Guesthouse COOOOL will be on your left, just next to Hotel 2NE1.


Although this post was sponsored by Guesthouse COOOL, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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