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December 17, 2014

Grab Your Traveling Spoon and Get a Taste of Korean Culture

Some of the best memories of my travels involve sharing a meal with the local people. From slurping up chanko at a sumo wrestling championship with a Japanese couple in Tokyo to picnicking with Tibetan monks in India to chowing down on tajine with Berber nomads in the middle of the Sahara Desert, the experience combines the very best two ways to get to know a country's culture: conversing with the locals and eating the food.

Such experiences are often spontaneous, as getting a chance to interact with the local people isn't always easy. After all, it's kinda difficult to walk up to a stranger and invite them to share a meal, without looking like a crazy person, that is.

But just as the internet is opening doors to make it easier to book flights, research destinations and locate unique accommodations, it's also evolving to connect travelers with local residents.

Enter Traveling Spoon, a new online startup that's enhancing the way we experience travel. The site's concept is similar to Airbnb's, but instead of featuring homestays and room rentals, Traveling Spoon matches travelers with local residents to act as eating buddies and culinary guides. These hosts provide cultural experiences by offering home cooked meals, cooking classes and even market tours.

Currently, Traveling Spoon's platform connects users with hosts in over 35 cities worldwide, including Seoul.

I have been waiting for a service like this to crop up here in Korea for quite some time, so was super excited to hear that it has finally come to fruition. I wanted to be one of the first to take part, so I signed up via the user-friendly form on the Traveling Spoon website and was soon connected to my host, Boyoon, and a date was scheduled for our meetup, based on our mutual availability.

I arrived to Boyoon's modern but homey apartment located in a high rise in the upscale Jamsil district. I couldn't help but smile when her five-year-old daughter, Uyoogjung, opened the door, dressed in a colorful hanbok, alongside her brother, Sunoo, both curious and uncertain as they took me in. Soon enough, their interest in me waned and turned to building blocks and cartoons.

With the children occupied, Boyoon briefly introduced herself and wasted no time moving on to the evening's extensive menu of kimchi, fermented vegetables and traditional dishes. She would be teaching me how to make kimchi buchimgae, a savory pancake, and bulgogi, marinated beef, two of my favorite Korean dishes, neither of which I had ever attempted to make.

As she walked me through the process, she offered invaluable cooking tips: cook beef with pear and pork with apple to bring out the best flavors, cut the kimchi like this to make it appear as a blossoming flower. She also pointed out cultural tidbits about the food she prepared, like how Koreans eat seaweed soup on their birthdays and how each winter, families gather for an entire weekend to make enough kimchi to last a year. 

This event, known as kimjang, had just taken place and as such, her kimchi refrigerator was stocked to the brim with all sorts of varieties, many of which we would sample at dinner. Her fridge also contained many condiments used in almost all Korean dishes: ssamjang, gochujang, doenjang. Also made by her mother, these were absolutely divine and far better than anything I've ever had in any restaurant.

Soon enough, it was dinner time and I- like Uyoongjung and Sunoo, couldn't keep my hands off my chopsticks for long. In traditional Korean fashion, the spread was laid out family-style, in the center of the table, to be shared by all. I've always been particularly fond of this cultural habit, as it really allows diners to connect with one another, which was the case this evening.

Every bite of the food was fantastic and despite all the flavors being so drastically different, they blended together beautifully.

After a simple dessert of fresh persimmons and maeshilcha, or plum tea, it was time to go. The big meal had me and the tots lethargic and I most certainly didn't want to get in the way of their beauty sleep.

Although I've had many chances to dine with Koreans over the years I have lived here, not all travelers have the resources to do so. Which is why Traveling Spoon is a great service for all those looking to delve deeper into the country's culture through sharing an authentic meal with locals in the comfort of their homes.

Disclaimer: Although this experience was provided free of charge by Traveling Spoon, 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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December 14, 2014

Hiking through Korea’s Stunning Mountain Scenery

Korea’s mountainous landscape provides some of the world’s best hiking terrain and the views are a definite visual treat for the eyes. Almost 70% of this country offers unparalleled walking routes and along the way you can view cloud-covered peaks, city views and spectacular national parks.

Sturdy hiking boots for women and men will be required on these treks around one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

Image by Arnaud DG, licensed by Creative Commons

Jirisan National Park

Jirisan is South Korea’s largest national park stretching for over 484 square meters and home to many of the highest mountain peaks in the country. Cheonwangbong is a natural draw for those with a sense of adventure and this immense mountain peaks at 1,915m. The Baekdu Daegan is a 1700Km ridge but the 40Km Jirisan route will include 21 mountain peaks, most of which stretch over 1000m. Koreans consider this to be a sacred area that can turn a fool into a wise person if they stay long enough and it will take approximately three days to cover this part of the route.

An always popular park

Daecheongbong in the Seoraksan National Park is a favorite with hikers who are testing out their mountaineering skills. This 1708m mountain can be ascended in around three hours and provides superb views of the immense valley below. A slightly taxing hike in the same park is the 876 meter Ulsan Bawi, which offers stunning sea views to the east. This park is a definite favorite with hikers thanks to the panoramas, dense forest trails and cloud-covered peaks.

A view of Seoul

Seoul offers seven mountains with Baegundae proving the highest at 836m. The hiking trail to Baegundae is a well-used route and although steep should not be too taxing even for novice hikers. The views from the summit of the surrounding mountains and the city itself are nothing short of breath-taking and the air here is incredibly clean, fresh and invigorating.

Jeju Island

Jeju is a volcanic island that lies in the Korea Strait and is home to the idyllic Hallasan National Park. It’s here you can find the Seongpanak Trail (9.6Km), which takes five hours to complete but will reward you with the serene Baengnokdam crater lake as well as the Saraoreum Lake, which can be reached on the return visit. The majestic 1,905m Hallasan volcano is of course one of the main attractions and this entire area can be hiked throughout the year, even during the snowy winter months.

These are just a small selection of the Korea’s many walking and hiking trails. There’s some magnificent terrain waiting to be explored that will provide you with an alternative view of this always fascinating country.

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December 12, 2014

A Visit to TengTeng Skin Clinic

Last year, over 399,000 people flocked to Seoul for medical tourism purposes. And for good reason. Not only are medical procedures far cheaper than those in other countries, but Korea's medical facilities are state-of-the-art and medical practitioners are some of the most experienced in the world. This proves especially true for cosmetic procedures, which are extremely commonplace in this appearance-focused city.

And it shows. Koreans not only have beautiful faces but flawless skin, as well, thanks partially to their use of elaborate, systematic skin care regimens and regular visits to the dermatologist.

Envious of their porcelain skin, I decided to pay an overdue visit to the skin clinic. After a quick search on the internet, I found TengTeng Skin Clinic located in Sinsa-dong, the mecca of cosmetic surgery. TengTeng offers both medical services and cosmetic procedures, the most popular being the Ellipse FotoFacial Treatments and Fraxel laser treatments.

Unlike most medical centers in the West, TengTeng's reception area and staff are extremely welcoming. They are also used to working with international patients, so they speak English quite well. Services are very affordable, with the doctor's consultation fee set at only ₩10,000.

Although I had met Dr. Julius Jon previously for a skin check-up, I was once again reminded of his professionalism. In addition to being completely fluent in English, he also understands and is familiar with skin disorders of a variety of skin types. These two characteristics make him a great doctor for foreign expats living in Korea or for travelers looking to have some work done while in Seoul.

During our consultation, Dr. Jon was quick to point out my rosacea, a skin disorder that causes constant redness and flushing (and an inability to hide one's embarrassment or bashfulness!), a diagnosis that I had always assumed but never had confirmed. He recommended a series of glycolic acid peels, a procedure in which a chemical agent is applied to the skin to remove layers of skin so that newer, healthier skin cells can surface. In the process, blemishes and other imperfections are peeled away. I was a bit nervous, having flashbacks to that episode of Sex and the City when Samantha's face turns lobster red after having the same procedure, but Dr. Jon assured me that he rarely saw any bad side effects.

My general impression of Dr. Jon after the consultation was that although he's very no-nonsense and gets straight to the point without much small talk, he knows his stuff. Future patients are encouraged to write down your questions and concerns beforehand to have them ready to ask during the consultation.

I was to have my first peel after our talk and a nurse led me to the treatment room- a small area that felt more like a comfy bedroom than a clinic. The nurse cleansed my skin with a topical solution then performed a deep cleanse with a metal spatula-like mechanism that sent electrical pulses into my pores. It felt strange, but it wasn't at all uncomfortable.

Next, Dr. Jon entered the room to apply the chemical agent by hand. For about 30 seconds following the application, my skin burned, a sensation similar to that experienced after getting a bad sunburn. The nurse applied a cooling agent, which provided immediate relief, and then shone a light on my face for about five minutes. The peel was followed by the application of moisturizers and a thick clay mask, which was kept on for twenty minutes.

The process was easy, quick and hassle-free. After the procedure, I noticed some increased redness and my skin felt quite tight, but this subsided after a day or two. In fact, the procedure required no downtime at all.

I returned two weeks later to repeat the process. Afterwards, I noticed the same results. Although the two peels didn't seem to help all that much with the rosacea, my skin did feel noticeably softer and some of the fine lines -- I refuse to use the "w" word -- around my eyes and mouth seemed to diminish a bit.

I have a feeling that curing my rosacea is going to be a long and lengthy process. Fortunately, I've found a doctor who I can trust to work with me through it all.

More Information: TengTeng Skin Clinic

Address: 10th Floor, First Avenue Building, 1-1 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Phone Number: 02-337-4066

Hours of Operation: Mon 10am-7pm; Tues 1-9pm; Thurs 1-9pm; Fri 10am-7pm; Sat 10am-5pm; Closed Wednesdays, Sundays and national holidays

Price: Consultation fee ₩10,000; Glycolic Chemical Peel ₩70,000/session; Fraxel Laser Treatment ₩130,000/session

Website: Click Here

Make an Appointment: By phone or e-mail

How to Get There: Walk straight out of exit 2 of Sinsa Station (Seoul Subway Line 3). Teng Teng Skin Clinic is located on the 10th floor of the First Avenue Building. (Look for the pharmacy on the first floor.)

Disclaimer: Although the medical services mentioned in this post were provided free of cost by TengTeng Skin Clinic, 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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December 6, 2014

Wash Away the Winter Blues at Seoul's SK-II Boutique Spa

If the recent drop in temperatures and merciless wind are any indication of what's to come this winter, we're in for a long, cold season. And if you're like me, this weather is anything but enjoyable. Between the incessant time spent inside and the pain endured in the frigid outdoors while in transit, coming down with a case of the winter blues is almost always inevitable.

Contrary to popular belief, however, there is a cure which does not require a prescription. All one simply needs to do is to head down to SK-II Boutique Spa for a truly healing experience.

The therapists at SK-II are far better (and friendlier) than any doctor I've ever paid a visit to and this becomes apparent immediately upon entering their Seoul branch, nestled on the periphery of Doosan Park in luxurious Cheongdam-dong. After being greeted warmly and led to the reception area, guests are treated to a cup of tea while treatments are explained and customized to fit their preferences. And although their services are mostly limited to facials and massages, there's an option to make even the pickiest spa-snob satisfied.

In need of some winter relief and a good pampering session, I recently paid two visits to SK-II Boutique Spa.

On my first visit, I opted for the LXP Royal Program (₩330,000). This 100 minute treatment includes a foot bath, LXP Massage (facial), body stretching and a scalp treatment. Customers can choose from three kinds of facials and considering that this would be my first time using SK-II's skin care products, the receptionist recommended I try the Prestige Revival Massage. Revival... just what I needed! The brochure noted that this specific facial "instantly provides your skin with ample moisture and nutrition by using a pitera mask and the best LXP massage of SK-II, which contains highly enriched pitera."

For those that are wondering, much like I was at the time, pitera is a liquid produced in the fermentation process of yeast and is often regarded as the key to clear skin by women across Asia. A recent search on SK-II's website revealed that these masks retail for $95 USD, so considering this, the price of the package is really a steal.

The VIP Room on the 4th floor created a calming environment. Low lights and soothing music set the mood as I changed into a robe and settled in for my foot bath. My therapist, Serena, added fragrant bath salts to the water as she gently massaged oils into my legs and worked the knots out of my abused feet.

Communicating in English throughout the entirety of the session, she directed me to the bed for the facial. Being heated and extremely comfy, it invited sleep, but I was determined to stay awake to enjoy it. And by golly, I did. Serena began the facial by cleansing my skin. After opening my pores with a steam machine, the typical multi-step Korean skin care process began. Toners, serums and creams were layered before that famous pitera mask was placed on top.

In fact, one of the best things about SK-II Boutique Spa is that they use their own products, so you know exactly what's being used on your skin. And it's common knowledge that SK-II's skin care line is the very best in Asia, if not the world.

While the mask worked its magic, Serena treated me to a massage, moving from my back and shoulders to my arms and hands, constantly checking to ensure the pressure and stretching weren't too much. She finished off the treatment with a scalp massage, in which she applied oil to my hair. This is essential during the Korean winter, when everything gets dry. The only problem, however, was that I had an appointment just after the session and didn't have time to wash my hair. So, those booking this session should be sure they don't have plans afterwards.

Serena wrapped up the session and after changing back into my clothes, I was brought back into the beautiful lobby for a spot of tea and a slice of cheesecake while taking in the pretty Christmas decorations. I checked out my skin and noticed that it was glowing! Never in my life have I seen my skin glow, so I was shocked. This effect lasted a few days and I was very much content with the moisture boost the facial gave my skin. I was eager to see if the next treatment would be just as amazing.

And of course it was. Repeating the same process as the day before, I was briefed on the Body Lux Relaxing Program (₩275,000), a treatment promising to "detoxify the body from stress and fatigue and activate the lymphatic circulation, eliminating swelling." This option includes a body pack that can be added to the body part of the customer's choice.

I was brought to a treatment room that was less luxurious than the previous day's, but it was just as clean and relaxing with the same kind of heated bed. My therapist, Sun, spoke English just as well and was very attentive to my needs.

Beginning with my legs and working up to my arms and shoulders, Sun lightly scrubbed my skin with an exfoliant before massaging my muscles with aromatic oils. I was surprised that a woman so small could be so strong!

Mid-massage, she added the body pack to my stomach. Yes, my stomach... I know it sounds strange and although I'm sure most people choose their shoulders or legs for this option, I had watched a video just a week before explaining that a tummy massage greatly helps with pain and digestion. The process was slightly uncomfortable but in the end, my stomach did feel better.

I'll admit that I don't always treat my body well and because I spend a lot of time behind a computer screen and carrying heavy bags around the city, my back and shoulders are in a constant state of tension. So, having these neglected muscles worked out felt like heaven. By the end of the 90 minutes, which can only be described as religious, I walked out the treatment room feeling like I had a brand new body.

I was once again given a sweet treat- this time, a waffle- and some tea and was also provided with a gift that included a few skin care samples as well as a body loofah and a ₩30,000 discount coupon for my next visit. All international guests are treated to this nice little surprise, which makes one's visit that much better.

SK-II Boutique Spa is truly an oasis and the treatments were just what I needed to feel revived and refreshed. And considering the luxurious facilities, unrivaled customer service and professional staff, this spa is unquestionably the best value for the price in all of Seoul.

So, do yourself a favor and get yourself a treatment at SK-II Boutique Spa. Your body and mind will thank you for it. And for those winter blues? Well, they don't even stand a chance.

More Information: SK-II Boutique Spa

Address: 8 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Phone: +82-2-3447-0275

Hours of Operation: Daily, 10am- 9pm

Prices: Click here for a complete list of their services and prices

Reservations: By e-mail (click here). The spa operates strictly on first-reserved, first-served basis, and weekdays tend to be less crowded than weekends. They do not accept reservations that are more than 6 months in advance.

To Get There: All nearby subway stations require a 20-30 minute walk. As such, it is advised that visitors take a taxi from Sinsa Station (Line 3), Apgujeong Station (Line 3), Gangnam-gu Office Station (Line 7) or Hak-dong Station (Line 7). Click here for a map and additional directions.

Disclaimer: Although the services mentioned in this post were provided free of charge by SK-II Boutique Spa, 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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December 3, 2014

Giving is Winning: Liberty in North Korea Fundraiser

So I know you are all just itching to find out how to win the awesome gifts featured in my previous post. And now I'm here to tell you how.

In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I have decided to change things up a bit and challenge all of you to participate in a fundraising campaign I've started with LiNK, or Liberty in North Korea. After all, 'tis the season for giving.

And while many people around the world need our help, North Korean refugees are a noteworthy group. Lacking basic human rights and needs, thousands of citizens attempt to flee the country each year only to be captured and killed, tortured or sent to labor camps. Those that do manage to escape are often captured by Chinese nationals, and are exploited, abused, or sold into the sex trade along the 3,000-mile journey to a safer country.


Liberty in North Korea has helped over 300 North Korean refugees gain freedom and thrive in their new homes by securing safe passage out of North Korea and providing resettlement services and support. Those that have been assisted by LiNK have gone on to live freely and accomplish incredible goals, all the while raising awareness of the social injustices, oppression and extreme poverty in North Korea. (Read their stories here!)

I'm encouraging each of you to donate to this fantastic organization. No donation is too small, as every little bit counts. Think of it like this. If each of Seoul Searching's Facebook fans donated $1, together we'd be able to rescue one North Korean refugee and give them a shot at a better life in a new home.

Photo: express.co.uk


To ensure that you are eligible for the contest prizes, please be sure to donate (again, ANY amount) through the Seoul Searching LiNK campaign page. (For specific instructions, see below.) 100% of your donations will be sent directly to Liberty in North Korea and all participants will be eligible to win prizes until the campaign has been completed on January 4, 2015. Currently, a benefactor has offered to match all of your donations.


To thank you for your generosity, I'll be choosing one of you who contributes to the campaign each week for the entire month of December to win one of the prizes featured. Prizes include Boomf marshmallows, Coastergram coasters, a Nuishu Hangul tote bag, Paper Tree shop greeting cards and a $50 SoKo Glam gift certificate. (Click here for details of each prize.)


Keep an eye on the Seoul Searching Facebook page to see which prizes will be given away each week. Winners will be notified by e-mail each Wednesday and will be announced on this site, as well as Seoul Searching's social media sites.


1. Go to the Seoul Searching LiNK Fundraising campaign page.
2. Click the green 'Donate' button.
3. Select an amount, or enter your own by selecting "other".
4. Enter your personal information and payment details. LiNK accepts Visa, Master Card, American Express and Discover cards. All transactions are secure and your personal information will not be shared with third party companies.
5. Submit donation. You will receive a confirmation of your donation by e-mail.

Thanks to all the sponsors that have provided the great prizes and thanks to you, my loyal readers, for your kindness, generosity and involvement in this very important cause.  

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December 1, 2014

My Favorite Things: Korean Gifts from Around the Net

With Christmas just around the corner, Seoul has quickly transformed into a winter wonderland. The twinkling lights that adorn the facades of the city's biggest shopping complexes, the familiar ring of the Salvation Army bell and even the never-ending loop of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" have me feeling more festive than usual this year.

Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that I'll be going home to America for a few weeks to celebrate the holidays with my family. I couldn't be more excited and have been loading up on goodies and gifts to bring home for family and friends.

If you're like me, when it comes time for gift shopping, you stress over what to buy, what to give and if it'll actually be used and enjoyed by the receiver. That's why I've put together this fool-proof gift list of some of my favorite Korean-inspired goodies from around the net that are sure to please any of your Koreaphile friends this Christmas.


Looking for a unique way to remember your trip to Korea, or to share it with a friend? Then look no further than Boomf, a website that offers netizens the opportunity to print their Instagram photos on marshmallows. Yes, you heard that right.

I, too, was skeptical, but was incredibly impressed with the clarity, the quality and the taste of my edible Instagram images of Seoul, which surprisingly paired well with traditional Korean tea. The price ($25.00 USD for a box of 9) may seem steep, but come on... these are your memories on marshmallows! Give them as a gift and never be forgotten.

Alternatively, you can have your exs' faces printed and then roast them over an open fire. With chestnuts. Just like the Christmas song. Follow Boomf on Facebook or on Instagram @boomf.


Gone are the days of shirts and bags with funny English words and expressions. These days, Hangul is all the rage in Seoul. From couture to streetwear, everyone who is anyone is sporting prints that incorporate the Korean alphabet. And why wouldn't they? The Tetris-like characters developed under the rule of King Sejong are not only scientific but beautiful as well. For these very reasons, I am obsessed with the Hangul gifts at Nuishu, a Spain-based Esty shop that sells bags and prints.

I've been sporting Nuishu's Korean Optical Test TOTEBAG ($11.00 USD) all around the city and have received countless compliments on it. It's incredibly unique, fun and kinda sorta inspires me to get back to studying Korean. A fan of makgeolli (rice wine), I've also got my eye on the "Keep Calm and Drink 막걸리" print... might have to get that one framed for my kitchen in the near future.


Coasters have never been the most popular gifts. Practical, sure. Interesting and thoughtful? Not so much. Until now, that is. What once was the most boring present ever has now been transformed into something fun and memorable thanks to Coastermatic, an American business that converts your Instagram photos into absorbent stone coasters ($25.00 USD for a set of 4). Use your (or your friends') photos from your last trip to Korea and relive your favorite travel memories every time you enjoy a beverage.

Mine have proved to be an excellent conversation piece and a great way for me to introduce some of my favorite places in Korea to my friends and guests. Check out others' coasters via @coastermatic on Instagram.

Paper Tree Shop

Nothing is more beautiful than a gift hand-crafted using hanji, or traditional Korean paper. Which is why I adore Paper Tree Shop, another Esty vendor. London-based designer Moon Munson incorporates iconic Korean patterns and colors to delicately craft a variety of jewelry, boxes and cards that are most certainly works of art.

Her hanji greeting cards, which are intricate and cut by hand, are especially memorable. The Plum Blossom card ($14.39 USD/ card), is my personal favorite, as the delicate buds, which bloom during the bitter Korean winter, are symbolic of enduring hardship.

Soko Glam

When I experienced Korean winter for the first time, my skin freaked out and I spent an entire season with flaky, dry red skin. Fortunately, I had two guardian angels (in the form of two Korean girlfriends) take me under their wings and save me from future winter-induced torture. They taught me the ways of Korean skincare and I have been hooked since.

Fortunately, because I live in Seoul, I have instant access to any Korean product I want. Those living outside the country, however, weren't as lucky until Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam, America's most popular Korean cosmetic retailer, came to the rescue. Charlotte has since shared with the world the secrets to beautiful skin and works hard to find only the best products on the market for her curated online shop.

I know you're all wanting to add these awesome goodies to your Christmas list and I am ready to play Santa, with the help of my generous sponsors as elves. I will be giving away one of the above goodies every week for the entire month of December. Click here to find out how to make that happen. Happy shopping!

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Sponsored Video: All Aboard with Airbnb

Travel, as we know it, is constantly changing and evolving. Now, more than ever before, we have the opportunity to not only explore faraway lands, but to do so on a much deeper level, and in a more convenient fashion.

One website that is particularly helpful in ensuring travelers have the best experience possible is Airbnb, an online marketplace that connects users with local residents to locate and share accommodations.

In their latest video marketing campaign, they demonstrate how their services work by giving users a window seat view on an animated train as it makes its way around the globe. And anyone who has ever traveled by train knows that the coveted widow seat offers an unrivaled, up-close-and-personal view of the journey and all the pretty places along the way. Unsurprisingly, Airbnb offers many of the same benefits.

This is especially true in Korea, where Airbnb's verified accommodations include everything from enchanting hanoks to luxurious high rises, located in the center of Seoul all the way to the hidden corners of the countryside.

The website allows users to interact with local hosts by booking a room (an option that usually also involves good food and lots of laughs), or offers guests the choice of reserving the entire residence for a bit more privacy.

So, on your next trip to Korea (or anywhere, for that matter), don't settle for a characterless space to rest your head at night. Go on. Claim that window seat and let Airbnb make your stay a memorable one. Start by checking out the video below.

Although this post is sponsored by Airbnb, the opinions are, of course, my own.

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

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