Learn to love the Jimjilbang!

Jimjilbangs or bath houses are usually have a love/hate relationship with expats. Some love them, some hate them. When I first heard a jimjilbang being described, I was certain I would never step foot inside the door of one and now, it is one of my favourite places to go.

Here’s the low down on a jimjilbang for those of you living abroad or not familiar with them. A jimjilbang is a place where you can go to enjoy different baths, saunas, steam rooms, massages, eat and/or sleep. They  are all different and apart from the baths, offer different facilities. For example Dragon Hill in Yongsan offers different types of massages as well as having outdoor baths. Siloam at Seoul Station is not so big on baths but has a great sleeping area.

Basic prices range from 10,000 won to 20,000 won  with additional costs for the massages and food. You pay at the front desk and are handed a uniform and key. Shoes are taken off and put in a locker (usually corresponding with the key number). Men and women have separate areas. If you wish to you the bath, you must be naked. This is the part that expats usually find strange at first. I admit that sometimes it is awkward as hell to have a load of naked adjummas staring at you but the trick is to remember that they’re staring not at you but at your skin because it’s so different  (or that’s what I tell myself). After a few minutes though, it’s usually fine. Then you enjoy the baths for as long as you so wish. One of the best things to get done is a skin scrub. This crazy random scrub is done by an adjumma who literally scrubs all the dead skin off your body. While it’s a little painful, it’s totally worth it for the great skin afterwards.  Going with a group of friends is a great idea as it’s fun, relaxing,  and oh so warm in the winter.

Afterwards, you can put on your uniform and head back out to the communal area to enjoy the other facilities. This could be as simple as sitting on the floor chatting with your friends or using the different saunas. Should you happen to be a fan of the norebang, some (like Siloam at Seoul Station) have one, there is usually a P.C. Bang, sometimes a gym, a meeting room, there are big t.v’s or you could just go to sleep.  Some Jimjilbangs are huge places spanning 7 or 8 floors (like Dragon Hill) and others are more basic 2 or 3 floor ones.  I’d literally be here all days telling you what you can get done at a jibjilbang. Just to name a few things, there is usually a nail salon, hair dresser, massages area, massage chairs, norebangs, pc bangs, meeting rooms, shoe repair, if you can imagine it, it’s probably in a jimjilbang in Korea somewhere.

Sleeping for the night at a Jimjilbang is cheap and cheerful if you need accommodation. Most of the time, it’s just a mat and head block on the floor with loads of people around but some jimjilbangs now have separated sleeping rooms. The best sleeping rooms I have found so far are in Siloam near Seoul Station. I recently stayed there with friends and we were all suitably impressed by the entire place. The sleeping room there (separate men’s and women’s) has cubicles so you get enough space and privacy to enjoy a good nights rest. The only down side to them is that they have no plug points so you can’t charge your phone while sleeping but with literally a hundred to choose from you’ll never be stuck for a space.

Jimjilbangs are, in my opinion, best in winter. There is nothing like escaping the intense cold and spending the day enjoying the jacuzzi or the sauna, having a nap and a little snack before heading back out to the real world. So, if you haven’t already tried one, don’t fear,  get out and do it!  Here are the details of two of my favourites in Seoul,

Siloam Spa- Seoul Station-http://silloamsauna.com/site_en/main/main.asp

Dragon Hill, Yongsan- http://www.dragonhillspa.co.kr/hill/eng.html

As ever if you have questions or comments, leave them below!

Paju Samneung- Three Royal Tombs in Paju

A few months ago,while on one of our “Let’s discover Paju” tours, Janet, Pratz and I happened by a place called Jangneung. We went along the lane to discover some renovations and further on a most beautifully kept tomb. Wanting to take a few pictures, we took off down the original concrete and suddenly the sound of alarms filled the entire area. So we ended up taking our pictures from outside the invisible line.


A quick internet search later, we found that not only was Jangneung NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (oops) but that there was another UNESCO World Heritage site in Paju. Another! That makes two. Yes you heard it here first. Who would have ever thought that in the days of the Joseon Dynasty, Paju was where it was all at.

Jangneung 2Jangneung has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2009. It is the burial place of King Injo and Queen Inyeol. King Injo was the 16th king of the Joseon Dynasty.  After some tough times involving the Manchus, King Injo did have some successes during his reign.

This fantastically kept area has many stone monuments around the tomb. Unfortunately because of our little alarm problem, we couldn’t get far enough in to take pictures.

During Chuseok however, we made it our mission to discover Paju’s other UNESCO World heritage site, Paju Samneung. 삼 (Sam) being the word for three in Korean. This site has three tombs that hold the bodies of four members of royalty during the Joseon dynasty.

We found the tombs by accident. We were actually driving to see the Buddhas when we happened by the sign and wanting to get out of the traffic, we diverted to the tombs. Entry was free for Chuseok but the usual 1,000 won entry fee is affordable.  There are information leaflets in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

We first passed a small museum but with everything in Korean, we made it a short stay here. Don’t come here expecting to be bused from tomb to tomb, you have to walk. The grounds are very beautiful with the different trees labelled in English.  The whole area is really quiet so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon out of a city and into nature.

For photographers, this would be a great place to take photos anytime of the year but especially in autumn when the leaves change colour.


The three tombs here are Gongneung, Sulleung and Yeongneung, the final being the burial place of King Jinjong and Queen Hyosun. You can look around the shrines and sheds but you can’t actually go on the grassy tomb area so to pick up the details of the statues at the back, a good camera lens needed.





Al three tombs are away from each other with the paths providing beautifully shaded areas for picnics or resting. Indeed, during our visit at Chuseok, there were several families enjoying picnics and some quiet time.

Samneung 16

To get to Paju Samneung on public transport, take the 99, 760, 30,31 and get off at Paju Samneung then walk down the road opposite the bus stop for 10 or so minutes.

The best way is to take a taxi from Geumchon or Geumneung station and ask the driver to go to Paju Samneung.

The address for anyone driving is 89 Samneung ro, Jori eup, Paju si, Gyeonggi do.

For anyone interested in going feel free to email shaunabrowne87@yahoo.co.uk for more details.

Staycationing for Chuseok.

My friend and I have just bought tickets home for Christmas. Our other friend is leaving Korea soon. Combine this with expensive plane tickets, sold out KTX tickets and lots of traffic on the roads and a staycation really was our only option. Not that we were complaining. Doing and seeing all the tourist sites in Paju was on my to do list for a while and this was the perfect opportunity.

Of all the places to find expensive hotels, Paju wouldn’t have been top of my list but at 300,000won for a large room for the night, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course this was the VVIP room complete with jacuzzi and sauna and all the rest. After visiting a hotel called Vom, where rooms came complete with poles and the staff couldn’t understand why we didn’t want it for “short time”, we settled on the more affordable and normal “Great funny hotel bus”. I’m not making that name up. That’s really what it was called. Points deducted for the fact that there actually was no bus there but added for the fact that there was a circle bed, the room was huge and it was cheap.


Next we found ourselves in Heyri. For the day before Chuseok, it was filled with young couples, families and groups generally having a great time. This is somewhere you could spend the entire day, but instead we found ourselves seeking shelter from the unforgiving sun and what better was to do that than to paint some cups and plates.



 Thursday morning, we were on a mission. Some real sight-seeing was going to happen today. Off we set in the trusty Spuddy.


First stop, Provence. Provence is a themed village with the most colourful buildings and the cutest shops. It also houses a famous bakery by Ryoo Jae Eun, where we ate breakfast and with rude staff and middling food, it was a little disappointing. Although most places were closed for Chuseok, there were several large tourist buses there and it was a nice way to spend the morning.



While looking for the standing Buddhas and navigating some serious Chuseok traffic, we found ourselves at Paju Samneung or the Three Royal Tombs of Paju. These have been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2009 and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. The entrance was free for Chuseok (usually 1,000won). There is a little museum on the way in but everything is in Korean so we didn’t spend too long there.

The tombs , from the Joseon dynasty, Gongneung, Sulleung and Yeongneung hold the bodies of 4 royal members. You can get an information booklet in English at the gate and the grounds are incredibly well-kept. We must have spent over an hour here although in cooler weather, it would be possible to spend an entire afternoon exploring the vast grounds.

tomb 2 tomb

The Standing Buddhas were next. I was super impressed by these since I didn’t even know of their existence up to a few months ago. You can see the tops of the Buddhas long before you get to them.  The legend of the Buddhas is super cool and the temple and surrounding area is also very beautiful and peaceful.


buddhas legend


Not too far from the Buddhas are other smaller tombs which we explored. Public transport to all these areas is possible with careful planning but ideally, one would have a car. Staycationing was definitely one of the best things I’ve done for Chuseok. We were able to get away but not go so far away that we need a holiday from our holiday.  I’m planning to do a more in depth blog on each of the sites we visited once I get my camera to work properly and have my own photos.

*All photos were from Pratishka Ruthun. Her blog can be found here; http://koreantimes25.blogspot.kr/

Renewing my E2 Visa

*Update August 2014

The following are the documents required if you are renewing your E2 visa and staying at the same school;

  1. Signed contract
  2. ARC and passport
  3. Teaching schedule (provided by school)
  4. Business registration certifiate (provided by school)
  5. Tax statement certificate (provided by school)
  6. Housing contract (either you or your school will have this)
  7. 60,000 won


1. If you can, book an appointment. And book it early. When I went online to book one, surprise, they were all gone so I ended up waiting two hours.

2. When you arrive, grab a number first and then go and get your revenue stamps. That’s what the 60,000won is for. It’s extremely annoying and time consuming to wait for two hours, be within 3 people of the top and they walk up with no stamps. The signs are in English people! Get your stamps!!!!!!!!

3. Note. I almost wasn’t allowed renew at the office I went to. You must go to the immigration office WHERE YOUR HOUSE ADDRESS IS, NOT YOUR SCHOOL ADDRESS. I found that out when I went up but I stated that after waiting 2 hours I wasn’t leaving without my renewed visa. This is super random and obviously a new rule because last year it was all about the school address. Again, if in doubt, call immigration before you go.

4. Immigration laws are set to change next year and the documents required change like the wind so please do not take this post as the absolute gospel of what is required. Be responsible and call immigration on 1345 before you go.


Original Post…….

Going to immigration is, for me, like visiting the dentist. I  don’t want to have to do it but I know if I don’t, I’ll be in trouble. So with just 2 days until my current visa expired, I took the 2 hour drive to Suwon Immigration. Why did I go to Suwon when there is an immigration office in Goyang? The school I work for has their head office in the Suwon area and since I’m registered under them I must visit Suwon immigration. If you think I have it bad, imagine the foreign worker in the school in Daegu. They got the short straw. After a three-hour wait today, it took less than five minutes to extend my visa. I hand her all my documents and the conversation went like this;

Immigration worker; You change school?

Me: No

Immigration Worker; No? You’re good. Here you go.

(Looks at the documents in a somewhat confused manner,scribbles on the form,writes the new date and waves me off)

I was simply renewing the visa to work in the same school. Here is a list of the documents you will require;

  1. An original, signed contract
  2.  A business registration ( supplied by your school)
  3. A teaching schedule ( supplied by school)
  4. Your alien Registration card
  5. Your passport ( but they really only took a quick glance of mine)
  6. 3 Revenue stamps.
  7. Application Form (at the immigration office) (You’ll be checking Extension of Sejourn)

You can get the Revenue stamps at the immigration office. They cost 10,000won and you need 3. Make sure to bring cash but there are atm’s available if you need them. In the Suwon branch the stamps can be bought at the little counter beside the stairs. There is a sign in English that says “Revenue stamps”

I arrived at the office at 2.30 and thought that going a little later would mean fewer people. I was wrong. I was number 460 and they were only on 330. So I was in for a long wait, surprise surprise. This wasn’t my first time to the Suwon branch, it was my third and everytime I went at different hours of the day. There are always huge numbers of people there. I have friend who teaches public school and went to Goyang immigration last week, made two visits and was in and out in under an hour both times. So I guess every branch is different.

If I had a recommendation after today it would be this,

1) BUY YOUR REVENUE STAMPS! I wouldn’t have had to wait 3 hours if all 130 people before me had brought their revenue stamps with them. Instead they got to the counter and had to then go and buy them and return. Waste of time.

2) Fill out your application form. Again, I cannot tell you how many of the 130 people ahead of me turned up to the counter with a blank application form. FILL IT IN!

3) Make an appointment. You can make an appointment at http://www.hikorea.go.kr/pt/index.html. I did of course try this myself but it kept saying that I couldn’t. So I rang immigration who told me to install some security program, reboot and do it again and it still didn’t work so I took my chances. I’ve heard from my friends that an appointment gets you in and out in 20 minutes so it’s worth it.

4) Bring entertainment. I actually had a lot of fun people watching, but be prepared to wait. You should also have some snacks. No point in going hungry.

5) I would highly recommend going in the late afternoon if you’re going to the Suwon branch. By 4.30 there were only 80 people in the queue and by my turn at 5.30 they were down to 50. Closing time in Suwon is 6pm.

6) Always check with immigration what documents you need. Things change all the time. You can call immigration on 021345 and speak to an English speaking representative who can tell you what you need.

So that’s me. A legal E 2 holder until September 2014. Here’s to another great year of teaching, blogging and generally having a great time! Leave your comments below!

Korea- 4 years on

This week marks my four-year anniversary in Korea. I can still remember the day I landed in Incheon as if it was yesterday. I remember exactly what I was wearing. How the cleanliness of the terminal impressed me, meeting my recruiter, being terrified in the car because we were driving on the “wrong” side and going to school where the children thought I was a man!

I’d love to know what my co teachers thought of me that first day. Back then I had super short hair and was paler than I am now. That first night, the other foreign teachers, Michelle and Garrett let me off with staying in but from the second night, we were out and about. And I mean “we” since I had to be escorted to and from everywhere because everything looked the same to me! After two weeks though, I had gotten the swing of things and was let out solo.

The finest piece of advice I heard in those first few weeks was from Nathan, who was part of the Geumchon Crew and still a good friend. On the train to Seoul he said that when you come to Korea you only have 52 weekends to see and do everything so any weekend you don’t go out and do something is wasted time. During that first year, my friends and I hit up all the big museums, events,festivals and did a few foreign trips for the long weekends.

The learning curve that first year was incredible. Before then I had never taught in a classroom, let alone taught English to Korean children. I’d never been to Asia before coming here and I’d never lived quite so far away from home before. But after the initial “what am I doing here” shock, life just fell into place like it would anywhere else.

When I left for Korea, my mission was to let my hair grow long. Here’s how that worked out over the years…..

This is us at our co teachers wedding a few weeks after I arrived.

1sy ye

                        This is when I visited my sister after my first contract.


                                            Beginning of my second contract.



heli bar

What have I learned?

A good attitude is half the battle. Not every day is going to be sunshine and roses so don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask for help if you need it. In relation to teaching, over prepare, then just go with the flow. These days, teaching is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Not every student is going to get it. Revel in the small achievements of your students. Don’t take it too seriously, remember somewhere in the chaos to have a bit of fun.   Your friends are your family here so make sure you have some good ones. Take opportunities no matter how small they seem and just do things. Don’t over think things.

Am I the same person?

Being here has changed how I think about things. I’m more open to new ideas and ways of doing things now. I question more now that I’ve been here. Travelling has made me slightly braver than I used to be. Now, I’m more willing to accept mistakes and take risks.


I try my hardest in life not to have regrets. If I were to do something differently, I would have bought my car earlier. That car has made everything so much easier for me. I would have also started seriously studying Korean earlier. I only started to really study after about 2 years and now it’s only so so for someone who has been around for four years. But, I’m studying hard now and I guess that’s what counts. Other than that, I would have done everything else the exact same.


The people I’ve met. I have some of the best friends anyone could ask for. I’ve met loads of interesting characters along the way and hopefully that will continue. The places I’ve seen. Climbing the Great Wall and trekking across the Gobi have got to be on the top of the memories from travelling. The things I’ve achieved that I never thought I would (car, driver’s licence, TOPIK, being in a band).

Stay or go?

Stay, at least for another year. I’ve just signed a new contract at my school and things in my life in general are going well. I’m playing lots of Irish music, I play in a World music band,  I have lots of friends, good social life. I have it on good authority that someone I’m related to might be joining me here in the next few months. I still haven’t gone to all the countries I want to go to. Honestly, right now I have no real interest in going home or going anywhere else. I’ve invested a lot in learning Korean and building up a life here so I’d like to take that a little further if I could.

Advice for anyone who wants to come over? 

In ten years, it’s the things you don’t do that you’ll regret, not the things you do. If you want to come to Asia and teach, travel, have an adventure, just do it. It’s not going to fantastic everyday but most days will be pretty good. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of by challenging yourself to do something like this. You meet loads of people who you wouldn’t have otherwise met and it gives you an opportunity to do things differently.  Bring a good attitude and look at it as the start of a new adventure.