Monday, February 28, 2011


Standard room at the Relax Motel, Busan
So this is going to be a bit random, and mainly directed at people actually in Korea, but it occurred to me that a post on love motels, particularly decent ones that I've stayed at before might be helpful, not in the least to myself if I later on can't remember the details. For the unitiated, love motels are basically just cheap and quick accomodation (usually). Unlike hotels, people don't usually book ahead for them (although you can with most of course) and as the name suggests, are commonly used for couples looking for some privacy, whether it be from parents and siblings or from spouses and co-workers. Which is not to say that everyone who uses love motels is a no-good cheating louse, but the fact that you can often rent rooms for a one or four hour stint rather than for a night, and the fact that you can sometimes only check in after 10pm, and the fact that the carparks usually have some sort of rope curtain that goes down to about a metre off the ground so you can drive right in and check in without being seen does kind of hint at an illicit kind of reason for many clients being there. Having said that, when most Koreans live at home with their parents until they are married, and even then will probably frequently come home to visit - for example, a friend of mine lives at home with his parents and four of his five siblings. The other also often sleeps over because his workplace is closer to his parents house than his own, and then his wife and child also frequently visit, so no-one really has a permanent bedroom and finding sleeping space is a bit first-come, first-served (Koreans traditionally sleep on the floor, which is heated during the winter). So a bit of privacy might be hard to find at home, especially because (apparently) many Koreans don't necessarily tell/introduce their parents and family or even friends about the person they're dating until it's serious, which to some people might mean 2 or 3 years into the relationship when they decide to get engaged.
Bathroom from a 'themed' love motel
At any rate, for whatever reasons they are used for, love motels are also great for travellers looking for somewhere cheap to crash without having to worry too much about security and shared bathrooms. While some of the cheaper options in the love motel range are decidedly seedy, there are many that are not and are as nice or nicer than a hotel, and whatever deficiencies they might have, these are easily overlooked when you might only be paying from 30 000 to 60 000 won a night (from about $28 - $55), or maybe a bit more if you want somewhere 'themed' (each room is individually decorated in different themes) or with something fancy like mirrors on the ceilings and plush padded walls. A standard room will come with a double bed, a bathroom with at least a shower and toilet, and if you're lucky or it's a bit more of an upmarket motel, it will have a bath or a hot tub. There will also be a kettle, some basic hair stuff (brushes and a hair dryer, maybe a straightener), satellite tv (usually with at least three 'adult' stations), towels, a computer with internet access and a mini-bar fridge with complimentary water and probably a can of coffee and a cold drink in there. Although the dodgier ones there for mysterious romances are sometimes not too worried about things like replacing sheets with cigarette burns in them, for the most part, if you're paying more than 45 000 won for your room you can expect a decent standard of cleanliness and shouldn't be too worried about sleeping in the beds. On the other hand, if you're just looking for somewhere to crash and have a larger number of people, some of the dodgier places don't bother to check (or don't care) how many people come back with you to your room, whereas the more careful places will either make you pay more to have more people in your room or will downright refuse.

To date, these are the love motels that I've stayed at this year that I can still remember the names of and a quick rundown of where they are and what they were like:

- Busan, Haeundae
The Relax Motel (은하수 모텔): A 'luxury' motel at Haeundae Beach, about five minutes walk from the waterfront. I don't know why they decided to translate the name of the motel as 'Relax' when I've always thought '은하수' meant 'Milky Way', but there you go. I've only ever stayed there on the weekends (Friday and Saturday night), and rates are usually a bit higher then but still reasonable - 50 000 for a normal room, 60 000 for an 'executive', which means you get a bigger room and a nicer bathroom with a hot tub (I think). I believe the rates are 40 000 and 50 000 won respectively during the week, which is bordering on amazing for nice rooms, clean everything and somewhere that doesn't even have a hint of cigarette smoke, desperation and regret. However, because this motel is right on the beach, it does mean that prices skyrocket during the high season (think the second week of July through until August) as I found out after rocking up at 11pm on a Friday night expecting to find a room and being told that a standard room was now 160 000 won and an executive room was 200 000. If you do go to Busan during the summer, you're better off looking for cheap accomodation around KSU or somewhere not on one of the beaches, but unfortunately I can't remember the name of the motel I stayed in there.

Directions: go out of Haeundae Station, exit 5, walk down and take the second road on the left. You should see a big parking tower with a 'P' on it close by.

- Seoul, Sinchon (신촌)
Q Motel (큐 모텔): This is a pretty average motel, 50 000 a night per room (w/e rate) which will be about the size of a standard (Australian) dorm room. Still, it's not too bad, and although the floor space is pretty minimal and they are shower + toilet only bathrooms (I don't like bathing in a bathtub anyway so I don't have a problem with this), it has all the rest of the regular facilities, including a huge range of porn channels - beware, Japanese porn is not for the conservative, easily frightened or slow on the uptake. You may find yourself slightly aghast, confused and disgusted if you aren't quick to change the channel, unless of course that's what you're after. Someone crying and looking frightened on tv? Nope, it's not a horror movie, it's Japanese porn.

For those of you not familiar with Seoul or Korean, I wrote Sinchon in hangul because there are two very similarly spelled - one is this one, which is near Ewha, Yonsei, Hongdae and Sogang Universities, the other (신천) is over near Jamsil Stadium on the other side of the river. Unfortunately I can't find this motel exactly on a map, but here's an approximation:

Directions: Go out of Sinchon St exit 7, walk past Grandmart, away from Sinchon Rotary (the intersection). Walk down until you pass a Hana Bank and get to a pedestrian crossing. Cross the road, turn left and then take the first right. This road should go up a hill which will be pretty steep at first and then level out. The Q Motel is on the 3rd block with a red 'Q' on a green sign.

- Seoul, Gangnam:
BNN Motel (바나나 모텔): A fairly nice hotel, but with an awful curling brush to which I almost lost a sizeable chunk of hair! I now realise why brushes in hotels are always full of hair - it's because idiots like me think they can use them (don't worry, this one had been cleaned and was in a sealed packet) and then get them stuck in their hair and have to yank out half their scalp to get free. If it weren't for my friend Chauntee and a lot of patience I'd probably still be wearing it. Now Gangnam does tend to be a little more expensive since it's where the rich kids play, but it's not necessarily that much pricier than the rest of Seoul by Western standards, and even then it's usually worth it. BNN/Banana had good sized rooms, about the size of my current five person office, and a really nice bathroom complete with bathtub if you are that way inclined, as well as all the rest, and best of all was clean. Also, it's really close to the subway (the hotel is represented by my demented picture of a bunch of bananas on the map), and most of the bars and clubs are over at exits 6 and 7, so it's very handy. Also also! Now that I've found some decent and affordable places, I've found that Gangnam is a good place to stay because it's where the inter-city Express Bus Terminal is, which is handy for us out-of-towners. Seriously, after a big night out when you suspect that you're still drunk on the after effects of the soju you had the night before, the last thing you need is a 40 minute subway ride across town with a bunch of tutting ajummas and ajosshis coming back from church.

Directions to BNN: Go out of Gangnam Station exit one and you'll see a kind of side street/alleyway immediately on your right. Don't worry, it turns into a proper street. BNN is maybe 5 minutes walk at most, next to the Chocolate Motel.

Directions to IMT: Same as to BNN, but keep walking down for about 15 - 20 minutes (depending on how fast you walk, your shoes, and how much you're carrying of course). This is the blue 'X' on my map (too unco to write IMT, sorry).

IMT Hotel (IMT 모텔): We probably wouldn't have found this one if it weren't for the fact that everything else was either booked, unavailable until 10pm or unreasonably expensive for 3 people. The concierge here perhaps took pity on our sweaty and weary looks of beseeching exhaustion and only charged us an extra 10 000 won for the extra person rather than making us have two rooms or one of the big family rooms that motels sometimes have which are usually for 4 - 6 people and about 150 000 - 200 000 won. So it was 70 000 all up and the couch was comfortable enough (if a little short) to spend the night on. Like most of the others here, it was clean, didn't smell bad and had a decent bathroom. Oh but here I should add a quick note of warning: because it's assumed that most people staying in a room together are a couple, the bathroom doors are usually semi-transparent. If you're lucky the bedroom and bathroom are accessed by separate doors in the little hallway where you leave your shoes, but sometimes this isn't the case. If you're a little less lucky than that, the transparency will be minimal (i.e. mostly clouded glass) and/or the bathroom door will be at an angle that gives some privacy. If you're completely bereft of luck you better be willing to see a bit more of your friends than anticipated because the door will be facing straight into the bathroom and either be almost completely transparent (think a clear glass door with a clouded glass bubble pattern which does nothing to hide anything) or if they got really creative, may have a reflective doorway which effectively lets you see right into the bathroom. Why these things are necessary... well it's probably best not to think about it. Anyway, this one was of middling luck (the bubble door but tucked away at the end of the room... however, it did face the toilet, similarly partitioned, and had the sink right between the two doors) and was of middle size, but apparently the jets in the bath didn't work. Mind you, the shower was freakin' awesome! After 12 months (effectively) of shower-nozzle showers this one was brilliant - it was like standing in the pouring rain, but warm :)

Anyway, as you may have noticed, BNN and IMT were on the same street - in fact, the street was almost entirely love motels. I haven't been in them, but it's probably safe to say that they are of relatively high quality. EXCEPT FOR ONE! Unless you are really desperate or have no money, do NOT go to the first motel (it is on the right side of the alley before it even becomes a street). We went in there to ask prices and immediately noticed that rates were quoted by night (40 000 won) AND by 4 hour stints (20 000 won). The guy at the front desk looked decidedly seedy, and then also decidedly pissed off when we asked to see the rooms. He took his sweet time getting up, but by then we'd decided to play it safe and left. It's probably a bit mean to cast aspersions, but if I had to stay there I'd want to be sleeping with a cast-iron wallet and a cast-iron belt around my kidneys.

Anyway that's about it. Of course, the other alternative is always jjimjilbangs or bath houses, but that's another post for another day. If any of my dear readers have their own favourites that they'd like to include, please feel free to post a quick description in the comments section.

Much love intrepid travellers!

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