Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Love Motel Post / How to Rent A Love Motel in Korea

After our second stay in a lousy Korean Hostel (mentioned here) I vowed never to stay in a Korean Hostel again and to write about how to book a Love Motel in Korea. Here's the information I promised.

First, you need to find a motel. They're usually in clusters near the transport hubs - bus terminals, train stations - but also in big touristy areas like Jongno Sam Ga in Seoul and Haeundae in Busan. Look for their sign - it's this:

I think this sign is also used for Jimjilbangs (saunas) and it's meant to be a pot with steam coming out of it, because I can't for the life of me understand how this = motel. But it does. If you can read Korean, you can also just look for 'Motel' - 모텔 or 'Hotel' - 호텔.

'Five Star' Motel
They are Love Motels, which means they can be rented out for a two hour slot. Because they're hired on a short-term basis, there isn't a need to book - the only nights we've had trouble were Christmas (a couples' holiday) and during the fireworks festival in Busan. Their nature does mean occasionally finding odd vending machines in the hallways, porn on the television and hearing ... noises ... late at night. They're also cheap for a reason - they're generally poorly maintained and can be on the grubby side, but they cost less and are more pleasant than Korean hostels. Just bear in mind that you're not getting the Hilton for under $80. 

When you've found one that tickles your fancy, it's time to go in. Before you do, it helps to know a little Korean. Specifically how to count. Love Motels are generally between 30,000 and 70,000 won per room - they can be more/less, but they're probably gross/why would you spend that much???? - so if you know how to count to ten and what ten thousand is in Korean, you'll be fine.

And I'll teach you. (New Zealand accent translations in brackets, anyone else: good luck.)

3 - sam (sum, as in awesome)
4 - sa (sah, as in sartorial)
5 - oh (oh, as in oh my god!)
6 - yuk (yook, as in ... this one's too hard.)
7 - chil (chill, as in chill out man!)

1,000 - chon (chun, as in chunder)
10,000 - man (mun, as in munter)

Koreans count a little differently to English-speaking countries, so keep that in mind. Instead of saying forty-five thousand, you say four - ten thousands, five - one thousands.

So, by that logic 45,000 = sa man oh chon. 

Here's a few more to try. I've put the answers at the end of the post.

a) 50,000 
b) 35,000 
c) chil man 

Okay, once you've mastered counting you'll need to learn one more phrase:

Hana - bang - al-my-ee-oh?

or in New Zealand - Hana (girl's name) - bung (oh no, it's bung!) all (all) mai (Mai Time!) ee (just the letter, okay) oh (sound of surprise!) 

One - room - how much?

If in doubt, type some things into Google Translate and get a robotic Korean voice to approximate the pronunciation for you.

Now armed with moderate Korean, ask the person at the front desk how much one room is. Hopefully from your practice above you'll understand their response. If not, repeat back what they've said and hold up your fingers with a quizzical look on your face. They should hold up their fingers, with the amount, in response. Otherwise, you will bring out the pen and paper you prepared earlier and get them to write it down.

Most places will let you see the room first, the best way to get this to happen is to ask loudly and slowly CAN I SEE THE ROOM? while making that 'I'm watching you!' gesture where you point your index and middle finger at your eyes and then flip them round at the person you're looking at, like this:

Thanks, Ken Jeong!
Try to make your face less sinister if possible. If the room is to your liking, pay cash up front and it's yours until approximately 11am the following day. Some things to note:

- If you leave the hotel and want to come back, leave your key at the front desk and collect it when you return, even if that's at 5am.
- Never wear your shoes inside the room. The same is true for Korean homes.
- The drinks in the fridge are yours to take, the beauty products in the bathroom can be used but aren't to keep.

As I mentioned before, the quality may vary. I've stayed in 20+ during my one and a bit years in Korea, and most are clean enough, very dated and staffed by delightful or grumpy old ladies who provide tiny fresh towels and occasionally little baggies with toothbrushes and condoms inside. The cheapest I've stayed in was around 25,000 won, the most expensive I've seen was 150,000 and it was pretty nice. Sometimes, though, you hit the jackpot and get one that's cheap and amazing. 

Below are some pictures of what I consider to be the best Love Motel in Korea. Back when we lived in Buan, we knew a couple who lived in different towns but Jeonju was their middle ground. To keep the relationship alive/themselves sane, they spent a night per week in one of the Love Motels near the Jeonju bus terminals - there are about 25 within a 3 block radius of both bus stations. As a result, they stumbled across 'The Carlton,' an absolute gem of a place. When Tom and I decided to visit Jeonju and Buan for a weekend, the Carlton was 60% of the reason we went.

I was horrified when told by said couple that they'd intended to spend their last Korean night in the Carlton, and it was closed for renovation. There are others in the area which are pleasant, but.. the Carlton. We arrived in Jeonju a little nervous, went to the front desk of 'The Queen Hotel' which stood where the Carlton had... and it was the same! New, mismatched wallpaper, upgraded bathroom but same rad features. Here's the tour:

50-inch flat screen, mini fridge, DVD player, hairdryer & jug.
2 PC's - one with a Netflix/video on demand capability holding 150 English Language films. Sofa, our junk.
Giant bed with padded headboard, HEPA filter, electric blanket, microwave.
I can't take a picture of it but this bed is what Korean beds are not: SOFT.
2 seater jacuzzi/spa bath, pervy tiled lady picture.
By now you're probably like 'Anna, I can't believe you broke your chil man won limit to shell out for this amazing hotel!' But fear not... this glorious room (larger than our Buan apartment) is a paltry sa man oh chon won (45,000/$51 NZD) per night. Jeonju is a mere hour away from Buan, but we stayed in the Carlton/Queen at least four times because it's so damn nice. Our favourite Love Motel in Seoul was a bargain at 35,000 per night, but it was very small, vaguely clean and usually smelled of cigarettes. Regardless, it was still nicer than a Korean Hostel.

If you do stay in a Love Motel in Korea and use these instructions, please let me know how it went! And here's the answers to the quiz:

a) oh man
b) sam man oh chon
c) 70,000


  1. It's good to know what to do. Thanks guys :)

  2. Thanks Rosie! (and Matt too)

  3. I am really happy to say it’s an interesting post to read . I learn new information from your article , you are doing a great job .Thank you for sharing. Hotels in Cherokee IA