The Place to Not Be Seen: Korean Love Motels
A clamshell shaped bed. Egyptian columns and statues. Double seater tubs that are so deep you can float in them. Check-in clerks hidden by frosted glass. When I told people that I’d booked a room at a Korean love motel they would scrunch up their face as if they’d smelled something bad. “You’re staying where?”
The oft-maligned love motel. Koreans typically live with their parents until they’re married so if you and your significant other want a few hours of privacy what do you do? Love motel. Yes, they will rent out by the hour, but as a traveler you shouldn’t dismiss them outright because of that. Some places are trying to avoid the local stigma by branding themselves as theme, party or boutique hotels. You can call them that if it makes you feel better. Motels can be nicer and cheaper than the standard tourist hotel, as our experience with a four star hotel in Jeju proved. Not even the shampoo was included at that one.
When I read about the Chezlee Palace Hotel on CNN Go, I knew I had to book it. It was so over the top and cheesy, not to mention affordable. I wasn’t given the clamshell room so don’t expect any photos of me as Venus but my Turkish themed room was no slouch. Lots of space and amenities I wouldn’t have had at a tourist hotel in the same price range. There’s no charge for mini bar items, which I didn’t learn until later. There was even a PC in the room, although it was running IE6. I didn’t feel dirty staying at a love motel, but I did for using that browser.
Love motels will usually be located down small side streets where you’ll find one after another after another. No need for reservations unless you have a particular one you want. If one motel is full, just try next door. Some, though not all, will let you see the room before you commit. Like anything, there are dives and there are gems. I was lucky to have gotten two gems.
Privacy is paramount at these establishments. All include some form of parking screen. Check in desks may have windows covered over so that you never see the clerk and they never see you. A menu of rooms is normally displayed for you to choose from. You may even stumble on a motel where the whole transaction is done via a kiosk so you never need to see or speak to another person. On your way out, just drop your key in the box in the elevator.
While privacy outside the room is huge, inside, not so much. The bathroom in the first motel we had only had a curtain, the second just a glass door. My travel partner and I took to wearing headphones when the other needed the facilities to give a little privacy. A bit awkward. The toilet at the Wa Motel was one of those fancy ones with buttons though so you could always play the flushing sound on extra loud. If you ever find yourself with a toilet with buttons, take the time and press them all. Trust me.
The names on the motels continually cracked me up. They’re really pretty meaningless. From Guest House Inn to W Motel, from Oh! to Hotel The Sun or comma’. The neon lights on each street might make you think you’re in Vegas. The street outside our motel in Busan had so much it created a faux-twilight where you had to look up at the sky to know it was dark. No need to worry about the room being too bright though. There was a huge wooden sliding screen to block out the light. It was night whenever you wanted.
While the small side streets, xxx amenity kits, parking screens and hidden clerks might be unusual, nothing felt sketchy or gave me reason for concern at the two places I stayed. Everything was clean and safe though the giant cans of bug spray kind of freaked me out. Like any place, quality varies but you may be able to check out the rooms before committing. I really think a love motel is something you need to experience on your next trip to Korea. Where else can you get breakfast delivered, a jacuzzi tub and, in-room PCs, with a side of massage gel for under $60 a night?
Fact Sheet – Chezlee Palace
- Where: Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
- Cost: Rooms start at 50,000 won (approx $44) for a standard room
- Amenities: free minibar, PC, 42″ flat screen tv, large soaker tub in suites
- Number of rooms: 25
- Rating: Agoda 2.5 *
Fact Sheet – Wa Motel
- Where: Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea
- Cost: Rooms start at 65,000 won (approx $58) for a standard room
- Amenities: jacuzzi tub, two PCs, kitchenette, 50″ flat screen tv, sitting area, breakfast included
- Number of rooms: 43
- Rating: Agoda 3*
October 16th, 2012 at 1:58 pm (#)
Looks like Thailand isn’t the only place with active sex tourism!
October 16th, 2012 at 2:00 pm (#)
Most of the motels are 18+ and have just one bed (but not always) so they’re not a place to stay with a family but they’re a great option for solo or platonic travel friends as well. But yeah…that’s not generally their main use. :P
October 18th, 2012 at 10:49 am (#)
Yes, love motels are a good option in Korea, especially since there aren’t many hostels or things like that. I never had the pleasure of staying one. But actually all of Korea’s internet sites are built on IE6 – shudder.
October 19th, 2012 at 12:08 pm (#)
Interesting…I realize people have had sex in every hotel I have stayed in but to stay where they are having it hourly kind of skeeves me out.
October 19th, 2012 at 12:14 pm (#)
In my two experiences I never heard anyone and almost never saw anyone else in the halls at the motels and the rooms were very clean. I’ve stayed at worse hotels. They’re not for everyone though, but a great budget option.
October 23rd, 2012 at 2:57 am (#)
I LOVE love motels! Not disgusting like you’d think, but just fun. Great post on them!
October 27th, 2012 at 2:21 pm (#)
Those rooms are so over the top! I imagine staying in a love motel is a fascinating look at the culture behind them. Check-in almost sounds like going to confession or something, behind a screen. Very crazy!
November 13th, 2012 at 10:43 am (#)
Haha, I love the Korean love motels! They hardly break the bank and you are bound to get a wacky room! I have actually heard of the one you stayed at. It’s quite infamous in Seoul. ;)
January 9th, 2013 at 9:22 am (#)
[…] was thankful that Korean motels provide robes for all guests so I was able to change and give my one outfit some breathing time […]
February 14th, 2013 at 8:00 am (#)
[…] Korea is generally quite conservative – though you might not think so based on the number of love motels around – so this park really isn’t something you would expect to find, but dig a little […]
March 22nd, 2013 at 9:34 am (#)
[…] fee since this all happened within 72 hours of my scheduled check-in. Chance I take with booking a Korean love motel I guess. If one turns you away there are about 50 more within a block or two so I knew that no […]
September 12th, 2013 at 6:47 am (#)
I’m very pleased to discover this website. I wanted to thank
you for ones time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every part of it and I
have you book marked to check out new stuff on your blog.
November 14th, 2013 at 4:48 am (#)
[…] people meeting non-spouses for illicit encounters, and by travellers looking for a convenient, gaudily-decorated room at an often pretty reasonable price. To help motels stand out in a crowded market, their façades […]
February 14th, 2014 at 1:18 am (#)
I LOVE the LOVE motels!!! Great places to stay, no reservation needed and always super clean!! This one looks awesome! :)
September 1st, 2016 at 10:48 am (#)
Very helpful and Great information,
we appreciate advise especially coming from a professional.
Thanks again and keep up the great work!