But, in all honesty, I do think they're wonderful and I always do my best to pick a good one when I'm out of town. Always exciting to open that door and see what you get, and that's not a euphamism for anything. The folks at the desk must feel the same way because they sometimes stick cameras in the rooms, so it's a good thing
Even as a kid hotels and motels were great because (a) it meant we were on vacation, and (b) it meant that we could probably go swimming in the pool, and (c) it meant that after swimming we could eat junk food and watch TV. And, you know, famous football man Carson Palmer could probably include my family among those "whose idea of a vacation is to go downtown and stay in a hotel." In Korea one of the big plusses of motels was that I could have a beer and smoke cigarettes while watching TV---because I never liked to smoke in my apartment---but ever since I quit smoking that's not so important anymore.
Motels are superior to tourist hotels for a number of reasons. First is price, as motels generally cost a fraction of what tourist hotels would. Suncheon, for example, has three tourist hotels. A standard room at the Suncheon Royal Tourist Hotel is 80,000 won, and the most expensive Royal Suite Room is 350,000 won per night. The Royal Tourist has, according to the website, a variety of amenities, including restaurants, a game room, and various clubs, though to its disadvantage it is located in a lackluster part of town and is surrounded by massage parlors, singing rooms, and coffee shops with tinted windows. The City Tourist Hotel is located in "Old Downtown," and though most of the websites referring to it are down, at last check the cheapest rate was 65,000 won per night. It looks pretty crappy from the outside, and wouldn't be among my first choices if I were just passing by. There is no information available for the third hotel, Yushimcheon Tourist Hotel, recently built a block north of Suncheon National University.
The rates aren't exorbitant, and are much less than you'd find if you were looking for something in a major Asian city through one of the big travel sites. However, a standard room in a motel will cost between 30,000 and 40,000 won, and provided you judge it by its cover and pick one that looks nice, is probably newer, cleaner, fancier, and better equipped. Compare the hotels above with, for example, Suncheon's Ivy Motel. The rooms cost between 35,000 and 60,000, and provided there is no wall of porn in the hallway, the Ivy Motel would be a place I'd feel comfortable putting up guests.
A look at the Ivy's "VIP Room."
The rooms in tourist hotels have been unimpressive. While they weren't terribly dirty, they were old and not very nice-looking. Moreover, in spite of the higher rates, they didn't offer anything a motel lacked, and in fact they had quite a bit less. For 65,000 won a night you can book a room in the shitty-looking City Tourist Hotel in Suncheon, or for the same amount or less you can get a motel room on Haeundae Beach in Busan. I stayed in the Noblesse, and for 60,000 won I got a computer---two actually---a TV that projected onto a drop-down screen, a refrigerator, water cooler, jacuzzi, free ramyeon, a big bed, and all kinds of bizarre lights. And, I was a block away from the best-known beach in the country. So motels are cheaper, generally cleaner and fancier, and have nicer stuff. And that's not even getting into the "theme motels" with quirky, swanky rooms that still cost much less than a tourist hotel, and with loads more character and charm than some generic place that deigns to have an Engrish-language site.
Inside a few different rooms at the Busan W, with rooms between 45,000 and 80,000 won per night. I cherrypicked this and others because it would be far too time-consuming to go through each one, but if you have a few extra minutes, you might poke around the websites I mention a few paragraphs down.
In fact, the nicer love motels I've visited in Korea have easily trumped any place I've stayed in the U.S., and you know I'm kind of tempted to rank them above the highest-ranked places I've visited in Asia. The thing about expensive places is that you reach a certain point where the amenities are not really necessary, and essentially paying for reputation rather than services rendered. I'm not sure how to word it properly, but what I mean is, if you're paying $400 a night, it is assumed you won't mind paying $4 for each bottle of water, or $3 for each bag of coffee, or having to tip porters and waiters. If you're in a nice motel, though, you're saving a ton of money by paying a much lower rate, and you're also free to enjoy the . . . free amenities, without feeling, or being made to feel, cheap or embarrassed.
People are often forced to book with tourist hotels because they are the usually the only ones with English-language websites, and are the only ones that will turn up in a google search. But those who can navigate Korean sites have many more options. There are a couple good love motel directories available online. The best one is Hotel 365 and is for Seoul and parts of Gyeonggi. You can search by name or by location (including by subway station), and you'll get pictures, prices, and maps for tons of hotels.
Motel Guide isn't as comprehensive, but is still an interesting resource. Yanolja.com, a dating website, is awesome and has a box on the right with all kinds of recommended "theme motels," and you can find loads of pictures and directions to each one. Also, you can browse a bunch of motels if you click the "모텔정보" tab on the top-left. At this one you can choose a Motorcycle Room with an actual motorcycle in there, or a Night Club room with a stripper pole.
For places outside of Seoul and Gyeonggi there doesn't seem to be any huge directories, although some of the sites I mentioned up there have a few listings for the other large cities. Granted, I haven't looked much outside of Gwangju or Jeollanam-do, though. I've seen a couple motels marked "good stay" and featuring a government logo, but visiting that website takes you to Visit Korea, a site that doesn't have a whole lot of information on things that aren't tourist hotels. Their page on Jeollanam-do hotels is here.
What you can do, though, is use Naver to give you an idea of what's in the area you'd like to visit. I should say first that, at least for Jeollanam-do, you'll pretty much never have to worry about finding a room, unless you're visiting a town during a big festival. I get hits from google searches for "Gurye motel" or "motel in Gokseong," or things like that, and while you're not likely to find many specifics online, I will just say that there are more than enough motels in these places. The town of Gangjin-eup (population 16,000) has, at last check, 13, and that's not including the dozen or so flop-houses that I don't even want to think about, and nor does it include the few motels and pensions scattered elsewhere throughout the county. Anyway, you can use Naver to see what's available. For example you can run a search on 강진읍모텔 or 강진모텔 and scroll down to the map and see where the motels are, what their phone numbers are, and what their webpages are, if applicable. Motels are most likely to be clustered around the bus station in smaller towns, but because they are also among the tallest buildings in these areas, you should have no problem finding others. For larger cities---Busan, for example---try searching for the neighborhood. 해운대구, for example, for the neighborhood that includes Haeundae Beach. Because it's a popular area your search will not only turn up tons of motels, but will turn up tons of motels with their own websites, so you can browse pics and prices ahead of time.
As far as Suncheon goes, Naver tells us there are 101 motels, though that's not including ones without "motel" in the name, and that number is for the entire city, not just the heavily-populated areas you're likely to be visiting. There are a few areas with high concentrations of motels, should you be in need. There are some around the Suncheon Station and around the Intercity Bus Terminal (not the Express Bus Terminal). There are about a dozen new, nice ones a block behind Home Plus. There are a few new ones across from E-Mart. And there are a few dozen in Geumdang, next to the bars, clubs, singing rooms, and other places typical of that kind of neighborhood. The popular foreigner bars are in this area, so should you need to spend the night you'll have no problem finding a room.
I'll get into Gwangju another time, but will just add that I prefer to head over to Sangmu, even though the clash between "rapidly expanding commercial and residential area" and "area built almost entirely upon the sex industry," is jarring. The motels are much newer and much cleaner than those in town, although you do have to do the "walk of shame" in the morning and trample over naked lady calling cards as you walk past the fifteen brothels, hundred motels, and brand-new high-rises (and the Outback, TGIFriday's, three movie theaters, and government buildings) on your way back to the subway station. It is too time-consuming to type out a guide for each city and county, but like I said, just play around with Naver. If you run a search on Yeosu, for example, you'll be able to find out the neighborhoods that have plenty of motels. You can even calculate taxi fares to and from these places.
Slightly related, one of my first introductions to Korea was a motel. I arrived at the airport and my recruiter picked me up---two hours late---and took me directly to school to begin the way so many horror stories begin. To continue that down that road, my boss said my apartment was not ready, and that I would have to stay in a motel. It was okay, though, the 테마모텔 in Yongin, down the street from the old Wal-Mart. Had neon palm trees. Also slightly related, but when I was in Gwangju a couple of weekends ago, I saw Ironman, and before the previews an advertisement came up for Amortel, in Hwasun county. From the website it looks incredibly nice, with five varieties of rooms ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 won. And yes, I think that is a goddamn telescope on the goddamn balcony of the VIP room.
On the balcony of the VIP Room, 100,000 won per night.
The Equalizer Room (hahaha), 40,000 won per night.