Though they're primarily used as a place to share an intimate moment, people are starting to realize they're not only about sex. A Yonhap News piece in August looked at the ways motels have changed to attract not only clients looking for a few hours to get away, but people who want to relax in other ways. Competition has pushed motels to offer more, and, the piece says, "more and more motels are transforming their guest rooms into private entertainment places equipped with wide-screen TVs and other high-tech gadgets as a means of attracting clients."
Large televisions, computers, big beds, and bathtubs are standard in the newer rooms, and some of the more stylish ones offer jacuzzis, Nintendo and PlayStation consoles, motorcycles in the room, and even telescopes on upstairs verandas, all for between 50,000 won and 100,000 won a night. The kitch of multicolored mood lights and swanky interior is a fun, welcome change from drab apartment rooms or ordinary faded beige of older tourist hotels. Prospective travellers can make informed decisions about nicer motels by browsing the maps and photographs on an online motel directory, available in Korean.
Not all motels are satisfactory, but many are. It's best to choose one that looks new and clean from the outside; in some places, like near Busan's Haeundae Beach, motels will list their rooms' features on the outside.
In spite of their ubiquity, there is a love-hate relationship among Koreans with motels and what they stand for. After all, there aren't hundreds of motels in each town because Koreans love to travel, and they don't rent rooms in two-hour blocks because Koreans have evolved beyond sleep.
Motels are also often the most prominent buildings in the neighborhood, and tend to make the news only when there's a suicide or when the police break up gambling and prostitution rings.
Because of the stigma, and because they only get mentioned in English in association with crime or kinky sex, people who haven't realized how great a value they are hold negative stereotypes of them. I wasn't too happy to see one of the stories on the news this morning was a suicide pact carried out at a Yangju motel.
The directories I mentioned are ones I've talked about several times on this site, and are Hotel 365, Motel Guide, and Yanolja. I've never made reservations online, but it's useful to see pictures, prices, and maps rather than just wandering aimlessly around a subway station. It's also fun to have a look around. Here are a few I just dug up:
The Nice Motel (나이스) in Uijeongbu, atop the rankings on Motel Guide. The "Party Room" is 100,000 won a night during the week, 120,000 won on weekends.
The Boracay (보라카이모텔) in Busan is one of the most colorful motels I've seen. Rooms are between 40,000 won and 70,000 won a night. Those are looks at two of the VIP rooms, 70,000 won a night, via Yanolja.
And, mentioned in the article, is the Motel El'lee and its autobike room. It's 60,000 won a night during the week, or 80,000 won on weekends. The motel also has a room with a stripper pole, the 나이트 room.
This is the "event suite" at the Ilsan Cyber Motel (일산사이버), via Yanolja. It's 70,000 won a night.
Finally, something closer to home, it's the Amortel in Hwasun county, which I profiled a little in February. The VIP Room has a balcony with a goddamn telescope. It's 80,000 won a night during the week, 100,000 won a night on weekends.
The first draft of the article was over the word-limit, so I cut out a suggestion to make more of these available in English, considering what we talked about earlier regarding the failed "Best Night in Korea" initiative. I think it would be useful to have more access to motels on, say, the KTO website, allowing for easier access to them for foreigners, but there are a few obstacles. First of all, when schools can't even get Korean English teachers who can communicate in English, what are the chances of getting love motel managers who can? Second, as we see with travel agents and taxi drivers who cater to foreigners, they are more expensive. Third, the experience would likely get watered-down to cater to what foreigners are assumed to want. I don't want to pay 25% as much for a toned-down version of what I can find on my own. It might also encourage motel owners to close their doors to foreigners if they figure there are "foreigner motels" out there. Finally, motels certainly get most of their money from Korean clients, and speciailize in renting their rooms out for two-hour blocks. I suspect many motels would opt out of such an umbrella organization. A few weeks ago I tried at several motels in Seoul to rent a room for two consecutive nights, but was told I also had to pay a daytime fee of 30,000 won to hold the room and, presumably, to help compensate for the money motels lose by not being able to rent them out during the day.
That was all speculation, though, for the sake of speculation, as the demand by non-Korean-speaking foreigners simply isn't, nor will be, great enough to cause any change. Nor should it, really. Some things are better when they're earned.
So, anyway, instead I wanted to just share those directories and encourage people in Korea to learn more about what's out there. In conclusion, Korea is a land of contrasts. Thank you for reading my essay.