Life in Korea: 8 dirty secrets about love motels

Seoul, love hotels, hongdae

Rates stay competitive at love hotels in similar places in the same area. Source: Shutterstock

If you’ve traveled around Korea at all, you’ve seen a love motel whether you knew it or not. The large, baudily decorated facades create a spectacle on the skyline, which of course is exactly what they’re going for. Whether you stay at the fanciest one close to the train station or get a regular room a little further, read on to learn what to expect.

Dirty secret #1: They’re nicer than you think. In most cases, the flashier the outside, the nicer it’ll be on the inside. Even love motels without flashy lights will commonly feature a queen-size bed, a big-screen TV, and so on. The only ones to really watch out for are the ones further from where tourists typically arrive, and if you can’t see the room first. That’s a red flag right there.

Dirty secret #2: There are almost always plenty of them around – and they know it. It’s for that reason that prices stay competitive at similar places in the same area. Look outside almost every bus terminal or train station in the country and you’ll have at least a few options.

The … ramen room?

Dirty secret #3: Those movies you see on the upper channels of the TV are available for free – but there’s a couple hoops to jump through. No, not those kind of movies – these are mainstream movies (Korean and non-Korean) you’ll see advertised outside the motels. You’ll see the listings of what’s available on the TV itself, but you’ll need to look for a card inside the room and navigate a phone menu. Once you’re in, pushing buttons on the phone makes the TV change menus – a few more button pushes and you’re in!

There isn’t a pay-per-view type system in Korea, for what it’s worth – what you see is what you get. Some older love motels may have a library of Korean and, er, adult, movies on VHS – while free to borrow, you may need to chat with the front desk to get the actual tape.

Dirty secret #4: There’s rarely a sizable difference in the “special” room. Beware the hotelier who pitches you the “special” room or claims it’s the only one left. It’s only KRW10,000 more (about US$9), so what the heck, you might think.

The upgrade, however, is rarely anything to write home about: a slightly fancier bathroom or pattern on the wall, maybe a slightly larger TV – again, nothing to write home about.

If you feel like being rock stars or have the money to blow, be my guest – otherwise, know that the regular rooms are likely pretty good to begin with.

Dirty secret #5: Ask for a Korean room (한국식방 – han-guk-shik-bang) if you’re trying to save some cash. The Western bed will be gone, of course, replaced by a mat and some blankets. It’ll be a harder sleeping surface, of course, and might not be the best for some people’s backs. If you’re looking to save some money, however, there’s probably a 24-hour sauna or jimjilbang (찜질방) around, which is probably cheaper. See this post (or this one) for more about staying at a jimjilbang.

Dirty secret #6: While check-in is flexible, check-out is not. In most cases, you can get the room as early as 3 or 4pm – early enough to drop off your stuff and make a day of the area. If you don’t arrive until late, they’ll be by the front window all night, although it might take a couple knocks on the window to get their attention!

Checkout, in virtually every place I’ve stayed in, is a different story – be up and out of the room by 12pm at the latest. Depending on the room’s soundproofing, you may hear them cleaning the other rooms well before noon. A few places may kindly call the room to wake you up, but more likely you’ll get a loud knock on the door. Don’t be too alarmed, but do get your things together and be ready to move on. They didn’t collect a deposit, after all, and they’re unlikely to charge you for staying late.

Dirty secret #7: There’s very little need to make a reservation ahead of time. If you have some Korean skills, check out to search for hotels and make reservations.

How do you choose love motels? Any more tips for finding a good place to stay?