Motelling in South Korea

Throughout South Korea, it’s generally easy to find motels in towns near tourist attractions and/or with a population over 20,000. This includes the ‘love motels’, which cater to people who want to have sex privately (due to the density of South Korean urban areas, finding privacy at home is not easy, especially if you want to evade the attention of relatives who do not approve of non-marital sex).

Of course, in Taiwan, there isn’t any real distinction between the ‘love motel/hotels’ and regular motel/hotels. The ‘regular’ hotels are happy to serve those who primarily want a private place to have sex, and the ‘love hotels’ are equally happy to accept people who want sleep, not sex. It’s more a difference in marketing than the actual service offered.

In South Korea, this distinction also seems to be marketing, not services provided. I couldn’t tell the difference between the ‘love’ motels I stayed at and the ‘regular’ motels I stayed at.

Back in Taiwan, I remember one British guy asking why weren’t there love motels in Europe and North America, like all of the ones in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and China. I can’t explain why they aren’t in Europe, but it seems pretty obvious to me why they aren’t in California.

First of all, there’s population density…

California – 95 people/square kilometer
South Korea – 512 people/square kilometer
Taiwan – 644 people/square kilometer
Japan – 335 people/square kilometer

As the above statistics make clear, California is not in the same league as South Korea / Taiwan / Japan when it comes to population density. Just because of the population density alone, it is much harder to find private space in these East Asian societies than in California, which makes people more inclined to pay for privacy.

The other obvious reason is that California has different cultural norms than South Korea / Taiwan / Japan. Most of the young adults I know in California have parents who would tolerate them having non-marital sex in the home as long as they thought their adult children were not taking excessive risks. I don’t know about Japan, but I do know that some Taiwanese parents also would tolerate this … but those Taiwanese parents are the minority. Considering that South Korea is considered even more sexually ‘conservative’ than Japan and Taiwan, I would expect that even fewer parents there would tolerate this. And it is much more common in East Asian societies for adult children to live with their parents than it is in California (though more and more adults in California are living with their parents, due to bad economic prospects). In short, East Asian young adults who want to have sex have much more reason to pay for a place where their parents won’t notice them than California young adults do.

So how to Taiwanese hotels/motels compare to South Korean hotels/motels?

Taiwanese hotels are cheaper. In pretty much any city that isn’t Taipei you can get a clean, decent hotel room with a double bed and bathroom for about 20-25 USD per night. If it’s a small town with only one or two hotels, it might be a little more expensive (or less clean/nice). There are only a few places – such as Sun Moon Lake and the Alishan Forest Recreation Area – which get enough tourists to make hotel rates soar.

The cheapest South Korean motel I stayed at – a motel in Taebaeksan – charged 30,000 won (about 30 USD) per night, which would be a bit expensive for a basic hotel room in Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, it was also the plainest motel room I ever saw in South Korea. It was a bit drab, but clean, and bigger than basic hotel rooms in Taiwan. Furthermore, it had a computer with an internet connection in the room. Basic hotels in Taiwan don’t do that.

However, every motel room I stayed in South Korea had a PC with an internet connection (though they sometimes had very out-of-date software installed). As a traveller who did not have a laptop or a smartphone, this was very useful to me.

Furthermore, the South Korea motels put a lot more effort into decoration and mood than the Taiwanese basic hotels. If you want to stay somewhere with atmosphere in Taiwan, you go to a minsu, not a hotel. By contrast, South Korean motels often have design themes, such as stylish red lights in black corridors, or a soft white-and-sky-blue theme. I stayed at a motel in Cheongju, Hotel Lin, which has a theme based on the Greek island of Santorini.

I know that there is a type of accommodation called yeongwan in South Korea which is cheaper than motels and very, very plain, but I never found any, let alone stayed at one overnight. I suspect the motels put an effort into making themselves pleasant places to stay to justify charging higher rates than the yeongwan.

Generally, the basic Taiwanese hotels you’ll find across the street from the train station are intended to be places where you’ll rest, sleep, take a shower, or have sex, and nothing else. They aren’t trying to get you to stay in the hotel, the presumption is you’ll go out when you don’t need rest/privacy. The South Korean motels across the street from the train/bus station, by contrast, put an effort into making the motel itself a pleasant place to linger. And they are much nicer than Californian motel rooms in the same price range.

I regret not taking any photos of the motels because it really helps to understand what I’m describing if you see it. Fortunately, someone else has taken photos.

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