Korea has got to be best place to immerse yourself in the culture. Where else can you knock on someone’s door and ask to stay the night? Oh, and not get shot trying to do so?
Well of course Korea has hotels. Big ones. Expensive ones, but we don’t want to talk about that. Those are no fun. And overpriced. They offer a high quality product with a high quality product price that is to be expected in any major city or country. But thankfully, Korea has other options that have more character and are definitely something unique that most visitors are hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Regardless of where you stay, as long as you can hold your own without blushing from Western embarrassment, you can almost always talk down the stated price if you are staying for an extended period of time or traveling with a decent sized group. Also, these descriptions are for one person for one night. Not a whole lot changes if you’re traveling with others. In most cases, the prices don’t change unless there are three or more in your party.
Let’s start with the highest priced and we’ll work out way down.
Hotels 50 000₩ - 400 000₩ - Expect nothing unique and be prepared to pay Western prices. Might as well have stayed in Boston.
Temple Stay 30 000₩ - 50 000₩ - No accommodation guide would be complete without mentioning a stopover in a Buddhist temple. Relax, you don’t have to be a card-carrying member to stay :). Typically, arrangements are secured via phone. It is customary to give at least a week’s notice before staying so as to help gather resources to better make your stay enjoyable. Price includes three meals a day and various guided activities. Do not be frantic about disturbing the natural order of things - not all monasteries have temple stays and those who do offer these services are good about advertising it. Do yourself a favor and research these if you are interested.
여관 (Yeogwan) 20 000₩ - 40 000₩ - These are the meat and potatoes of Korean accommodation. They are plentiful and vary somewhat in quality so expect to get what you pay for. Practically every single city from Seoul to 퍼든그 (get it? no?) has at least one 여관 so prices can be quite competitive. Payment is generally required in advance but viewing and/or picking the room beforehand is normal. Feel free to shop around for a place that suits you (and your wallet). Expect the room to have three things: a cotton mattress, a cotton/synthetic quilt, and one pillow. Also, expect the room to not have three things: a Western style bed, a kitchen, and central heat or air conditioning. Fear not! Most have Western style toilets, hot tap water, and some newer facilities have private bathrooms. Most have heated floors, shared bathrooms, a TV, and one oscillating-style floor fan. As far as extra amenities, count on some of them having adjacent 목욕탕 (bath houses). Some even offer Western beds, “free” breakfast, and wireless internet access but are few and far between.여관 are cheap, safe, and reliable.
민박 (Minbak) price negotiable - These private homes are rented out in high numbers during tourist season and are generally located away in rural areas. Get out your eagle eyes and make it a point to stop in at least once. No other experience is quite like it. Prices fluctuate depending on the season and location but are comparable to 여관. Take advantage of whomever in the home cooks and agree to pay extra for diner and breakfast. Expect to have your own room but don’t be shy - this family has opened up their home for you for the night. The least you can do is play a game of 화투 before you turn in for the night.
여인숙 (Yeoinsuk) 15 000₩- 20 000₩ - The jealous younger sibling of 여관, 여인숙 are generally less maintained, less glamorous, scaled down versions of 여관. Some are even converted from traditional houses (think Flip This House). These are for the confident Korean speaker and adventurous backpacker alike who are looking for a cheap place to stay when all others are booked or otherwise unavailable. Perhaps for the greater good, they are steadily decreasing in number and often overshadowed by their more popular sibling.
유스호스텔 (Youth Hostels) 10 000₩ - 20 000₩ (and up) - These Hostels recognize international Youth Hostel cards issued from any country. For non-members, prices are higher and availability is sometimes limited. About sixty of these operate in Korea and are generally located in less populated, scenic destinations such as lakeview properties, beachfronts, and ski resort locations. Accommodations include up to eight person bunk-bed rooms, family suites, and most have on-site currency exchanges.
Love Hotels - price varies - Okay, so I should probably mention these if only to help squeamish travelers avoid them. Here’s some hints: They have hourly rates, they’re obvious, and they’re exactly what they sound like. If you see a bunch of calling cards out front, keep walking and start giggling to yourself or loved one.
찜질방 (Jjimjillbang) less than 10 000₩ - These 24-hour saunas are the Cadillac of bath houses. In addition to having everything under the sun, they also have overnight sleeping facilities. Though sometimes loud and crowded, these are frequented by business people too tired to make the long commute home (well, that’s his side of the story). Don’t expect much more than a small bunk bed or communal room, but for cash-strapped travelers, nothing is better than falling asleep in your favorite bath house.
산장 (Mountain Huts) 3 000₩ - These hiker stops are dotted along mountain trails and contain the bare essentials. Bring your own sleeping bags and pillows and curl up on the wooden floors and call it an adventure. Make sure to check availability before setting out on your hike.
While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, it does cover the basics. Although the biggest culture shock probably comes from 민박 (well, actually Love Hotels are pretty shocking to some foreigners), I would encourage those traveling abroad to take advantage of Korea’s group mentality and treat yourself to the experience. Of course we don’t have anything similar to 민박 in America and perhaps that is part of the charm. For that matter, overnight stays in general such as in 찜질방 are pretty foreign too. We’re also used to paying quite a lot more for a room.
I’m curious as to my fellow KC101 students’ experiences with the accommodations listed. Good? Bad? Worth it? Recommendations?
For that matter, here’s more on key money.