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Motels

A guide to sleeping in Korea's thousands of motels while biking.

Motels fill every city (시; shi) and town (읍; eub) on the peninsula. At night, look towards any bar or club hotspot. You’ll spot towering motels draped in flickering lights.

Map!
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Popularity

Why are motels so popular? Korea is small and packed. About the size of Indiana with eight times the population.

Furthermore, real estate prices are some of the richest in the world. Many young people live in their parents’ apartment. So industries sprang up to accommodate lovebirds with private spaces. Coffee shops. Board room cafes with enclosed living room setups. And yes, motels.

Motels don’t just rent overnight rooms. Customers can borrow them in three hour chunks. 

What do you do with a three hour motel stay? Play with the colorful light setups. Make funny faces into the mirror mounted above the bed. And whatever else consenting adults do behind closed doors. (They’re also called love motels.)

Oh. And there’s at least one motel in every town. That makes them perfect for cyclists biking across Korea.

How Much Is It?

When you walk into a motel, you might see two pricing options.

The price next to 숙박 (lodge) shows the cost to stay the night. It can range from ₩25,000 for old motels in the hinterlands, to ₩80,000 for luxury rooms in mega cities.

Rooms listed as 대실 (private room) rent for three or four hours. Take a nap, play board games, or use your imagination.

The Motel Tour

Throughout Korea, you’ll find motels from different generations with dated features. In eighties motels, a tacky tsunami stained every bathroom fixture burgundy. Some early-aught motels dropped oversized jacuzzis in the center of their bedroom bedrooms.

But motels of all eras follow a similar rhyme scheme. So let’s tour a typical Korean motel’s interesting quirks and features.

Check-In

A motel along the East Coast in South Korea.
Motels in Korea range widely. Quaint to fully-equipped, however, they all provide a warm place to sleep.

Pulling up to the outside of your motel, you’ll notice a street entrance and a parking garage with a retractable door. Inside the garage, you’ll find a second entrance.

Why the retractable door? It keeps prying eyes from spotting their spouse’s Mercedes. (What’s she doing at a motel? It’s two in the afternoon?)

Once you pop inside the motel entrance, search for a tiny window perched around stomach height.

(Why so low? From that angle you can’t  catch a glimpse of the canoodling couple.)

If the clerk doesn’t open the sliding window, ding the little bell. Say suke-bak (숙박; room for the night).

Once you pay for your room, they’ll hand over your room key and a plastic pouch.

What’s in the pouch? Toothbrush, toothpaste, skin moisturizer, prophylactics.

Now head to the elevator. Let’s check out your room.

Room and Amenities

As you exit the elevator to your floor, you’ll find the hallway glowing with specks of blue LED lights embedded in the walls. Sensual and anonymizing.

Glance to the back of the hallway as you approach your motel room door. You’ll spot a water dispenser. After you drop off your things, fill up your water bottles for tomorrow’s ride.

A motel hallway lit with small LED lights.
Some motels offer special hallway lighting. Why? It sets the mood and brings anonymity.

Let’s open your door and step into your one night palace.

Oh, no! The lights are off. You flip the switch. Doesn’t work. Drop the key fob into the wall mounted slot. Let there be light!

Technology

Remove your shoes and step into your room. Wow! That’s a big TV mounted on the wall. You’ll find at least two or three English-language movie channels. (Naughty channels cost extra.)

Search for the TV remote on the nightstand. It’s about the size of your forearm.

Why so big? These remotes are truly universal. They turn on the TV, operate the AC, and control the lights.

A picture of a motel room in South Korea.
Motels often adorn their rooms with murals and premium digs. You'll find mini-fridges, TVs, murals, and lights.

Not interested in watching Korean shows? Check out the desktop computer sitting below the TV. Flip it on. Switch TV inputs. Log in to Netflix. English language content, here you come.

Near the computer, you’ll find the Wi-Fi router. Most motel networks aren’t password protected. Your specific network is the same as your room number.

Nourishment

Under the table, notice the mini-fridge. Inside you’ll discover two bottles of water. Maybe even a can of beer and a Vita500 (비타500) vitamin C drink. (It has five times the recommended amount.)

Don’t worry about mini-bar fees on checkout. It’s all free.

Scan the table again. Near the ashtray and hairdryer, find an electric kettle. Use it to brew the complimentary tea packets or sugary coffee mix. Better yet, head to a convenience store. Buy some ramen and have yourself a cheap, sodium stuffed dinner.

Want a quick start to the day? Swing by the convenience store’s bakery and milk sections. Grab some red bean pastries and banana milk. Stuff them in the motel mini-fridge and chow down in the morning.

Bathroom

Now scan the room again. You’ll notice two things? First, the windows. They’re blacked out. Why? Privacy.

Secondly, contrasting with the romantic tuscan murals, a sheet of frosted glass forms a fourth wall. What’s behind it? The bathroom. Why? Anti-privacy.

Step inside.

A picture of a motel bedroom in South Korea.
Some motels blur the border between bathroom and bedroom. Frosted glass walls and bathtubs next to beds don't leave much to the imagination.

You lucked out! A giant jacuzzi. Run a hot bath and slip into the bubbling jets.

Don’t like dirt soup? Flip a switch near the jacuzzi’s faucet. You’ll direct the flow to the waterfall shower head above. 

Notice a few soap dispensers mounted on the wall. They’re labeled 샴푸 (shampoo), 바디워시 (body wash), and 컨디셔너 (conditioner). Lather up and wash that road grit off.

Slip on a bathrobe and step back into the bedroom. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Plop down on the bed. Sink down.

Before you close your eyes, check out the bank of light switches above the nightstand. Smack them with your palm. Let the red, green, blue LED lights along the ceiling lull you into a deep (sexy) sleep.

Bike Storage

A picture of a bike inside a motel room in Korea.
Some motels allow you to keep your bike close. Next to your bed, you won't have to worry about natural or human elements.

Need to store your bike? Don’t want to leave your carbon fiber investment in the rain? Many motels along Korea’s bike paths can accommodate. They’ll keep your bike safe from inclement and undesirable elements.

For maximum safety, some motels let you store your bike inside your room. Just wheel it into the shoe removing area and lean it against the wall.

Is your room a little tight? Prop your bike in the hallway outside.

Higher-end motels might valet your wheels for the night. The motel clerk will grab your bike and stick it in storage. When you wake, find your bike sitting near the entrance.

Drop your room key in the basket next to the front window. Start your ride!

Basic Amenities

Not every motel offers this smorgasbord of amenities. Venture to distant lands and small towns and you’ll spot motels sporting faded eighties veneers. (Think crimson red bathroom fixtures.)

A picture of a small motel near the east coast of Korea.
Find lonely motels anywhere there's a town or a hint of civilization.

These motels don’t come with jacuzzis and computer setups. But they’ll offer a core package of necessities. Ninety-nine percent of motel provide the following:

What more do you need? 

Well, yes. Maybe Wi-Fi. Ninety-eight percent of motels offer Wi-Fi. You can still find motels in Nowheresville without the internet.

Tips Menu Logo

What’s a Biketel (바이크텔)? It’s an English portmanteau created by Koreans. Bike + motel = biketel.

What do they do? You give them money and they give you a place to sleep.

Okay. But what makes them different from other accommodations? Not much. Most are plain old motels.

However, some Biketels offer warmer welcomes to cyclists. They could have bike pumps and tools for quick repairs. You’ll also find a community of fellow riders in whom to commiserate.

How do you find a Biketel? Check out Rivers Guide website. They list eleven accommodations that fit the Biktel categorization.

Room Types

Motels nowadays offer one type of room: 침대방 (bed room). Inside you’ll find a queen or king-sized beds and all the trimmings mentioned above. But some motels offer more variety.

Twin (트윈)

Riding as a pair? Don’t fancy sharing a queen bed. Look for a Twin Room (트윈). Like you’d expect, the room features two twin sized beds.

How can you find one? When you check in, ask “teu-win?” Yes, it sounds exactly like “twin” (트윈).

Twin rooms offer the same features as “bed rooms.” You’ll get towels, a mini-fridge, and some complimentary water. You’ll just have to fight over the TV remote and thermostat.

Love motels sit on the edge of a river in Ulsan, South Korea.
Find clusters of motels near bar districts and major transportation hubs.

Ondol (온돌)

Ondol (온돌) rooms refer to ondol floors, Korea’s traditional underfloor heating system.

Developed thousands of years ago, ondol floors use a series of pipes under the floor to circulate heated water.

In ancient Korea, farmers heated water in an outhouse oven. This water flowed under a common sleeping floor and kept all inside warm for the night.

Today, ninety-nine percent of Korean apartments, houses, and accommodations have ondol floors installed. 

So, why designate certain rooms “ondol?” In motels, “ondol” doesn’t refer to the heating system. It describes the sleeping style.

Sleeping style? On the floor. No bed.

Hello? Have I lost you? 

Ondol floors aren’t concrete. Motels install soft wood or laminate in the sleeping areas. You can also layer a few comforters to bump up the softness.

But, yes. You can’t change the sleep number on the floor. If you’re not used to that inflexible slab feeling, opt for a bed room.

Ondol Advantages

Before you check them off your list, ondol rooms have advantages.

First, they’re cheaper. Like westerners, most Koreans prefer beds. So motel owners knock a few extra thousand won off the room price.

Second, ondol rooms are perfect for groups. If you’ve got three to five in your group, don’t spend hours searching for twin rooms. Get an ondol. Split the cost. Lay yourselves head to toe on the ondol floor’s under-heated bosom.

Bed Room (침대방)

A picture of a motel room and bed in South Korea.
Nowadays, you'll find most motel rooms offer beds.

Not a bedroom. A bed room. 침대방 (chim-dae-bag). A room with a bed.

Why make the distinction? Only a few decades ago accommodations needed to distinguish the rooms with newfangled beds from old-school ondol setups.

Most motels now have beds. You probably won’t even spot 침대방 or 온돌. Why? Because all rooms have comfy beds.

Event Room (이벤트룸)

Remember house parties. Your parents went out of town. You promised to only have one or two close friends over. Next thing you know, the entire football team is doing keg stands in the front yard. 

Well, in Korea you can recreate that experience by renting an Event Room (이벤트룸) at your local motel.

Motels designed event rooms to expand their core business — from lovers to partiers. They offer larger spaces for people to escape their cramped apartments and throw parties.

Many event rooms have unique gimmicks to attract new customers. Indoor/outdoor foot pool? Sure. Drink bar? Some might. A pair of video game racing simulators? Start your engines!

You can also sleep in event rooms. They come with beds and all the standard amenities.

Do you need a jacuzzi and gaming rigs when riding Korea by Bike? No. But do you need one? You maybe just might.

A picture of a motel along the Bukhangang Bike Path in South Korea.
Motels are conveniently located on or near every bike path in Korea.