Korea is a great place to travel. It’s a country chalk full of culture and history. It’s home to a massive cosmopolitan city, Seoul and yet, pristine beaches, tea plantations and ancient temples are only a few hours away. Of course Korea offers all the same hotels, hostels and guesthouses that can be found in most countries around the world. However, they also offer some other unique and comfortable accommodation options, like pensions, minbaks, and love motels for travelers. Be sure to read about them all out before you decide which place to book into. After all, you are on an adventure; why not stay somewhere new?
Ondol versus Beds
In the old days Koreans slept on mats on the floor. They developed a heating system called ondol /온돌 heating which pumps heated water under the floor boards and thus warms the room. Rather than sleeping on a bed raised from the floor, Koreans piled mats and blankets directly onto the hot floor. It was warmer and took up less space because the blankets could be folded away the next day. Today Koreans still use ondol heating to heat their houses, however modern families often opt for beds instead of mats on the floor. In accommodations in Korea visitors can find both ondol style mats and beds. Most types of accommodations offer both. If you haven’t tried sleeping the traditional way, give it a shot for a least a night or two. Then switch to a raised style bed if your back is suffering. Some accommodations, mostly pensions and minbaks in the countryside only offer ondol style sleeping. When you reserve your room indicate which type of room you would prefer so that the owner can reserve a bedroom or an ondol mat room for you. If you are traveling with four people or more, the ondol style sleeping arrangements are more convenient because you can fit many people on the floor but not in a bed.
5-Star Alliance Hotels
If you don’t feel like stepping out of your comfort zone while visiting Korea, you can always head for the places you know. There are 12 Five Star Alliance hotels all over Seoul and there is one in Jeju Island, one in Changwon in the south and one in Busan located by the East Sea.
Book into one of these luxury hotels here.
Love motels have a bad rap for being seedy places where young couples go to escape their parents’ houses or cheating spouses go on their lunch breaks. However, you need not be concerned. Love motels are quality places to stay while traveling in Korea. For starters, love motels always come with heaps of toiletries and room amenities: a computer and wifi, a TV with cable, a stocked mini-fridge, a Jacuzzi tub and a plush bed are just a few of the things usually included in the room. More importantly, the room is a steal! It’s easy to find a great love motel for between 40,000KRW to 60,000KRW per night. They are also on every block in Korean cities and you don’t need a reservation. Simply, wander around the neighborhood until you find one that suits your needs!
Although this Hotel365 is in Korean, it’s a great reference for love motels and you can use it to make reservations.
Serviced residences are a luxury option and should only be considered if you have the money to drop. At over 300,000KRW per night, they are expensive. However, they provide hundreds of amenities for the utmost comfort. These condos are available nightly but they can also be rented in the long-term for months or years at a time. Please check the WorknPlay Directory for a list of serviced apartments in Korea.
Guesthouses are a popular option for those who aren’t looking for 5 star rooms. Guesthouses have more local character and are still pleasant, and comfortable. There are guesthouses across Korea, so they are easy to find and relatively inexpensive, ranging between 30,000KRW to 200,000 KRW (depending on the size of the room and number of guests). Most of the time they are family owned and operated. Some rates include breakfast and cultural activities. Worknplay has a long list of guesthouses in the Guesthouse directory.
Asia isn’t a big hostelling continent. Europe and North America undoubtedly have larger hostelling communities. With that said, Korea does have 52 hostels in the country and ten are recognized by Hostelling International. The prices vary starting from as little as 20,000KRW to as expensive as 60,000KRW per person per night. The HI Hostels are:
The Korean Youth Hostels Association is dedicated to providing information about hostels and guesthouses in Korea, including the HI Hostels.
If you are looking to try Korean style accommodations consider a pension or a minbak /민박. These are both country lodgings. You won’t find them in Seoul or in any of the other big cities. Pensions and minbaks consist of at least one large room for sleeping. The rooms are heated by the Korean style ‘ondol’ heating system-hot water piped through the floors and guests pile mats and blankets to sleep on the floor.
A pension is what a North American calls a cottage or chalet. You will be sleeping in a large room or apartment that is big enough for many visitors. There are loads of amenities at pensions like a big lawn with volleyball or badminton nets, places to BBQ and suntan, access to the beach or countryside areas, and a kitchen, bathroom and living space within the room. Most pensions sleep more than five people per room and cost between 60,000KRW and 250,000KRW per night, which is pennies compared to tiny luxury hotel rooms. Pensions are a good option for both tourists and expats traveling to countryside tourist hotspots like beaches, mountains and ski resorts. Pensions are easy to come by without a reservation, however if you are traveling in the summer or peak holidays like Chuseok or Seollnal you should book in advance. The following sites offer reservation services and information; however only the first site is in English:
Spa Pensions and Pool Villas
Spa pensions are a relatively new concept combining spa services with pension lodgings. They are all located in beautiful countryside places and offer hot tubs, pools and relaxation activities to guests. Many spa pensions have hot tubs directly in the pension rooms. You can nearly roll from your bed into the pool. The Spa Pension website has an extensive listing in Korean only.
Pool villas are the luxury equivalent to spa pensions. They are retreats that always offer private pool use. They are great for a group of people who want to have an exclusive party away from home. They are also more expensive than spa pensions or regular pensions because they offer privacy and many amenities. The website does have some English but is mostly in Korean.
Minbaks are another type of accommodation guesthouse in Korea. These guesthouses are found in countryside locations rather than guesthouses found in metropolitan areas. Minbaks are simply rooms available to sleep in, and are usually part of the owner’s house or on the owner’s property. They have fewer amenities than pensions and they are not a place for spending large amounts of time. Minbaks are great if you plan to be out for the majority of the day and then just need a hot shower and a warm bed. Sometimes breakfast is served in the morning and there may be a place to cook. They are cheaper than pensions at between 20,000KRW and 70,000KRW and they usually sleep more than two people. Once again, reserving minbaks online is difficult without Korean language assistance. Check Minbak Net if you can read Korean.
Korea offers some accommodation options that meld culture with a place to stay. Guests get to experience Korean life in some capacity or another through these options. They are great if you really want to learn as well as travel. They are also easy on the wallet.
Homestays are more than simply a bed and bathroom. At a homestay you will be bunking up with a local family and thereby, learning much more about Korean culture and living. There are homestays all over Korea and you need to contact families through a homestay service provider. Please see the article on Homestay Accommodations in Korea for more information.
Hanok /한옥 Traditional Guesthouses
If you are looking for a truly exclusive and Korean experience, a Hanok traditional guesthouse is a perfect choice for your stay in Korea. A Hanok home is an old traditional Korean house. They are usually one storey and made of wood. They all have beautiful curved roofs and you can find groups of these homes in Jongno, the downtown of Seoul. They use ondol heating and you will be sleeping in the traditional Korean way with blankets on the floor. Each Hanok guesthouse is different, but many offer Korean style meals and tour options like Kimchi making, Hangeul classes and historic city tours. The KTO has a helpful site in English to search and reserve Hanok guesthouses all over the country.
Jjimjilbangs are indeed a Korean experience. They are bathhouses and saunas located all over Korea. They are extremely popular among Koreans as a way to relax, unwind and scrub down. Jjimjilbangs are a place to spend the day and have restaurants, TV rooms, bathrooms, saunas, game rooms, powder rooms, massage services and sleeping areas! That’s right; you can stay all day and all night for 8,000KRW to 20,000KRW. Of course you will have to leave at the end of the 24 hours and you can’t come and go as you please, so keep in mind they may not be the most convenient place to stay for your needs. With that said, if you don’t decide to crash at a jjimjilbang at least go for an afternoon!
Temple stays are a unique experience that you certainly won’t find elsewhere. At temple stay programs, guests stay in a temple and experience a day in the life of a Korean monk. The fee goes towards maintaining the temple and paying for the monks to live. Guests will be woken up early to start the day with medication and prayer. You are fed vegetarian temple stay meals and you can also participate in interesting daily activities like lantern making, gardening, tea ceremony, hiking and relaxation exercise. Temple stay programs are offer all over Korea and they are usually two days and one night. They range from about 50,000KRW to 70,000KRW for the program. Please read more information at Temple stay Korea. The Korean Tourist Organization (KTO) website also has good information.
Korea Tourism Hospitality Industry Accreditations
Benikea Group: Although you certainly won’t be disappointed with a 5-star hotel, you may not be interested in dropping the cash simply for silky sheets and a fancy glass of OJ. Benikea is a group of 44 hotel properties located all over South Korea. Benikea stands for “Best Night in Korea”. It’s an organization created by the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) to help tourists recognize top quality hotels at reasonable prices. All of the properties listed are around 100,000 KRW per night, located in central areas near tourist attractions or nature sights and have an excellent reputation.
Innostel Seoul: Innostel is a made up word that combines ‘Innovation’ and ‘Hostel’. This group is similar to Benikea but it’s aimed at even cheaper accommodations located in Seoul only. You can reserve on the website and browse a list of 35 places. They range from motels, budget hotels, guesthouses and hostels. All of the accommodations are under 100,000KRW per night and most are in the range of 50,000KRW to 60,000KRW.
Goodstay Korea: There are other hotel/motel and tourist alternatives available aside from those listed above. The KTO has developed an accreditation for tourist accommodations called Goodstay Korea. Any form of quarters can apply for this distinction and it is separate from Benikea Group and Innostel Seoul. Look for a round blue sticker that says ‘Goodstay Korea’ posted on the outside of the lodging.
Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.