The crazy wonderland of Seoul's party motels
They used to be called "love motels," for obvious (and optimistic) reasons.
Heavily stigmatized, Seoul's love motels were long regarded as nothing more than glorified DVD rooms, with decor straight out of adult movies. Horrified parents would hold public protests if any were built in their neighborhood.
In recent years, however, a new generation of Seoul's boutique motels have started styling themselves as "theme motels" and "party motels," and have made much headway in making motels become socially acceptable, and even sought after -- day or night.
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This new breed of motels offers a lot more than just a bed and a complimentary packet of condoms.
Instead, they feature hot tubs, in-suite swimming pools, karaoke machines, pool tables, barbecue grills, and saunas for the city's youth and adults who live with their parents before marriage and need a place to hang out or throw parties.
And the best part? Motel prices.
Check out the motels below for Seoul’s swankiest sui generis party rooms.
Unlike its glitzier southern counterpart Gangnam, Sinchon, with its packed bar parties -- sometimes overwhelmingly collegiate -- isn’t exactly famed for its glam.
That's why Hotel Jade in Sinchon stands out.
On one hand it is undeniably a theme motel (it includes a room that resembles a very comfortable jail cell -- the "Prison Break" room -- a room with mirrored walls, and a circus-themed room with leering clowns painted above the bed).
But the "royal suites" -- the party rooms -- veer in a slightly different direction. Less dependent on theme, the suites instead promote an organic, wholesome vibe, with high ceilings, plants, slatted wood flooring and wood accents on the walls.
The popular eighth-floor Royal Suite has an outdoor courtyard garden, and a rectangular wood whirlpool tub large enough to get away with being called a pool. This “pool” is surrounded by an almost extravagant expanse of floor space, and needs no other adornments.
Jade, it seems, has hit upon the secret to luxury in crowded Seoul: lots of space.
Space to party, that is. With a deal like that, it is no wonder that this place is such a favorite.
Renting a party-friendly Royal Suite will cost a mere ₩40,000 for four hours on weekdays and ₩50,000 on Saturday and Sunday. But they’ll expect you out by 11:30 p.m.
Want to play all night? Just fork over ₩140,000 for weekday nights and Sunday, and ₩180,000 for Friday and Saturday.
29-49 Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 창천동 29-49); +82 2 362 8877
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The party suites at Hotel Sol in Jamsil are considerably flashier, with lots of color; the walls here are painted, the bathrooms checkered, and the pillows more playful.
However, they take entertainment seriously.
"The party room to end all party rooms!" proclaims the website.
Sol's two-story party room includes a separate area for karaoke (tambourine included), a pool table, a tanning bed, and even a fancy lighting system, for dancing "as though you were in a club."
The walled wooden terrace, which they ambitiously call an "outdoor garden," is perhaps more notable for its barbecue grill and swing.
Drop by the lobby for free popcorn and snacks, or rent game controllers at reception for some drunken Nintendo.
One downside is that even in the largest party rooms the number of guests is limited to six.
Party room rates start at ₩70,000 for daytime rentals, and are available for six hours on weekdays and two hours on the weekend. All-nighters start at ₩150,000.
49-2 Bangi-dong, Songpa-gu (송파구 방이동 49-2번지); +82 2 420 2400; www.solhotel.co.kr
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The two words that best describe Chezlee Palace are "campy luxury." What with the brocaded drapes and elaborately painted furniture, the dedication to decoration can seem a bit excessive.
But this complete disregard for moderation is the motel's very selling point.
The heavily decorated rooms take their thematic inspiration from "the palaces of the world," with each room "representing a different culture."
Not only do they have Chinese, Egyptian, Indian, and Inca, but they also feature "Mermaid Princess" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" themed rooms.
For parties, even Chezlee's grandest suites -- the "Emperor Suites" -- are pretty basic in the way of entertainment accessories. But parties are all about ambience, and no place does lurid like Chezlee Palace.
Chezlee Palace is also the most unapologetic about its love motel roots. "We get a lot of couples," said a hotel representative. "Yes, I suppose we get groups of women as well, but mostly couples. I mean, this place is a motel, after all."
Room rentals start at ₩30,000 for four hours and are available until 11:30 p.m. This flat fee covers two people, and for each additional guest a fee of ₩10,000 is added to the bill.
Staying the night is more expensive, with the regular rooms starting at ₩60,000 a night, and the suites costing twice as much at ₩120,000.
1591-8 Seocho 3-dong, Seocho-gu (서초구 서초3동 1591-8); +82 581 9200~2; www.chezleepalace.com
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Nox Hotel in Gangnam is technically a 3.5-star "tourist hotel," and has all the expected services and amenities of a 3.5-star boutique hotel.
Perhaps because of its hotel status, Nox's rooms are understated, minimalistic, and elegant, with stone tubs and wooden paneling on the walls.
But neither the rating nor its decorous appearance do justice to its reputation as a premier party location. Hotel or motel -- potato, potato, we say -- Nox is far too beloved among local partygoers to exclude from this list.
Its famous themed suites are designed to keep guests indoors.
The highlight of the "L'eau Claire" suite is doubtlessly the enormous L-shaped pool. The suite also includes a cozy wooden sauna and a separate hot tub.
And of course, there is an entertainment system with karaoke -- essential for Seoulites -- and a wall-sized projection screen.
The hotel's "Le Ciel Bleu" suite is a spacious two-story suite with similar features, except that instead of a pool it has a pool table.
If you are wondering why the name of the suite is French for "the blue sky," take a dip in the tub and look out the ceiling-to-floor window for a fantastic view of the city.
"The swimming pool suite is more popular among the 20-somethings, while older guests usually prefer the two-story suite," said a hotel representative. "With the latter, guests can rest on one floor and party on another. Whereas with the swimming pool suite, you can't really get away from the party."
Party room rentals start at ₩250,000 for four hours, and this flat rate includes 10 guests; for every additional guest, there is a charge of ₩10,000.
Room rentals are only available from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the afternoon -- a far better deal is the all-night rental, which is available from 8 p.m. to noon the next day, and costs a cool ₩600,000 on weekdays and ₩800,000 on weekends.
677-13 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 역삼동 677-13); +82 2 3454 1888; www.noxhotel.com
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Seoul Mate Hotel
On the international booking circuit, Seoul Mate Hotel in Hwa-gok is simply “Mate Tourist Hotel,” decent lodgings close to Gimpo Airport.
But for locals, the Seoul Mate is a legendary party destination.
It has also been the location of more than 300 TV commercial, drama and music video shoots, according to the website, and was the location of "Wild Bunny", the Mnet show starring 2PM.
The rooms, which are each named for and inspired by a type of tea, are sumptuously lit and furnished, and are extravagant without crossing the line into tacky.
The celebrated Chai Room, at approximately 70 square meters, is supposedly the largest party room in Korea. It has a pool, basic kitchen appliances, a whirlpool tub, sofa beds, and a corner for karaoke. A winding staircase leads up to the second floor, with a private area for sleeping cots.
But all of this, frankly, is pretty much a given at this level. Similarly excellent services can be found in the Café Royal room, for example, and most top-notch party motels have at least one suite with a pool.
Seoul Mate really crushes its competitors with their catering service and their package deals. For a fixed fee they will provide the balloons, the flowers, the ribbons, the alcohol, the candles, the finger food, and even the place cards.
Depending on your budget, the number of guests, and the type of event you are planning -- is it a child’s first birthday? Your birthday? A proposal? Or just a night in with the girls? You can pick a package and let them do the rest.
The costs of the party packages begin at ₩700,000 for five guests and a bottle of wine, and can go up to ₩1,200,000 for twenty guests, twice as many beers, finger foods, and party decorations.
Daytime rentals, which are only available from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., start at ₩200,000. The price may increase depending on the number of guests and the type of party room.
921-6 Hwagok 1-dong, Gangseo-gu (강서구 화곡1동 921-6번지); +82 2 2605 1700; www.matehotel.net
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