Comical, creepy or kind of cool? A night in the countryside at 7 wacko Korean pensions

Comical, creepy or kind of cool? A night in the countryside at 7 wacko Korean pensions

These Korean pensions are not in Seoul, but somewhere out there, with glow-in-the-dark walls, weird murals and beds shaped like beer cans, shoes and jail cells
rock it suda
Rock it Suda's "Ferrari Red" room. We haven't seen this much red since we were in the womb.

In English the word "pension" refers to the fixed stipend given to retirees. It's not the most exciting word out there.

The Korean "pension," however, has nothing to do with retirement plans.

They are essentially rented cottages or bungalows -- with fully equipped kitchens, no boozy neighbor streaking down the hall (this can happen in the best of hotels) and a woodsy or watery vacation location. Oh, and they come with a lighter price tag, too.

These crucial differences give pensions plenty of leeway to become as fanciful, self-indulgent or crazy as they please.

And some pensions are crazier than others.

"The pension market is saturated," says Tae Won-sam, architect and founder of Cozy Design, a company that specializes in unique architectural quirks for pensions, among other things. "There are so many new pensions cropping up -- even daily -- that it's necessary to stand out among the competition."

Here is a list of Korea's top seven standout pensions and why they deserve the title.

1. Claire Pension

pensionLights on: a bland painting of a cherub. Lights off: a glowing Cupid straight out of "The Matrix."


Sometimes pretty, and rather pleasant, but with too many childish touches, Claire's pension units look like the set of a low-budget sitcom for Korean daytime television. Or the dream room ... of a teenage girl.

But turn out the lights and suddenly the cartoony wall paintings don't look so boring. Partly because you can't see the details, but mostly because they're all glowing in the dark.

There's nothing special in itself about a glow-in-the-dark room -- although the overall effect is pretty darn neat -- but Claire's glow-in-the-dark effects apparently do more than just shine an eerie path to the bathroom at night.

The "luminous" effect, as it is called, is supposedly beneficial to ones' health.

"It sterilizes, deodorizes, and emits far-infrared rays," claims Lee Jong-won, founder of Style Penthouse, a pension interior company that gave Claire its "luminous" edge.

Features range from Nintendo Wii to the free Wi-Fi to the revolutionary "couple shower" (two showerheads in one bathroom). So now you can shower with your S.O. without fighting over the hot water.

Prices start at ₩160,000, but vary depending on season. Check on the website for up-to-date details.

455-18 Baekdun-ri, Buk-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 가평군 북면 백둔리 455-18번지); +82 10 9543 9177, +82 10 4615 8634; www.claireps.com

2. Herb Island

pensionFor such an exciting dining room, the table is surprisingly plain. But hey, even Cinderella started out poor.


With two herb museums, a herb restaurant, a herb galbi restaurant, a herb café, a herb bakery and a herb healing center, Herb Island, a resort and park that celebrates herbs, would surely take first place somewhere for this thematic dedication -- if it weren't for their accommodation, the Herb "Boutique" pensions or Disney fairy tale pensions.

Curiously enough, while Herb Island calls itself an island, it is nothing of the sort.

Instead, it features rooms themed with unabashedly ugly but fun versions of "Snow White," "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella" and "The Little Mermaid."

Like the photo zones in a theme park (unsurprisingly, Disney World comes to mind) the pensions have a lot of see, if little to do, and a vaguely creepy ambience.

Restaurant Herb Galbi serves free breakfast for pension guests.

There is a 30 percent discount on regular prices until June 30. Currently prices start at ₩250,000 for the smaller houses (Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland) and ₩550,000 for the larger, two-story houses (Cinderella, Snow White) on weekdays, and ₩350,000 and ₩780,000, respectively, on weekends.

517-2 Samjeong-ri, Sinbuk-myeon, Pocheon-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 포천시 신북면 삼정리 517-2); +82 31 535 6498; www.herbisland.co.kr

3. Hwacheon Train Pension

pensionBoarding time: any time.


Owned by Korail, or Korea Railroad Corporation, Korea's national railroad operator, the train pension in Hwacheon is exactly what the name claims: a pension in a train.

The exterior is train, with a prominently displayed Korail logo. A wooden porch built up to the door looks out at the unchangingly pretty scene of the Bukhan River flowing parallel to the train.

The interior is a spanking-clean, fully-equipped apartment. Who knew a train actually had that much space? If only the Korail trains in service looked like that on the inside.

Prices start at ₩80,000, but vary depending on the season.

490 Wira-ri, Hanam-myeon, Hwacheon-gun, Gangwon-do (강원도 화천군 하남면 위라리 490번지); +82 33 441 8877; www.hctrainpension.com

4. Gapyeong Cozy Theme Pension

pensionWe know people that sleep with soju bottles, or amongst soju bottles. But inside them? Only at Gapyeong's Cozy Theme.


Cozy Theme's apartments revolve around Korea's favorite drinks.

One room's dedicated to banana milk, with the entire bed contained inside a huge replica of the iconic barrel-shaped banana milk container.

Another room takes soju as its theme: a huge replica of a green soju bottle rising from the floor forms the bed and centerpiece of the room while an oddly appropriate painting of a man and a woman kissing stares down at the bottle from the wall. Guests can crawl in through a hole in the side.

"I believed that the face of any room was the bed, so when I started to design unique pensions, I focused on unique beds," says architect and designer Tae Won-Sam, whose company Cozy Design designed the rooms.

But don't expect consistency with Cozy Theme's themes: the other rooms have soccer ball beds and a jeep bed. Because weirdness doesn't need consistency.

Prices for the banana milk room start at ₩100,000. Prices for the soju room start at ₩150,000.

604 Baekdun-ri, Buk-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 가평군 북면 백둔리 604번지); +82 10 5255 8372; www.cozythemeg.com

5. Asan Cozy Theme Pension

pensionUltimately this place means fun, not luxury. We don't really give a rat's tail about the logos, because a shoe is a shoe. Especially when you're trying to sleep in one.


Asan Cozy Theme Pension is another Cozy Theme production, but the only similarity the Asan Cozy Theme Pension shares with its northern neighbor is that each room is totally unique. Here, though, there is a theme: luxury.

Or maybe a caricature of luxury.

The rooms have names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. The beds inside the Chanel and Louis Vuitton rooms are contained inside enormous totes that just about graze the ceiling.

But the shoo-in for best room is the Gucci room, where guests sleep inside a massive red model of a Gucci sandal.

The straps of this "sandal" crisscross above sleepers' heads, and the bed frame itself is more faithful to its shoe shape than concerned with providing a level mattress.

Prices start at ₩100,000, but differ according to the room and season.

240-1 Gangdang-ri, Songak-myeon, Asan-si, Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도 아산시 송악면 강당리 240-1); +82 41 543 3887; www.cozythemea.com

6. Lamang Pension

pensionGuests can also don free striped robes, like prison jumpsuits, if they really want to get into the role play.


Lamang Pension bills itself as a pension, although its relatively small rooms are housed in the same building, and makes it on the list with sheer weirdness.

Their "Eponge" room (don't ask about the name) features a Spongebob theme. And in a sharp deviation from the kid-friendly Eponge, Lamang's "Jail" room simulates, although in the most genial way possible, a night in the clink.

The bed is inside a large black cage -- the "jail." Painted on the wall are yellow strips of barricade tape -- sometimes they say, "Police Line: Do not Cross." At others they say, "Have a nice day."

And then there's the beer room, where guests sleep on a circular bed inside a Heineken can and a Budweiser label adorns the wall.

Unsurprisingly, the clientele is young. "70 percent of the guests are college students," says owner Choi Gyu-sup.

"The place is also English-friendly," says Choi. "We also get international guests from Singapore and other places from time to time."

Prices start at a low ₩70,000, but keep the size of the rooms in mind. Weekends and peak seasons can also knock the prices up.

565 Jeryeong-ri, Buk-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 가평군 북면 제령리 565번지); +82 31 582 0171; www.lamangpen.com

7. Rock it Suda

pension We can't decide if this belongs in an architecture magazine or a Stephen King movie.


From a distance, Rock it Suda looks likes oblong toy blocks in primary colors scattered below a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

One pension has long, demonic horns protruding from the slanted sides. Another somehow resembles a windowed Tetris block and an angular funnel, simultaneously.

The interiors are no less dramatic -- windows like radio speakers, glass walls, bold, single-color schemes, slanted inclines instead of stairs, and nothing in its proper place. In the best possible way.

Prices start at ₩100,000, but once again differ according to the room and season.

172-1 Hojeong-ri, Hwaam-myeon, Jeongsun-gun, Gangwon-do (강원도 정선군 화암면 호촌리 172-1); +82 70 8840 9387; www.rockitsuda.com

Also on CNNGo: The crazy wonderland of Seoul's party motels

Violet Kim is a freelance writer for CNN Travel.

Find her online @pomography.

Read more about Violet Kim