Where to sleep after a long day cycling across Korea.
It’s well past sundown. North of 100 km, you conquered hills and filled your memory card to the brim. Exhaustion clouds your thoughts. You ask, ‘Where am I going to lay your head?’ Here’s a guide to finding accommodations while cycling in Korea.
Thankfully, Korea is dense. You’re never too far away from a good place to crash. From the bubbling Jacuzzis in love motels to Christmas light-festooned glamping tents.
Find Your Finish Line
Before setting off, it’s always good to plan ahead. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where am I going to start?
- What is the most I can ride today?
- What is the least I can ride today?
You will also want to make sure that the towns on the map have the right types of accommodations for your needs.
Towns like Suanbo (수안보) in the middle of Korea are famous for their hot springs. You don’t want to arrive late one holiday night and find the last room in town is over ₩120,000.
Maps and Hangeul (한글)
Because you’re in Korea, its best to search using Hangeul (한글). If you search motels in English, you might only find motels actually named motel: Piano Motel, V Motel, Design Motel.
If we search the using 모텔 (‘motel’ in Hanguel), we’ll be tapping into the motel category. You’ll get a complete picture of accommodations.
It’s not too hard. Open a map to your destination city or town, and copy and paste the Hangeul name your preferred accommodations:
- 모텔 — motel
- 호텔 — hotel
- 펜션 — pension
- 유스호스텔 — youth hostel
- 게스트하우스 — guest house
- 캠핑 — camping
If you search with a mapping on PC or Mac, click “현 지도 내 장소검색” above or next to the search box. This will search within the range of your current map.
Choosing the Right Area
Look for clusters of motels. You can find a brood of motels in red light districts or near bus and train stations. You’ll find plenty of rooms. (Watch out for lone motels far from city centers. Even Korean maps go out of date.)
Where are you going to eat dinner and breakfast? How far are you from the bike path? Keep these questions in mind when choosing a motel. In Daegu, the cycling path is about an hour ride from the city center.
If you choose accommodations too near the path, there might not be too many spots to grab dinner. You might have to backtrack into the city to fill yourself in the morning.
To Book or Not to Book
Life and cycling are unpredictable. Flat tires. Injuries. Weather! You might not be able to make that hotel you reserved fifty-kilometers down the road.
Once you find your ideal pad, you can try to book through one of the Korean booking apps listed in the Online Booking & Apps section.
However, there are complications to booking in a Korean-language only app. You must register with the app and receive a confirmation text to your mobile number. (It’s not as straight-forward as it sounds.)
I prefer to pin three or four close-by accommodations in my map (Naver or Kakao Maps). If when I arrive one is booked up or doesn’t have the room I want, I can hop to the next pinned motel.
If you’re cycling on a holiday major holiday in a popular tourist are, book in advanced. Everyone in Korea travels!
Online Booking & Apps
If you want to book your room in advance, there are plenty of services to choose from.
You can take it easy and use the familiar: Airbnb, Kayak, or Booking.com. They have lots of options, and they’re expanding in Korea.
However, to get a complete listing of accommodations, step into the world of Korean-language only apps. Here you’ll find the best variety of motels, hotels, and guesthouses.
English Booking Sites and Apps
You know them well.
Yes, they all work in Korea. You can type in the English language name of your destination city and get a good mix of hotels, motels, and pensions.
However, there is a definite language barrier between Korea and the rest of the English speaking world. Not all motel and pension owners speak English. They might not even be aware of these major western booking companies. They need to opt-in.
The pensions and guesthouses that do opt-in, however, expect foreign tourists. They won’t be surprised to see a couple of sweaty waygookins (foreigners; 외국인) arrive at their doorstep with greasy bikes.
English language booking sites are most useful in big cities like Seoul, Daegu, and Busan. If you want to find accommodations in smaller cities, check out Korea Booking Sites and Apps.
Korea Booking Sites and Apps
However, the apps and the website do not have English language options. If you search using a laptop or desktop, Google Translate helps to navigate the websites.
But, you’ll have to rely on your own Korean reading skills to use the apps.
If you permit the apps to see your location, Yanolja and 여기어때 can be let you easily search for accommodations around you.
At the bottom of each both Yanolja and 여기어때, you’ll find a menu bar with two useful buttons
- 내주변 (around me) — search for accommodations around your location
- 지역 (area) — search accommodations from a list of cities and provinces.
The 내주변 button will list the motels and hotels around you. At the top right corner of the page, you’ll see a location pin icon. This will show a map of the listings.
The 지역 shows a column browser of Korean cities. If you can sight read Hangeul (한글), you can search for your destination city and neighborhood.
Motels & Beyond
Korea is filled with motels. Look towards any red light district. You’ll find rows of motels draped in dancing LED lights.
Why so many motels? There isn’t much room for privacy in such a tightly packed country. Where should I take my significant other? Where should I take my other significant other? The motel industry answers those questions and then some.
Part of Korea’s small business, boom-bust culture, everyone opened motels in the 90s. Nowadays, every city (si; 시) and town (eub; 읍) in Korea has at least three motels. They might be clustered around bus stations, train stations or bar districts.
Because of their ubiquity, motels are the ideal crashing spots when cycling. They’re not too expensive and everywhere: polluting the Seoul skyline and flickering across the Nakdong River’s currents. You’re never too far away.
How Much Is A Room?
If you take a look at the room prices, you’ll often see two numbers:
- 숙박 (lodge) — stay the night
- 대실 (private room) — a few hours of fun
숙박 is the cost to stay the night. It can range from ₩25,000 for old motels in small towns, to ₩80,000 for luxury rooms in big cities.
대실 is the price to rent the room for three or four hours. Why would two consenting adults need a private room for three hours? Use your imagination.
Along the bike path, some motels are familiar and welcoming to riders. The concierge will provide a safe place to store your bike. They may even let you take it into your room.
Older motels come with what you expect. Heating/AC, warm shower, and Wi-Fi. Others might come with much more: jacuzzi, a mural of a Tuscan sunset over the bed, various LED lighting options.
Check the Fridge!
Every motel room has a mini-fridge. Inside you might find a few bottles of water, vitamin drink, or even a beer or two. It’s free!
Every room usually has a kettle with tea bags and coffee mix. Make yourself some ramen or cup of Korean coffee (70% sugar) in the morning!
You’ll often be given a pouch when you check in. The concierge will hand it to you or you can find it in the room. Inside, you can find toiletries and condoms.
There are a few different room types you should be aware of.
- 트윈 (twin) — room with two beds
- 온돌 (ondol) — room with no bed
- 침대방 (bed room) — room with a bed
- 이벤트룸 (event room) — room for a party
Twin (트윈) rooms are a great option for groups of two. Like the name suggests, these rooms have two twin-sized beds.
You can check the room-type using booking apps. You can also ask in person. The pronunciation is similar to the English: teu-weu-in (트윈).
An ondol (온돌) is a traditional Korean system of heating the room with underfloor hot water pipes. There aren’t any beds. You’ll be sleeping on the floor.
It’s not that bad. The floor isn’t usually concrete. It can either be wood or heat resistant laminate. They’ll provide a comforter or two to ease the firmness.
Ondol rooms are a great option for groups. You can comfortably fit three people in most rooms. You can stake out territories with your comforters and set-up camp.
Bed Room (침대방)
No. Not bedroom. Bed Room. 침대방 (chim-dae-bag) rooms are rooms with a bed. This distinguishes traditional ondol rooms from western-style rooms.
Most hotels nowadays are 침대방. They have beds. They can be called anything from deluxe to premium to VIP. However, there isn’t any consistency. They don’t mean much from motel to motel.
A standard room in Hanam city can have a jacuzzi. A VIP Room in a cheap motel might wreak of cigarettes and have a cabinet-sized big-screen from the 90s.
Event Room (이벤트룸)
Remember when mom rented out the local recreation center for your ninth birthday party? Well, in Korea you also have the choice to rent out a room in your local motel.
Event rooms aren’t exactly for children birthday parties. But they are an option for a young group of folks ready to party. Some of the more high-end rooms in Seoul feature anything from pools tables and pools. Many feature noraebang (노래방; karaoke) equipment and maybe a Jacuzzi.
Though motels are the most ubiquitous option while cycling in Korea, there are plenty of other options.
Hotels are one step above motels in Korea. They are less of a homegrown industry. They tend to have your normal trappings as western hotels.
In general, hotels are for families. They’re usually more expensive than motels. But, they usually don’t have 대실 (hourly rental) options. So, you can assume beds have been used mostly for sleeping.
You often find pensions outside of cities. They are used for family or group excursions away from noisy cities.
The rooms are large. They can be half a building or even a whole house. Most include a kitchen with pots and pans. If you can find a local mart nearby, you can cook rustle up dinner yourself.
Pensions are expensive. But, the cost can easily be split between the group to bring down the price.
Many pensions don’t have beds. You and your group will be bedding down in ondol (온돌) style rooms. Pensions will provide blankets for padding. The floors are often softer than normal. But, you won’t get that mattress feel.
Riding the waves of twenty-something Instagram vagrants, youth hostels surfed into Korea. There isn’t much difference in style and patronage from you’re typical Amsterdam hostel. (Maybe fewer drugs.)
Hostels provide some of the cheapest accommodations in Korea. Room types vary. Though, mostly they are dorm style.
You can find rooms with four-bed, female only rooms. You’ll also stumble upon a few sixteen-bed mixed dorms. For a little extra, some hostels provide private rooms with shared bathroom.
They downsides of hostels are the same in Korea. Some travelers arrive at 1 AM. Neighbors quake bunkbed above with their sleep apnea. Your bunkmates set the thermostat to reflect their native equatorial or polar climates.
Korean and English booking apps can list a good selection of hostels. Because hostels are imports, owners cater to travelers and their budgets.
You won’t find many hostels in small-town Korea. They’re typically in larger cities: Seoul, Busan, and Daegu.
Hostels are popular among cyclists. They’re a great place to meet new people.
Guest House (게스트하우스)
Guest houses are similar to hostels. They are usually owned by your average Joe or Jane (Seo-yeon or Min-jun).
Typically guest houses are residential: in a house or apartment. Some cheaper options cram three bunk beds into a bedroom. You might also stumble upon the master bedroom of a thirty-story loft in Busan.
Like hostels, guesthouses are a way for your average Seo-yeon to make some extra scratch. They’ll target tourists, both Korean and foreigner.
You can find some great deals in interesting locations if you keep a lookout.
Just outside the apartment complexes stacked like dominos, the wild still calls in Korea. Wake up to sunbathed hillsides. Listen to the four rivers flowing all night long.
Hiking and camping is a favorite past time for Korean’s of all ages. You’ll often see families set up tents in city parks. Twenty-somethings plop base camp on the beaches. And, riding along the Nakdong River, you’ll spot the glow of Christmas lights of glamping sites.
If you cycle across Korea, camping is great option to keep your trip wild. You can easily reserve a plot in a national park or commercial campsite. Or, you can go guerrilla and pitch your tent in the many riverside parks.
Always keep in mind the familiar camping mantra: Leave No Trace.
Where to Camp
During the spring and summer months, you’ll see plenty of tents set-up in parks. Mostly, these are families or friend groups setting up base camp for a few hours. It’s a good place to keep snacks and lounge out of the sun when not going on a hike or bike ride. Most don’t stay overnight.
The Korean National Park Service operates thirty-four campsites throughout Korea. They are near national parks or other natural attractions.
The park service offers a variety of plots for all types of campers.
- 일반 캠프장 (normal) — bring your equipment
- 자동차 캠프장 (auto) — bring your car or RV
- 카라반 캠프장 (caravan) — rent a caravan
- 풀옵션 캠프장 (full-option) — rent tents and everything else you need
If you rent a site in a public park during peak season (July and August), expect to pay ₩100,000 for a large caravan, ₩50,000 for a glamping tent, ₩7,000 for a normal plot.
Each campsite receives a rating. With a special campsite, you can buy the full-on glamping experience. Rent whatever you need to escape the city in style. Basic campsites will provide you with a patch of ground and a toilet.
There are also many privately owned campsites. These campsites on private land, run by a local ajumma (old women; 아줌마) or ajeoshi (old men; 아저씨) in a house nearby.
If the campsite is empty and you can’t find a place check-in, go ahead and set-up your campsite. The next morning, you might get a friendly knock on your tent door. Just ask eol-ma-ae-yo (How much is it?/얼마예요?). Expect to pay something similar to the public parks (₩7,000 – ₩15,000) for a night.
Private campsites might also offer tents and glamping supplies and caravans for rent. But, expect sites near famous hiking spots to be booked full when the weather is warm.
If you want to live free and claim a small riverside patch for the night, go for it. But, be discrete.
Look for a spot out of the way. Don’t camp on private property or a conspicuous spot in a national park.
Great places for guerrilla camping the green parks along the four rivers or an empty beach on the coasts.
Korea has tons of public toilets littered throughout its parks and beaches. They come in handy if you don’t want to go completely wild.
Remember, the Leave No Trace mantra. Guerrilla camping is okay only because most campers are respectful. The before and after pictures of your campsite should be identical.
Rules on camping are evolving with Korea. Big cities like Seoul are now restricting the day tenting. Camping tents are being relegated to designated parks along the Han River.
To keep that new earth smell in Korea, it’s important to practice good camping behaviors. Here are some basic rules for camping in Korea and beyond:
- Clean up after yourself.
- Keep your gear organized.
- Don’t create open fires.
These are common sense rules. Plastic wrappers and beer cans are ugly and dangerous for other campers and wildlife. Don’t do it.
Additionally, campsites can get cramped. If you’re in a national park during peak season, you might only be a meter from your neighbor. If your gear takes up one-and-a-half plots but you only paid for one, you may receive a few complaints.
Open fires are illegal. You can cook food in your campsite. However, use designated fire rings or portable grills. Korea has sixty million people. The waves of embers catching wind from a few thousand bonfires would look apocalyptic.
If you guerrilla camp, it’s not a good idea to create any flame. You are a guest wherever you set your stakes. Drawing attention to yourself is a bad idea.
Korea Travel: What To Bring
Remember, you need to have the capacity and endurance to carry whatever you bring. Here is a simple list to help you prepare.
Panniers are very useful for transporting camping gear. If you decide to haul everything in a hiking backpack, the weight will settle on your shoulders and waist. Panniers keep the weight on your wheels.
For sleeping, you can opt for a tent or a hammock. A tent is best for colder months. You can pitch on any patch of flat land and keep the bugs out. However, tents easily turn into steam rooms in the hot and humid months.
Hammocks are lighter than tents. They help you catch that summer breeze in the summer months. But, you need to find two correctly spaced trees. A bug net will keep the mosquitos off. A tarp wards off the morning dew.
Remember, it’s dark at night. If you go with the guerilla camping option, there’s not enough ambient once the sun goes down. Wearing a headlamp on your forehead gives you two free hands to rummage through your bags.
Don’t pack food like it’s the end of days. No matter where you are, there will be a grocery store, mart, or a convenience store along your route. If you plan to cook dinner on your campsite, you can pick up groceries in the afternoon.