I haven’t been to Korea since 2012, so things may have changed, but during my first trip there – this was my experience with love motels.
If you’ve been to Korea, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In South Korea there are hotels which are generally pretty expensive, then there are hostels (in bigger cities) which are essentially dormitories and there are motels, also known as ‘Love Motels’ since these are where couples go for romantic weekends, where johns bring hookers, and where budget minded travelers can stay cheaper than the hotels when the hostels aren’t available or you don’t want to stay in a hostel. Another option which is worth exploring is staying at a Korean bath house – seriously.
My first love motel came after the Penis Park and crossing the DMZ in Sokcho to be honest, at this point, I had no idea that Motel in South Korea really means love motel where you can take your woman, park your car, and enjoy sweet love. Or you can arrange to have some love brought to you with the hotel.
All I knew was that for 40,000 Won, I was staying in a big fancy room that not only provided soap, but cologne, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor, a big plasma televison, a king size bed, a computer, and a big fancy bathroom. After the rigours of the Penis Park it was good to have a deluxe place to relax.
It was only later when I went to Andong and met a teacher there, that I learned about the distinctions in lodging. He explained to me that in Busan, where I was heading next, it was cheapest to stay in the love motels. When I asked what they were, he gave me the details above.
Whereas in Samcheok, it wasn’t obvious to an innocent like me that I was staying in a den of sin, in Busan, it was far too obvious and I walked away from more than one place that had sheets that held pubic hair, the smell of semen heavy in the room, or in a few cases rooms that I thought were cheap only to learn that the price was per six hour period. Even I was able to figure that one out.
I stayed in a total of three love motels in Busan which were cheaper than the hostels but loud with the fucking of guests on all sides. In each one, I was given a pouch with a toothbrush, razor, and of course the rooms had cologne and mouthwash. None of them lived up to my first love motel though. That one was special.
I like the love motels actually, they are over the top and bizarre. Some of them have amazing themed designs, they have semi dirty films in the rooms, in a couple of them the ladies of the house offered to fetch me some ‘boom boom’ and one I stayed at the lady who managed it was particularly insistant. “I get you Russian girl, okay?” “You want boom boom with Korean?” “You like I get you Swedish?” “Maybe you like boom boom with Filipina?”
Despite the attractive sounding menu (60,000 Won for the night or 30,000 Won for an hour), I wasn’t feeling like ‘boom boom’ was a particularly good idea and so I said no. The room, however was just 35,000 won which was a great value in Busan where a hostel dorm bed was 40-50,000.
The next day, I left the boom boom hotel to look for someplace a little quieter and met an Indian girl named Birgida who was also looking for a cheap love motel, we searched long and hard in the Hondae Beach area but the best price there was 40,000 unless you wanted to smell the sperm of the last resident. The extra money in this case was well spent.
My last love motel was the worst one. It was 45,000 and the door didn’t actually lock! While the room was nice and the sheets were clean, the amount of boom boom going on was utterly mind blowing. Korean people don’t show affection on the streets but when they get in the love motels…wow.
I made this trip back in 2012…it seems like it was aeons ago. I considered finding a way into North Korea, but at the time it was beyond my budget in both time and money and I had a new child at home and was just learning what it feels like to have another human completely dependent on your choices – so I opted to go to the less visited DMZ in Sokcho, South Korea. This was after my first trip to Seoul and before my trips to the Penis Park in Samcheok and Busan in the South.
I should start out with a rather silly confession. When I was a pre-teen there were two shows I watched I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Little House on the Prarie, and M.A.S.H. I can still tell you the names of every character on each show and outline the plots of nearly every episode even though it’s been more than 25 years since I would watch those shows after school and before bedtime. For those who don’t remember the shows, Little House on the Prarie was the story of the Ingles family as they homesteaded on the Great Plains in the 1800s, Gilligan’s Island was about a group of castaways from a Hawaii sailing tour, I Love Lucy was about a funny lady from the 1950s, and M.A.S.H. was the story of the U.S. Army 4077th Mobile Surgical Unit during the Korean War.
Don’t worry, this post has nothing to do with most of those shows (though my psychological makeup probably has a lot to do with the show) and not much to do with M.A.S.H. aside from the fact that every preconception I had about South Korea, North Korea, or all of Korea was pretty much based on an American TV show made in the 1970s about a war that took place in the 1950s. This is probably the reason I was so surprised to find an ultra-modern nation rather than rice paddies and water buffalo as I had subconsciously been expecting.
In any event, since the Korean War had played such a large part in my childhood development through M.A.S.H, I knew that I would pay a visit to the DMZ that sits between North and South Korea. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and is an area where it is prohibited to have weapons, armies, or military facilities. The two Koreas are technically still at war but they signed an armistice back on July 27, 1953. The Korean DMZ is a 248 km long and 4 km wide (155 x 2.5 miles) swath of land that runs between Kim Jong Ils wacky North Korean regime and the ultra modern South Korean industrial state. This is the world’s largest DMZ and it has been active for more than 50 years now. The amazing thing about the DMZ is that since no humans have been in it for most of the time it has existed, nature has almost fully recovered and it is filled with wildlife, forests, and more despite once being ruined by the horrors of war.
So, I wanted to visit the DMZ. I was going to go to the DMZ from Seoul but when I saw glossy tourist brochures and realized it would mean riding a bus with a tour guide and then taking an escorted walk into the (Panmunjan) area before getting on the bus again for an awful tourist lunch, I decided that there had to be a better way. I figured I would find it even though when I asked in Seoul, nearly everyone told me that this was the only way to see the DMZ.
In Sokcho, I looked at the maps and realized that I was actually closer to the DMZ than I had been in Seoul. I asked the proprietor of the guest house about it and he told me that if I took the number one bus to the end, then hitch hiked, I would be able to get to the DMZ and the Unification Observatory in Gangwan-do. From Sokcho I would go to Goseong and then onwards by thumb past Hwa-jin-Po Beach and finally, I would have to walk a bit and I would be at the Unification Observatory which sits on the South Korean Side of the DMZ and overlooks the mountainous coastline heading up the North Korean coastline.
Of course, I wanted to visit North Korea since I had been fairly interested in Kim Jong Ill and his wacked out claims to have invented the toaster, shot 18 holes in one in a round of golf, and of course his prolific movie making, opera writing, and novel penning which defies human capacity. The problem is that to go to North Korea is way more money than I could possibly afford. This was probably as close as I’d get. I was nervous about hitching to North Korea, I thought about trying to find cheap car hire, but ultimately the idea of hitching appealed to me, so I decided to go for it anyway. This might be my only chance to see it before it disappeared in a cloud of nuclear smoke.
I got on the number 1 bus and rode it to the end of the line at Goseong. From there I got out and stuck out my thumb and a father and daughter picked me up. They didn’t speak any English but they understood that I was heading to the DMZ. They took me up the coast through the concrete tank traps and along the barb wired Hwa-jin-Po-Beach where they dropped me off and I walked along the cold winter shoreline which was lined with barbed wire every inch of it’s beautiful length. Since the two countries are still at war, this is to protect against invasion, though in the summer months they open up the barbed wire gates to allow families to enjoy the gorgeous sand and shoreline. In fact, during the active war, this part was under North Korean control and Kim Il Sung used to bring his rotund son Kim Jong Il to play on these very shores.
From there, I caught a ride with two guys who were taking a weekend leave from their military duty and had driven overnight to come up and see the DMZ. These Korean soldiers were big guys, much taller than me and even though we didn’t have any language in common we ended up having a fun day together going through checkpoints, climbing to the Unification Observatory, and walking through the Gangwon-do DMZ museum.
At the observatory, we looked out over Mt. Geomgangsan and Heageumgang. Gangwon-do is the only divided province in the country with half belonging to the North and half belonging to the South. Looking at North Korea to the north there were mountains, coastline, and an empty road leading into the distance. Not a human soul in sight. And I might add that there were three other visitors at the DMZ observatory and they were all Korean. No tourists except me sandwiched between my new Korean soldier friends.
We had a light lunch of wet noodle fish kabobs dipped in sauce at the small restaurant at the observatory and one of the Korean soldiers bought a souvenir scarf which he then surprised me by presenting to me as a gift. It was a sort of traditional paisley pattern orange bandana with a map of the area of Gongwan-do showing North Korea, South Korea, and DMZ plus the towns that exist. No towns exists in the DMZ and to the North they are hidden in the folds of the incredible mountains.
Our final stop of the day was the DMZ Museum which is the only DMZ museum in the world. The museum presented a history of the Korean war, the separation of the country, the creation of the DMZ, and the hopes for peace and unification some day. There was something very special about going through this museum with my new soldier friends and each of us writing our wishes for peace on the leaves of the peace trees inside. The museum detailed the entire DMZ, had a large collection of relics from the active part of the war in the 1950’s, as well as lots of information about North Korean attempts to tunnel under the DMZ, infiltrate beaches with mini submarines, and sabotage the South Korean government with spies.
The tunneling in particular is amazing since these weren’t like mineshafts but more like underground highways being carved out to move huge numbers of troops, armor, and equipment. From the DMZ and the world under Seoul, I can see one thing…Koreans love to dig tunnels. If this were middle earth, the Koreans would be the dwarves, though I was certainly the dwarf next to my tall new friends.
Grand total for the day was about 15000 won or $15 U.S. versus the nearly $100 a tourist trip from Seoul would have cost. So, I saved $85, made some new friends, had a unique experience, and didn’t have to ride a bus with a bunch of annoying blue haired baby boomers. All told, this day was a huge success.
As a bonus, I guess I could combine my childhood TV with my experience and write a new series called “Little House on the DMZ”. At the end of the day, my friends dropped me off in Sokcho and headed back to their base while I suddenly had a new understanding about Korea, the Korean War, and the DMZ. I still hoped that at some point I would see a rice paddy or a water buffalo though…
On my first trip to South Korea, back in 2012, I found many wonders. I disocvered the joys of the Penis Park and the value of Love Motels as well as visiting the DMZ and exploring Seoul, Busan, and Samcheok. All of that was spectacular, but the thing I loved most were the Korean bathhouses , jjimjilbang.
My favorite thing about Korea is the jinjabongs. I know, best is a word that one shouldn’t really use when writing about world travel since it’s such a subjective word, but here it applies. Korea is filled with wonderful things but the jingabongs (or jjimjilbangs) are the most wonderful.
So, what are they? Well, unlike Hamams in Morocco or Turkey, these are not just places for bathing and massage. These are full blown social zones. The thrid place extraordinaire. As you can see, I’ve become a bit of a bathhouse aficionado (okay, how gay does that sound?) and I found these to be without compare.
So, once again, what is a jingabong? Okay, it is a bathing place, and it’s a place you can get a massage…and more. Let me just describe the process. I didn’t take any pictures but found a few on the web to show you. Plus, a Vagobond reader provided these links which are the jjimjilbang I went to in Hondae http://www.vesta.co.kr/ and the other in the area which is the www.hotelnongshim.com/.
For usually less than 10 Euros you can check into a jingabong for 12-16 hours. They are open 24 hours. When you check in they will give you jingabong clothes. Usually simple shorts and blouse, sometimes colored white for me and pink for women. You will also be given a locker key. Go in, take of your shoes, find your locker, grab a towel, and take off all your clothes (no room for modesty here, but I should point out that the locker and bath rooms are segregated by sex.)
Once you are nude along with all the other guys or girls, head into the bath room. First of all, you should make sure to shower in the stalls first. No one wants to share a bath with the backpacker grime that has accumulated all over you. After washing, you have a choice of a number of tubs ranging from cold to very very hot.
Jump in, soak, try not to be bothered by the fact that you are the hairiest person anyone there has ever seen. In fact, aside from there being tubs and steam rooms, an assortment of yellowmud, pine, charcoal, or salt saunas, a cold room and an oxygen room and a few special rooms where you can choose to get a massage, it’s not so different from locker rooms all over the world. So, that’s it?
Nope. This is where it gets really cool. You finish your bath and maybe you chill out in the massage chairs or get some electrolyte drinks from the vending machine. Then you throw on your ‘jingabong clothes’ and lock your stuff up in your locker. Don’t forget to bring money with you, you’ll want it.
You will now enter the area where the sexes meet. You’ll find that there are mats and pillows, plenty of space to lie down on the floor, multiple TV rooms, extensive manga libraries, video games, a restaurant, more massage areas, private rooms, and excercise areas just for men and for women. So, you can grab a meal, enjoy some tea, grab a mat and take a nap….
In fact, you can have a beer, go to the cinema room, go to the smoking room, or do just about anything you can do in the outside world but in a nice, safe, quiet little cave complex where stress seems to disappear. You can nap (but do be careful of your key while you nap since your valuables are presumably in your locker.)
Wait a minute…if it’s open 24 hours and you can shower, sleep, stash your things in a locker, drink, and eat there and you are allowed to stay there 12 hours or more, why don’t people use it as a hotel?
Ah-ha! Now you have it. Show up at night, have a nice shower and a relaxing bath, enjoy dinner, watch some television, lay down on a mat, sleep, and wake up for another shower in the morning. In fact, the facilities are better than most hostels or one or two star hotels and you are paying around $10. Not to mention the food is good, it’s easy to make friends, and you leave feeling completely refreshed.
My only regret is that I didn’t discover jingabongs until near the end of my time in South Korea. I should have avoided most of the time I stayed in hostels or love motels and just stayed in the jingabong. In Busan, there is even a view of the sea from the baths of the jingabong.
I love jingabongs. In fact, I love all kinds of bath houses. I can’t believe I just said that….
In 2012 – I took a short trip to South Korea. I’d never been there and I wanted to see as much as possible in a short amount of time…I didn’t expect to see this much….
South Korea can be a surprising place – it is a fairly conservative culture but not in every way. For example, you can pay a visit to Haesindang Park (Penis Park) in Samcheok, South Korea.
When I heard about this, I realized I would have to go there. Why? Because it defied my North American imagination that a place like this could even exist..
The legend says that a young couple were engaged to be married in the fishing village of Samcheok. Before they could be wed and before pleasure of the penis on the wedding night, she was swept to sea and drowned, thus dying a virgin and without the penis she so desired.
After her death, the seas around the village stopped yielding fish. No one could figure out why, but one night, a drunk fisherman took a leak facing the water, thus exposing his sizable genitalia to the water (and presumably to the ghost of the virgin). Apparently, she liked what she saw and after that the fish were plentiful. The villagers, understanding intuitively what they needed to do, began exposing themselves regularly and then they began to build larger than life statues of giant cocks to satisfy the nymphomaniac ghost. Over the years, the collection of phallic art was expandend and enlarged and the seashore became swollen with dicks.
Getting there was a bit tricky. I took the bus from Sokcho and then a second bus from another town and a third bus to get to Samcheok. I was sitting next to a very pretty woman in designer sunglasses and I asked her if she knew how to get to the Penis Park. Fortunately, she spoke some English. She said yes, she knew. She told me which stop to get off in Samcheok and then she suggested we get a cup of coffee and wait for her friend who would be able to better tell me how to get there. Soon a second girl showed up and her English was even better. They told me just to sit and wait. Fifteen minutes later a man in a minivan showed up, he was girl #2’s father. The three of us piled into his mini-van and we all headed to the Penis Park on one of the strangest family outings I’ve ever been on. A father, his daughter, her friend, and a strange American man they all just met on the bus and off we went to the Penis Park.
Rather than being filled with gay pickup artists, the park was filled with Korean senior citizens all posing next to the giant phalluses (or on them) and enjoying the scenic beauty of the rocky seashore and the huge collection of giant anthrpomorphic cocks. The father insisted on paying my admission and we all posed together for pictures with the many penises.
At the edge of the park we ate the flat, dried fish which the old women were cooking there. After that since they knew I needed a place to stay, the father dropped me off at his favorite love motel – a topic which I will write about in another post.
And that, my friends, was my wonderful day at the Penis Park in Samcheok, South Korea. Below are some further details and a few more photos to motivate you in case you get the chance to visit. I highly recommend it.
Haesindang Park (more commonly – and creatively – known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’) is around 20km (12 miles) from the centre of Samcheok, and is, as the name would suggest, a park full of penises!!!
Entry Fee – this was small, around 2,000 won. There is a ticket desk at the entrance, which also displays a return bus schedule in it’s window. It’s worth having a look to see what your options are for buses back to Samcheok. The stop is right by the road, you’ll see it when you come in.
Phone – 033-570-3568 (for the Korean-speaking Fishery Village Tradition Exhibition Centre)
Getting There – A frequent 50 minute bus will easily take you to the park from the Samcheok Express Bus Terminal. Ask for Haesingdang Park at the ticket window, and they will know what you’re talking about! Come out of the door that they will point you to, and turn right. You’ll see a little bus stop. Just wait there until the bus is scheduled to come. When we went, the bus didn’t actually come over to the bus stop – it just stopped in the middle of the concourse, and everyone walked over to board it. You may need to just check with the driver that you have the right bus, before getting on, especially if you can’t read Hangeul. Let the driver know that you are getting off at the park, and he’ll be sure to make a commotion about your stop when he comes to it at the side of the highway. (In terms of landmarks, the stop is just past the small park dedicated to local Olympian Hwang Young-Cho, who won the marathon event in both the 1992 Summer Olympics and 1994 Asian Games.) The drive itself is lovely, and you will see some great scenery and coastline. If you go at the right time of year, you will also pass the famous yellow rapeseed fields, and see people posing for photographs amongst rapeseed almost as tall as themselves! You can get off the bus here too if you so desire.