Amenable Lodging for the ThriftyOf the 4 million foreigners who visited Korea last year, about 600,000 were young backpackers. In Seoul, however, lodgings for the thrifty traveler are not easily found.
It will be a comfort to know that there are clean comfortable beds available in traditional-style inns or modern-style condominiums at prices that won't break the bank.
Daewon Inn, located on an alley behind the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul, was crowded with guests last Monday, since it was raining. Most of the guests didn't mind, though, due to the coziness of the traditionally shaped inn. Individual rooms are situated in a square around a central garden. Guests can bide their time quietly in their room or open the sliding door and sit and chat on the porch-like scaffold that is attached to the rooms.
In a small room near the main gate a Pakistani businessman, who has been a regular guest for the last five years, can be spotted exchanging casual dialogue with the owner, Kim Yong-gil. Beside him sits a backpacker from Japan reading a brochure about the renowned Korean performance, "Nanta." Come winter, the Christmas lights are turned on in the evening and many guests choose to sit around the scaffold with a drink to enjoy the quaint ambience. Mr. Kim also makes his guests feel at home by offering "tteokguk," rice cake soup, on special occasions such as New Year's Day.
"In the past, foreigners were not welcome at many of these inns that catered only to Koreans, but I decided not to refuse foreigners," said Mr. Kim. For 30 years, his inn has been full of guests from abroad.
During the times before Internet advertising services or Lonely Planet guidebooks (considered the backpacker's Bible), many people found out about the inn by word of mouth. Daewon Inn offers single Korean-style rooms with a yo, or floor bedding, at 15,000 won ($12) per night and a room shared with four people at 10,000 won per night. The prices are less than half of what most inns in Seoul charge.
By running the successful inn Mr. Kim was able to send all of his children to Japan to study. To help with language barriers, he has also picked up a bit of English, Japanese and Spanish from his multicultural guests. He does his best to make the place homey, but from the outside the building can seem dilapidated and almost shabby, since renovations of the area are restricted.
Guest House Korea
Guest House Korea was opened in Jongno last November by three friends who shared the same interest in traveling abroad. The three co-owners agreed that there should be an exclusive lodge for foreigners in Seoul and decided to start one themselves. Young people from around the globe began to flock to the guest house after seeing advertisements on the Internet.
The house has five bedrooms and can accommodate up to 25 people. Guests can take part in a variety of excursions including a trip to Sindang-dong, a district specializing in "tteokbokgi" (rice cakes cooked in chili paste), kimchi tasting classes or a trip to the neighborhood public bath house. Though some tour programs in the city offer visits to spas exclusively for tourists, a trip to the neighborhood bath is still not always an easy trip for foreigners to take on their own.
The house also helps guests find more permanent lodging in other provinces of Korea, providing its own networking services to connect foreigners with local people.
Trek Korea is a guesthouse for foreigners that opened in Hyehwa-dong in 1997. Run by a dentist, Lee Seung-geon, this guest house also offers unique tours.
Trek Korea is especially popular among European guests since the place is shaped like a European-style villa. In the spacious living room, there are comfortable couches where guests can watch various television programs from abroad.
"In Korea, people are still not familiar with guesthouses," said Mr. Lee, while adding that the development of diverse lodging systems and tour programs needs to progress before the country's tourism industry can really take off.
Every weekend, Mr. Lee also leads a tour to oji, back regions of Korea such as "Sorok Island" where not many people visit. Other tours include trips to villages well known for producing soybean paste and red chili paste. These tours provide good opportunities to learn more about traditional Korean food and make some local friends.
English service is available for all the lodges mentioned above.
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