Seeking a home away from home

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Seeking a home away from home

It’s summer. Schools are out and businesses have slowed down ― a perfect time for out-of-town guests. Your friends are arriving from abroad, but your apartment barely fits all your shoes, let alone other humans. Your friends want to stay somewhere interesting, which means you can’t dump them at a yeogwan, a run-of-the-mill Korean motel. What do you do? Finding a cozy place to stay in Seoul might take a little more effort, but innovative accommodations are all around town. Here are a few alternatives.

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Guest houses range from grungy to Gucci

Unlike Japan, there aren't many traditional accommodations in Korea that cater to both culinary and somniatory needs. In fact, only two places in Seoul offer traditional bed-and-breakfast service in an upscale hanok setting, a traditional Korean dwelling with wood floors, tiled roof and paper doors.
Samcheonggak (02-3676-2345), formerly a discrete geisha house, is now run by the Seoul Plaza Hotel. Another is Nakgoje (02-742-3410), a traditional Korean house that opened last month in Gahoi-dong, a bastion of traditional hanok.
Both places offer service equivalent to four-star hotels, which means they aren’t as cheap as other inns or guesthouses in downtown Seoul, which often offer group stays.
Visitors to Samcheonggak near the Blue House can choose from chambers with a western-style bed or a traditional yo and ibul, a padded mattress placed on a heated ondol floor. A family of up to five people can rent out the entire house for 450,000 won ($375) a night. For a special suite with both bedroom and separate living room, the Seoul Plaza offers one for 300,000 won. The hotel also has single rooms for 200,000 won.
Nakgoje is a single house with five rooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms. The place is ideal for families or business guests who are staying in town for a few days and want to experience traditional Korean living. The entrance and adjoining garden are wooded with bamboo, and its walls are built on an authentic ancient foundation moved from Jeju Island. Yet this place has a more personal feel to it, complete with furniture and home accessories used in a traditional Korean home. Charms abound: a small pond sits in the courtyard and wind chimes and prints by Korean masters hang in each room. The location, a bit far from the city center, tends to be a little inconvenient for tourists. But English, Chinese and Japanese interpreters stand by, ready to lend assistance and give directions.

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Retreat houses offer a quiet, pious existence

In a city as dense and crowded as Seoul, one of the common ways many Koreans reduce stress is to go to retreats ― quiet, religiously-oriented houses within the city, which often provide rooms and homemade breakfasts at reasonable prices.
Seoul Retreat House (02-2273-6394~5), a Roman Catholic retreat home in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul, offers a package that provides three meals and a night’s stay for 30,000 won.
Myeongsanuijip (02-990-1004), a retreat house run by Benedictine monks in Ui-dong, northern Seoul, offers private rooms for 32,000 won a day. Sangji Retreat House (02-923-3547) in Donam-dong, offers the same for 35,000 won.
There are no curfews, but remember the primary purpose of these places is for people to rest, and also to pray. If you’re planning to head out for clubbing at night, a retreat home may not be the perfect choice.
Generally, you can expect to have a quiet night’s stay. Most Catholic monasteries are quiet even when there are overnight group worships. But if you are easily disturbed by noise, ask when you make a reservation if there will be any group workshops held during the days you are seeking to stay.
The temple-stay program, which was originally introduced for foreign visitors during the World Cup games last summer, is another alternative. Be forewarned: the program is often intense, beginning with early morning prayers and continuing with a tight activity schedule running through the evening. The closest temple to Seoul offering stays is Jeondeung-sa near Ganghwa-dong, Gyeonggi province, about a 90-minute drive from downtown. You can also reach the temple by bus, leaving at exit No. 7 at Sinchon subway station. A two-day program, including a room, group activities and three meals costs 50,000 won.
For information about temple stays nationwide, visit http://www.templestaykorea.net or call 032-937-0025.

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Take it to the country for a pension stay

A growing number of cabin-style pensions are offering rooms for rent throughout Korea. Gapyeong and Pocheon in Gyeonggi province, about an hour from Seoul, are the most popular areas for pensions.
These small cabins usually feature pleasant views of surrounding forests and lakes. The price ranges between 40,000 to 100,000 won, depending on the size and condition of the house.
You can rent a room or the entire house, which normally comes with kitchen utensils and barbecue facilities. Most visitors bring their own food, since the Gyeonggi province pensions don't provide meals.
Most pension Web sites are comprehensive, including detailed photos and a list of facilities.
For information, try http://www.joybin.com/, http://www.gamater.com/ or http://www. pajugol.co.kr/. The site http://www.minbakhouse.co.kr/ (031-582-4678) offers a list of pensions in Gapyeong. Book at least three weeks in advance, as the rooms fill quickly during the summer, especially on weekends.

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Hostels aren’t as hostile as they used to be

For many budget travelers, the main challenge is finding a place to stay that won’t leave a huge dent in your wallet. One option is a youth hostel, which sets you up in communal accommodations with several other tourists.
Seoul Backpackers (backpackerkorea.com, 02-743-4378) in the traditional Anguk-dong area offers dorm-style bunks for 17,000 won a night, while single rooms are 27,000 won and doubles 37,000 won. Free breakfast, an Internet connection, cable TV and laundry facilities are provided, as well as lounges to chat with other travelers. Special rates are available for guests staying over 20 days.
Guest House Sinavrow (www.sinavrow.com/english/index. html, 02-725-0621) is located in the Jongno area, close to Gyunghee Palace. A room shared with three to five other customers costs 20,000 won, while singles are 30,000 won. Breakfast is free. A TV lounge, laundry room and Internet access are available.
The Nest (02-725-4418) redefines budget. Located in Samcheong-dong, this place charges 8,000 won for a night’s stay in a bunk bed with breakfast, kitchen and laundry service.

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For those who demand breakfast with their bed

If you really want to mix with the locals, homestays can provide an interesting alternative to the usual lodging options. Here, you’re placed as a guest in the home of a Korean family, which provides meals, hospitality, guided tours around Seoul (in some cases) and insight into Korean culture.
Labo Homestay (www.labostay. or.kr, 02-736-0521) is a program that connects tourists and host families. Adults pay $30 for a night's hospitality and breakfast, with additional fees for pickup service and extra meals. Stays extending over four weeks begin at $500 per head.
Korea Homestay (www.koreahomestay.com/english/index.html) allows customers to select their host from a list on the Web site providing each host’s name, number of family members and preferred languages. Fees are $30 per night, including breakfast, and discounts are offered for those staying over two weeks.
If you’re looking for more standard bed-and-breakfast accommodations, here are some of the best choices to be found:
Bed & Breakfast Morning Calm (http://www.staykorea.net) is a small, family-run establishment. Located in Pyeogchang-dong, it offers rooms decorated with traditional antique furniture and views of surrounding Mount Bukhan and Mount Inwang. Visitors pay between $40 to $100, depending on the size and location of the room. The owner is a retired English teacher who works as a tour guide for foreign travelers.
Seoul Guest House (http://www.seoul110.com, 02-745-0057) is a traditional Korean home located between Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces. The establishment falls somewhere between a small bed-and-breakfast and a hostel, with customers paying 30,000 won a person (or 20,000 won for two or more) for individual rooms with traditional yo and ibul, sliding doors and a garden courtyard.

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Here long-term? Why not get an apartment?

If your guest is making a long-term visit, you might want to consider recommending residences that offer discount rates for extended stays.
Oakwood Premier (02-3466-7708) at Coex Center offers a luxurious furnished room with kitchenette, a laundry and a dishwasher for about 5 million won a month.
The Hilton Residence near Hongje subway station has suites with two rooms at 170,000 won a day.
Soho (02-722 1999) at Pilun-dong, downtown Seoul, offers condominium-style accommodations for 150,000 won a day or 3 million won a month for a studio bedroom.
Fraser Suites Seoul (02-6262-8888) in Nakwon-dong, downtown Seoul, offers a standard bedroom for 8 million won won a month, which includes breakfasts on weekdays.
Keep in mind that long-term rates are negotiable, so visitors may be able to secure a discount.

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Hotels offer cut-rate deals

Don’t overlook hotels as an option. Many are cutting rates with fewer tourists visiting Asia as a result of this spring’s outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the war in Iraq.
Many Seoul hotels are offering special rates and summer packages with discounts up to half off regular prices.


by Park Soo-mee, Chong Chi-hyon
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