Love motel review: Yeonhwajang Yeogwan, Gujora Beach, Geoje-do
This is the first in what will be a series of reviews of love motels. I am unapologetically obsessed with love motels; they’re one of my favourite things about Korea.
The conceit of this series is that, besides reviewing motels, it will give me the chance to write travelogues with whatever anecdotes and observations I might want to make, without the need to write those awful “My trip to Blahblahblah”-style blog posts. Travel in Korea as viewed through the prism of love motel exploration; I like that.
I wanted to go to the beach, so I caught a taxi to the terminal and caught a bus for Geoje-do. I’d been to Geoje-do once before and liked it, but that was long ago. I was new to Korea then and I was travelling with Koreans, so I let myself be led around by them, and the days were packed as only Koreans know how to pack them.
This time was different. This time I just wanted to find a small town by the water and swim on the beach for a couple of days. The small town I had decided on was Gujoro, and the beach, Gujora Beach; one of Geoje-do’s most famous beaches.
I caught the bus to Gohyeon Intercity Bus Terminal in Geoje-do. It was Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoons are a good time to travel in Korea. By Sunday evenings the highways are clogged with Korean families returning home, but because Koreans like to pack their weekends (as only Koreans know how to pack them), the roads are empty on Sunday afternoons. And I knew that by the time I got to Gujopo I would have it to myself.
At the terminal I went outside and had a cigarette and looked for where the #22 or #23 bus might stop. I didn’t find it, and in retrospect I think it might have left from the terminal itself. I finished my cigarette and decided with some trepidation to catch a taxi.
The reason for my trepidation was that I had made the mistake of reading wikitravel before I came. Reading wikitravel is usually a mistake. I swear, miscreant assholes go on there to leave bad directions just for the mean-spirited kick of it. This time Wikitravel gave me an ominious warning about Geoje-do taxi drivers: “This is one of the very, very few places in Korea where you should keep an eye on the cabbies; they’ll take the long way unless you call them on it.”
I don’t know why I let this sort of rubbish fester in my mind. But despite appearances I am actually a nervous traveller, always imagining the most disastrous possibilities, and so it does fester, and I was on my guard. My tactic was to immediately engage the driver in conversation in Korean to demonstrate that I was no tourist. (I am also one of those people who will go to ridiculous lengths to try to demonstrate that they are “not a tourist”, even when they self-evidentally are.)
As it turned out the taxi-driver was a congenial old duffer and I’m sure I needn’t have bothered. He took me there directly, but I did get to practice my Korean. We had a nice five minute conversation covering the following topics:
– That I spoke Korean well
– That I was from Australia
– That Australia was large, and had kangaroos
– That Geoje-do was small, and built ships
– That they made ferries there and sent them to Italy
…before I ran out of Korean vocabulary, and we lapsed into silence. Like most Koreans he couldn’t understand why I prefered Korea to Australia, but in spite of this he was proud of his island and pointed out various things to me along the way. Sometimes I had some clue as to what he was talking about.
I asked him if there were motels at Gujora. I assumed there would be, but it was late in the afternoon when I got to Geoje-do, and I didn’t want to have to trek somewhere else to look for a place to stay if I came up empty (there were also ominous warnings on wikitravel about being stranded, busless, at sunset…).
When we came to Gujora – a little spit of a peninsula – he indicated that there were two directions we could go – to the left, for Gujora Town and the motels, or to the right, for the beach. I wanted to get a place to stay – I opted for left.
He dropped me off in the town’s main street and gestured to where I could see a variety of motels and yeogwans. I should mention here that although I was broadly following my own advice for travel in Korea via inter-city buses and love motels, I’d relaxed my spending requirements a bit. I wasn’t going overseas these holidays and I’d saved quite a bit of money. I wanted to relax and enjoy myself. So I was willing to spend a little more than I usually would on a love motel, and was actually hoping there would be something a fancy – something really love motelly and decadent – but what I saw were a series of drab yeogwans. I don’t think Gujora is really the place for extravagant romantic getaways.
I tried the first one I came to. And here I encountered something I’ve never come across before in Korea – there was no reception area at all in the love motel. Sometimes these receptions – little holes in the wall, with their ancient couples sleeping or watching television on a matress behind the glass – are on the second or third floors, but here there was nothing. I came out, somewhat baffled, and went to the motel next door, the 연화장 여관. Same thing again.
This time, however, as I came back down the stairs I noticed a sign on the wall. Now, understand this – I can read Korean signs, but I don’t take them in at a glance the way I would a sign in English. I have to stop and read them. So I read this, and realized it was directing me to the neighbouring sashimi establishment, where I could, apparently, rent a room.
So I went next door. The restaurant was empty but for a middle-aged woman and her eldery mother, sitting at a table and shucking some vegetables. I went over to them. The middle aged woman looked at me without warmth and said, “Motel?”
I told her yes. She said it was ₩40,000. It seemed a bit high to me, but it was a tourist town, and I didn’t feel like searching any further, so I paid it. She told me that if the room was too hot, I should close the curtains and turn on the air conditioner. OK…
I took my key and went up to the third storey room. Although the signs out front said both “motel” and “yeogwan”, this was really only a yeogwan. For my money I got a smallish though very clean room with a minimum of frills.
It did, however, have a nice view:
That little island in the bay is really lovely, by the way. It reminded me of George’s island from The Famous Five books. I was tempted to try to swim to it – it wasn’t that far out – and I probably would have tried it if I’d had someone there to dare me, and notify the authorities if I drowned.
The room was, indeed, hot, and the air-conditioner wasn’t powerful. But the owner’s advice was sound: I closed the curtains, and put on the air-conditioner, and it cooled down in due course.
The room had all the usuals amenities: a TV, a water-cooler, a small table and chair, and a bar fridge. The TV, when switched on, presented a picture in unwatchable hues of green and red.
Extras and oddities
Despite the motel sign out front, this place confirmed it was definately in yeogwan territory by the paucity of interesting novelties. The mini-fridge contained only a jug of water; not even a complimentary bottle. There were fewer free hair and body products than I’ve ever seen in a Korean motel.There was toothpaste, and soap, and that’s all.
The Yeonhwajang did have a couple of curiousities. There was some sort of coat-rack or hatstand thing – you can see it in the feature photo for this article. It made me laugh, but turned out to be quite useful for hanging up my wet towels and board shorts after going to the beach.
There was also an industrial-sized toilet dispenser in the main room:
Koreans use toilet paper for all sorts of alternate purposes, but this thing was undeniably ridiculous, and earns the Yeonhwajang its only heart on the lurve scale.
This was a perfectly acceptable place, and at ₩30,000 I would hae been happy with it, but at ₩40,000 it felt a bit pricey for what I received.
For my dinner that night I went to the sashimi place run by the owners of the motel. Like the motel, it was good but overpriced; in fact I was going to leave when the sour-faced middle aged woman told me the price, but then her mother overruled her and I ate for a hefty discount. She also came rushing over throughout the meal with extra seashells and sweet potato, because she thought my fish was too small, much to her daughter’s apparent annoyance.
The meal was memorable for one reason only; it was Sunday night, I was the only person in the restaurant once a table of businessmen left – and then, as the old mother tidied around me, she started to sing a traditional Korean song to herself. Her voice was extraordinarily beautiful; it was without a doubt the most perfectly-pitched voice I’ve ever heard outside a professional context.
When I left I told her that she had a “좋은 목소리” – a good voice. She beamed and made me repeat the compliment. She was obviously proud of her singing voice. I wondered if she had been a professional singer at one time, or if she had perhaps only wanted to be. There was an interesting backstory there, but of course I would never know it.
Her daughter looked irritated, and turned away.
Yeonhwajang Yeogwan, Gujora Town, Geoje-do.
Getting there: Get a bus or taxi to Gujora from Gohyeon terminal. The motel is in the middle of the main street, across from the second-to-last bus stop on the harbour side. To get a room visit the 화이트집 (White House) sashimi restaraunt next to it – although, confusingly, it seems that about half the businesses along this strip are called 화이트집. I have no idea why.
I’m sure there were better deals around, if I could have been bothered looking.
for the toilet paper dispenser.
By the way, I’ve gotten nowhere trying to translate 연화장 – soft, refreshing, something like that? Any Korean speakers want to have a go at it?