Accommodation & Hotels
There's plenty of accommodation in all price brackets in South Korea. Note that prices in Seoul are typically about twice that of anywhere else in the country.
Some higher-end hotels offer a choice of both Western-style and Korean-style rooms. The main feature of Korean rooms is an elaborate Korean-invented floor-heating system known as ondol (온돌), where hot steam (or, these days, water or electricity) heats stone slabs under a layer of clay and oiled paper. There are no beds; instead, mattresses are laid directly on the floor. Other furniture is typically limited to some low tables (you're also expected to sit on the floor) and maybe a TV.
Some of the cheapest accommodation in South Korea are in what are locally termed motels (모텔) or yeogwan (여관), but these are rather different from motels in the West and closer to Japan's "love hotels". Motels in South Korea are generally very cheap hotels targeted at young couples aiming to spend 'time' together away from their elders, complete with plastic beds, occasionally vibrating, with strategically placed mirrors on the ceiling, as well as a VCR and a variety of appropriate videos. However for the budget traveller, they can simply be inexpensive lodging, with rates as low as ₩25,000/night.
The easiest way to find a motel is to just look for the symbol and gaudy architecture, particularly near stations or highway exits. They're harder to find online, as they rarely if ever show up in English-language booking sites, but Hotel365(Korean only) has comprehensive listings for the entire country.
In some motels picking your room is very easy, as there will be room numbers, lit pictures and prices on the wall. The lower price is for a "rest" (휴식 hyusik) of two to four hours, while the higher price is the overnight rate. Press the button for the one you like, which will go dark, and proceed to check-in. You'll usually be expected to pay in advance, often to just a pair of hands behind a frosted glass window. English is rarely spoken, but the only word you need to know is sukbak (숙박, "staying"). You may or may not receive a key, but even if you don't, the staff can usually let you in and out on request — just don't lose your receipt!
Full-service hotels can be found in all larger towns in Korea. Cheaper hotels blend into motels with rooms from ₩40,000, while three and four star hotels are ₩100,000-200,000 and five-star luxury hotels can easily top ₩300,000. Outside peak season you can often get steep discounts from the rack rates, so be sure to ask when reserving.
Hanok (한옥) is the name for houses built in traditional Korean architectural styles. Once considered to be old fashioned and an impediment to modernisation, in recent times many of these houses dating back to the Joseon dynasty are being renovated and opened to paying guests, and serve as Korea's equivalent of Japan's ryokan and minshuku. Amenities range from very basic backpacker-style to over the top luxury, with prices to match. Higher-end establishments typically provide the option of having a traditional Korean dinner, as well as a choice of either Western or traditional Korean style breakfast. Similar to their Japanese counterparts, guests would usually sleep on mattresses on the floor. Hanok accommodations can typically be found old towns such as Bukchon in Seoul, as well as historical towns and cities such as Hahoe and Gyeongju.
While not as common in South Korea as in other parts of Asia or the world, hostels and guesthouses can be found. Major cities, such as Seoul, will have a few dozen, while smaller cities may have a handful. Prices can vary widely, even within one hostel. In Seoul, mixed dorms average ₩15,000-25,000 per person; private rooms with a shared toilet and shower average ₩20,000-30,000 per person; and private ensuite rooms average ₩25,000-40,000 per person. Many hostels will have a common room with free TV, games, computers, and internet; some will have a public full kitchen and other amenities.
In rural areas in and near national parks, you can find a minbak (민박). Most of these are just a room or two in someone's home - others are quite fancy and may be similar to yeogwans (motels) or hotels. Generally, they have ondol rooms with maybe a TV and that's about it. You don't usually get your own bathroom in your room, although some of the fancier ones do have an en suite. Minbaks usually run around ₩20,000 off-season though the price may go up quite a bit during high season.
Very similar in concept to a Minbak, these aren't limited to just rural areas or near national parks. Since the World Cup in 2002, many families around the country have opened their doors and hearts to foreigners looking for a good place to sleep and a breakfast included in the price. These can run between ₩30,000 and ₩35,000 per night.
A fancier and costly version of rural Minbak. Most of them are european-style detached bungalows, equipped with private shower/bath, TV, air conditioner, private kitchen and camping grills. Pensions usually run around ₩60,000-150,000 off-season and over ₩200,000 peak season depending on the size of the house. Pensions near Seoul (Gyeonggi, Incheon) usually costs twice or more the price.
For the budget traveller public bath houses known as jjimjilbang (찜질방) can offer a great way to sleep, besides a relaxing bath and sauna. Entrance costs around ₩5,000-12,000 to get in, and includes a robe or t-shirts/shorts (for mixed facilities and sleeping hall) to wear. The facilities can be expansive, including showers, public baths, restaurants, computer/video game rooms, a room with DVD movies, and a warm hall to sleep, mostly with mattresses and sometimes soft head rests available. These places are generally used by families or couples during the weekend, as well as Korean working men from the countryside on weekdays (night), but travellers are welcome. Usually two lockers are provided, one for the shoes (at the entrance) and one for your clothes and everything else (near the bath entrance). A very large backpack may not fit, although you can usually leave it at reception. A Jjimjilbang is no more awkward than any western public bath - so go ahead. Some Korean Spas don't offer overnight stay, like the "Spa Land Centum City" in Busan, and some can be limited in time, like the "Dragon Hill Spa" in Seoul, but they are exceptions. When you leave, you have to take everything with you and pay to get back in.
South Korea offers many 'Temple Stays' in all parts of the country. The basic idea is that you stay for one or more days living with the monks and participating in some of their rituals.
Jogye (조계사), Korea's largest Buddhist sect, runs a popular Temple Stay program where visitors get to spend 24 hours living at a Buddhist temple. Speaking Korean helps but is not necessary at some temples, but you will be expected to work at the temple and get up at 3 or 4AM to participate in morning prayer. In exchange for three meals and a basic bed for the night, a "donation" of ₩50,000-80,000 is expected. Reservations are necessary and can be made at the Temple Stay site or via Korea Travel Phone (+82-2-1330).