Booking an accommodation in South Korea is no longer a difficult feat compared to a decade ago, now that a lot of information is readily made available in English and easily found on the Internet. Head over to one of the online hotel booking sites and you will see thousands of photographs of guest houses, hostels and hotels in the country.
If you are an avid traveller — and a big fan of Airbnb — you have more options, from private apartments to serviced apartments, and to what is known as “officetel” and “one room” in South Korea.
There is absolutely nothing to worry about when there are so many affordable places to choose from! Or so you think.
Imagine the scenario of a policeman knocking on your door (while you are staying in your accommodation) or your host telling you to claim that you’re staying at your friend’s place (which obviously isn’t the case) — should anyone ask for your accommodation.
Sounds dubious? Think illegal operations and unsound procedures.
Here, we culled a few things to take note of before booking your next accommodation, to avoid getting entangled in any legal issues:
#1 Make sure the accommodation is a licensed business
It’s true, not all accommodations that you see on Airbnb are legally recognised. In fact, many of the guest houses and private apartments listed on Airbnb in popular and convenient areas like Hongdae and Myeongdong are not licensed. And how does that affect you? Unlicensed accommodations do not ensure consumer protections like adequate insurance, fire safety codes for commercial properties and compliance with other existing laws and acts. At first, it might seem like the accommodation fees will be a lot easier on your wallet, but should anything unfortunate happen, you might suffer an even bigger loss due to the terms on your travel insurance. In other words, you might not be able to claim your travel insurance just because the accommodation is not recognised by the law. It is entirely up to you to decide if it is worth the risk.
#2 Avoid getting stood up
In order to maximise profits (and minimise the number of nights) when the accommodation is not fully booked, many hosts will reduce prices and/or overbook themselves. Which means there’s a possibility of your booking being cancelled at the very last minute before you leave for your trip, or even after you have arrived in South Korea. At times like this, however, most of them would be nice enough to try to look for another accommodation to take you in. But whether the accommodation fits your requirements or not, that is none of their concern. You do not have much of a choice anyway.
#3 Be prepared to compromise on cleanliness
Many guesthouses and hostels — and perhaps even hotels— do not change their bedsheets, sometimes for months on end. For low budget accommodations to keep their charges low, a large percentage of guest houses and hostels employ part-time students and/or travellers working in exchange for accommodation, most of whom do not keep the accommodation well maintained. The general idea? You get what you pay for.
If budget is your main concern, bring your own towel and buy a sleeping liner if you decide to stay in a guest house or hostel. Even then, you still risk getting bites from the bugs.
#4 See a real representation of Expectation Vs Reality
Most rooms, especially for guest houses and hostels, will look smaller, darker and dirtier than what you will see on online. You know, the photographs that you see on official websites are taken by professional photographers who are paid to make the place look good.
Other insider tips:
Now that you know some of the tourist traps, how do you avoid falling into it? Third-party travel sites like Agoda require partners to have a license in order to list their accommodations on the website. So when in doubt, start your search with Agoda, then head over to the official website of your preferred accommodation and make your booking directly with them.
Booking with them directly lowers the chances of them not honouring your reservation due to reasons like overbooking and the like. You can also: Read reviews, check if there is an elevator in the building, and search for the location of your accommodation because the streets in South Korea aren’t always the most luggage-friendly.
Should you still end up with a non-preferred accommodation, leave your luggage at the lockers in one of the larger subway stations such as Hongdae Station and spend the night at a public bathhouse — also known as a jjimjilbang — and continue your search for a better accommodation. Psst: Remember to take good care of your belongings, as theft is pretty common here, even if you lock your belongings in the locker.
Share with us your experience in a Korean guest house in the comment box below!