Love this Motel – the Ma Ma Guesthouse in Seoul

Korea is home to the love motel. You can tell a love motel from the outside because this symbol will be on the sign:

Screams romance, doesn't it?


If the term ‘love motel’ sounds kind of skeezy, that’s because it is. Love motels are ostensibly places where people go to have illicit affairs, or just sex with prostitutes. Rooms are often rented by the hour and stocked with shampoo, body wash, fluffy robes, condoms, scented oils, and porn. 

BUT. Before you go recoiling in horror, know that the love motel has built a bad reputation. They are often run by little old ladies whose bedroom doubles as the reception room. The rooms are often cheap, clean and comfortable, and you don’t have to bring your own towel. Bonus. I’ve stayed in a couple and never seen any seedy characters lurking about. 

With this in mind, Jared and I figured we’d get a couple of rooms at a love motel for his parents’ arrival in Seoul. You know, kind of as a cultural experience. 

It was like Goldilocks poking around the 3 bears’ house. 

The first one we looked at was too small. 

The second one was too expensive. 

The third one’s walls and ceiling were black and the check-in time was 10PM. Oops. A real love motel. 

We were hot. Jared complained that he felt like a pack horse. The humidity was killing him. I wanted to take off my boots and find a turkey sandwich. We were about to start hissing and clawing at each other. 

Note to traveling couples: Do not decide that you will ‘just walk around and find somewhere to stay.’ It is always a bad idea. 

That’s when we saw it: Ma Ma Guesthouse. 

Don't judge a book by its cover

Utterly defeated, we trudged down the alleyway to the door. It was locked. I rattled the knob. A tall Korean man materialized. 

“Oeso o ship shi o,” he said kindly, beckoning us inside. 

It was a traditional Korean house, and we were standing in a covered courtyard. There were 6 rooms bordering the courtyard, all with sliding rice-papered doors. The whole space was thoughtfully accessorized with masks, plants, and kimchi pots. Things were looking up. 

This is no love motel.

Until we saw the price list.

100,000 won per room per night. 

“With a very nice breakfast,” the man said. 

I was sure it would be a traditional Korean feast of rice, kimchi and soup, three things my stomach is not equipped to deal with prior to 12:00pm. 

He offered us a 20% discount.

 “Traditional,” he explained, gesturing at the rooms. “Real Korean experience.”

Real or not, we were sick of walking. And it was pretty. 

“OK,” Jared said. “Yes.”

We dropped off our small bags and sailed off, unencumbered, to Itaewon for a couple of sandwiches and a spot of English language book shopping.

The Ma Ma Guesthouse was an inspired choice – we returned several hours later with Jared’s parents. The owner and his wife had swapped out the floor mats in both of our rooms, bringing in large, comfortable, Western-sized floor mats.

“We see you are big,” he joked. “Koreans, small.”

He showed us where to find chilled water in his state-of-the-art refrigerator and asked what time we would like breakfast.

The breakfast was a multiple-course feast of whole-wheat toast, peanut butter, boiled eggs, grapes, apple, apricot, tea and coffee.  The owner lived in Europe for 20 years, so he understood that not all traditional Korean things would appeal to foreign tourists.

If you’ve got the budget and are looking for a nice place to stay in the Jongno-3 area of Seoul, check out the Ma Ma Guesthouse. They don’t have a website yet because the place is so new. Come out of Jongno-3 ga, exit 7 and just head straight up the road for a couple of minutes. It’s across from the Tteok Museum and behind the Chocolate Castle coffee shop.

Pros: Attractive interior, great host, spectacular breakfast, proximity to Insadong, Dongdaemun, Gyeongbukgung Palace and a chocolate cafe.


Chocolate Castle? Sign me up.


Cons: Sleeping on the floor…it’s traditional and not uncomfortable, but you can’t shake the feeling that you paid a bunch of money to camp inside.

Am I the only one that doesn't see a bed?

Verdict: If you have a little bit of money to spare, this is a great option for tourists in Seoul. It’s got that coveted traditional feel, is accessible to the tourist hotspots of Seoul and near a Chocolate Castle.  Plus, the breakfast is the best I’ve had in Korea outside of my own kitchen.

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