University areas are a good place to get a grip on the “bang” culture that pervades modern Korean life. The term is a suffix meaning “room”, and is attached to all sorts of places where locals – and occasional foreigners – like to have fun. Below are a few of the most popular:
Imagine a small room with wipe-clean sofas, tissue paper on hand and a large television for movies – if it sounds a little sleazy, you’d be absolutely right. Though people do occasionally come to appreciate plot, cinematography or Oscar-winning performances, these places are more often used by couples looking for a cheap bit of privacy – going in by yourself, or with a person of the same sex, would draw some baffled looks. Figure on around W11,000 per movie.
Popular with families, teenagers and the occasional budget-minded traveller, these steam rooms have sauna rooms, a range of hot and cold pools, and often services from massage treatments to internet booths. Though they might sound dodgy, the reality is somewhat tamer; most are open all night, making them an incredibly cheap way to get a night’s sleep – prices tend to be around W6000. for more information see Staying at a jjimjilbang.
These “singing rooms”, found all over the country, even outside national park entrances, are wildly popular with people of all ages; if you have Korean friends, they’re bound to invite you, as noraebang are usually sam-cha in a Korean night out – the “third step” after a meal and drinks. You don’t sing in front of a crowd, but in a small room with your friends, where you’ll find sofas, a TV, books full of songs to choose from and a couple of maracas or tambourines to play. Foreigners are usually intimidated at first, but after a few drinks it can be tough to get the microphone out of people’s hands. Figure on around W15,000 per hour between the group.
Even more ubiquitous in Korea are places to get online, which cost an almost uniform W1000 per hour. Despite the prevalence of such places, they’re often packed full of gamers, and incredibly noisy – you’re likely to be the only one sending emails.