This is a bit delicate. There’s no easy was to say this, so…on my last night in Daegu, I spent a night – on my own, I should make clear – in a Love Hotel. I even paid extra for an upgrade (not what you’re thinking). Let’s face it, if you’re going to spend a night in a Love Hotel it’s probably advisable to stay away from the bargain basement rooms. May as well go for the VIP option, ran my logic. I had planned to stay in the boring business hotel that I’d been in for the previous week, but another conference had rolled into town and there was no room at the inn.
I’d already looked through an uninspiring list of hotels online – Daegu is not blessed with great hotels – before downloading the Daegu chapter of the Lonely Planet. This was hardly inspirational either, on many levels, but it did recommend the Hera Motel, a Love Hotel near the train station. A quick look at Trip Advisor (modern travel in a nutshell) brought up some positive reviews – some very positive reviews – and I decided to take the plunge.
Staying in a Love Hotel is entirely normal in Korea. Maybe not staying in one all night, but visiting them is an accepted part of life. They are literally everywhere, judging by their numbers pretty much the entire population must frequent them at least occasionally. Mostly they crowd around bus and train stations – which attract that sort of thing – but you can come across them anywhere. Love Hotels are not brothels, they are there to serve a need – so to speak.
Ubiquitous and well used, their normality makes them anything but seedy. Well they are a little seedy, but mainly they’re just a bit tacky. Not the floors, which are scrupulously clean, before you get the wrong idea. Tacky and kitsch would be the most accurate description of my room at the Hera, also spotless and very spacious. True, there were an alarming number of tissue boxes dotted around, I assumed someone had been suffering from a cold.
Like Korean toilets, there were way too many buttons in the room. Given where I was staying, pressing the wrong button could have unforeseen consequences. I was cautious. So it was that between turning the AC off and on and off again, turning down the ‘mood’ lighting, and trying to stop the fridge from making a noise that implied it was trying to leave Earth’s atmosphere, I’d managed to turn on the bed’s heated blanket. I didn’t realise this until some time later, around four hours later.
No one, absolutely no one, could have slept in a bed that hot. It was almost at boiling point. First I had to work out what I’d done to turn it on and reverse the process. Then I had to take the duvet off and leave it to cool down for 20 minutes with the AC on full blast. When I was finally able to crawl into bed it turned out to be one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. Something about that still seems surprising, but investing in a good bed is just sound business sense for a Love Hotel.
I’d spent the day wandering through Daegu, including two of its most famous markets. The fabulous traditional medicine market seemed to be having a festival, including live music. The video is a bit shaky, but you get the picture. While earlier in the day I’d visited the colossal Seomun Market. Walking amongst food stalls and through the fish market was a bit overwhelming, but a lot of fun. I even got street food from a stall holder who could explain in English what I was eating. Something totally unexpected. All around me were foodstuffs that I couldn’t identify, some of them in my lunch. The food was delicious.
Daegu’s history stretches back 3500 years, it has always been an important centre of population. It prides itself on having been a hotbed of opposition to Japanese colonialism at the start of the 20th Century, and more recently for being the birthplace of Samsung. The corporate headquarters of which are on all organised tours. Today the tourism board refers to the city as Colourful Daegu, but it is also known as ‘Apple City’ and ‘Textile City’ after two other, pre-Samsung, industries. At an official dinner I learned another name, ‘Fashion City’. We were treated to a catwalk display of incredible traditional clothing.
Daegu is a city that grows on you. After a shaky start, I enjoyed my time there, although in the height of summer, when it can hit the mid-30s with intense humidity, I might revise my opinion.