Question from a reader: non-smoking, please!

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A reader writes in:

Hi Chris,

I was looking forward to traveling all around Korea when I moved to Seoul nearly 18 months ago. But I’ve had a heck of a time because I am severly allergic to smoke. This is not something that’s been easy to explain to locals, even when (trying to) use Korean words. I ellicit blank stares in places like Sokcho or they assure me that the room has been ‘cleaned’ and I still get sick. I’ve only been able to find four and five star lodgings that have genuinely non-smoking rooms (not that they use air-freshener and call it n-s), and those prices are crazy. We’ve been to Jeju, Soraksan, Busan, etc but I’d like to spend more time smaller towns and villages. Do you or your readers have suggestions? Or know of any non-smoking inns, homestays, hanok, motels or small hotels? They can be anywhere really.

Thanks for your blog in general, and any help in specific.


Photo credit: Andrew David Watson


This is probably a more common allergy than people realize; even if it’s not an allergy, call it a strong dislike. Even with the government imposing heavier fines on smokers in public places and at least one Itaewon bar being non-smoking, it still feels like a losing battle. 2010 OECD statistics claim 44.7% of Korea’s men smoke – 2 1/2 times more than the US – and it’s not uncommon to see a no smoking sign right next to an ashtray.

Most of the smaller hanok or homestays I’ve seen won’t allow smoking – but a few will get their puffs in anyway. Most of the smaller hotels are rife with smoking customers, and there aren’t enough people requesting non-smokers to keep one available. One of the only places I’ve seen people actually respect the ‘no smoking rule’ is at Buddhist temples; inside most jimjilbang is a close second, although some have smoking rooms that aren’t well-sealed. Neither of these are ideal places to sleep, unfortunately.

Have you considered picking up a portable air purifier? I haven’t specifically looked for these in Korea, but Amazon has a few different brands of varying prices. Your other option might be to call ahead to the tourist information center in the area you’re visiting for any recommendations – or to have them call local hotels on your behalf. Explaining your allergy as severe or being very sensitive to smoke may do the trick. The Korean: 담배연기 알레르기 (dam-bae-yeon-gi al-le-leu-gi)

OK, then, time to open this up to the readers: have you discovered any non-smoking hotels or inns during your Korean travels? How have you dealt with excessive smoke or smoking around you?


Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2011
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This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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