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TRAVEL WATCH: OCTOBER 18, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 15

Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite--Asian Style
By GEOFF BURPEE


Illustration for TIME by Marc Rosenthal

Think of a love hotel and the images that spring to mind are, well... unsavory. Even as you read this, you're picturing a grimy flop house, windowless rooms, dirty linen, hourly rates and a no-questions-asked policy. But not all love hotels are seedy and shady, just as not all their patrons are adulterers or pornographers. In many Asian cities, the inconvenience of limited space shared by extended families sometimes drives perfectly decent, law-abiding couples to check in for a few hours of conjugal privacy. Many love hotels cater to this demand by offering clean, well-maintained and well-appointed rooms. Choose carefully and you, the budget traveler, have unearthed a bargain.

That can be a huge attraction in cities like Tokyo, where "regular" hotels charge an arm and a leg. No, you wouldn't want to invite a business associate back to the room for a drink, but the money you save could buy a few extra rounds at a downtown bar. Some proprietors have elevated the love-hotel experience to a slick science, if not transcendent art. At the height of its form, in Japan, the love hotel offers one of the region's unsung tourist attractions. If you're a connoisseur of kitsch and, specifically, a fan of chintz rococo, you'll find no finer shrines to eros. The more elaborate rooms feature Austin Powers-style headboard control consoles to adjust lighting, music and more. Oh, and since this is Japan, a mania for hygiene will usually ensure that the rooms--and likewise the linen--are spotless.

    ALSO IN TIME
Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite--Asian Style
Many love hotels cater to any demand by offering clean, well-maintained and well-appointed rooms. Choose carefully and you, the budget traveler, have unearthed a bargain

Detour
Don't let the rubber suit and body harness intimidate you: canyoning, the hottest new sport in New Zealand, is actually quite simple--and plenty of fun

Off the Shelf
For such a small volume, Worlds to Imagine bites off a big chunk of the globe

Hot Deal
Kuala Lumpur is flush with hotel bargains these days

All that, and cheap, too. Love-hotel rooms come in two price categories: "rest" (of two or three hours) and "stay" (overnight). In Japan, a "stay" at a good love hotel can cost as little as $60. On the downside, reservations don't exist and you often can't check in until after 10 p.m.

Tokyo's Shibuya district is teeming with them, but there are love hotels within a five-minute walk of many Japan Rail stations. Hotel Alpa, in Komagome district, has 21 guest rooms, each with its own unique theme. The Alhambra Palace suite is styled in the spirit of Spain's most spectacular Moorish harem. Sure, it might seem a bit overwhelming for the business traveler, but it also offers a bathtub, fresh towels and other legitimate hotel amenities, and a highly competitive price: $80 a night. Other popular themes include Greco-Roman, nautical (think H.M.S. Pinafore through Titanic) and an ersatz hot-air balloon basket. Call (813) 3947-9251 for bookings.

Elsewhere in the region, Singapore's Hotel 81 chain, sprinkled around Geylang, charges $49 on weekdays and $69 on weekends. In Taipei, Keyman's Hotel is conveniently close to the train station for $50 per night; call (886-2) 2311-4811. In Seoul, the Toko-ri and the Capital Hotel are good bets. In Hong Kong, the Villa Victoria chain, with more than a dozen locations mostly in Causeway Bay, provides all the amenities of a pricier place (air-con, towels, soap, en suite shower, TV) for a fraction of the price: $38 per night, a sensational bargain by Hong Kong standards. Call (852) 2578-7829. You might not find real love in a love hotel, but great value can also be a many splendored thing.

Also see:
www.japan-guide.com/e/e2031.html
www.kansainow.com/love.html
www.salonmagazine.com/wlust/pass/1998/04/30pass.html

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