Although the sale of sex is supposedly illegal in South Korea the country is littered with venues and area where adult entertainment and sexual services are openly sold. In the case of the red light districts areas are even marked off by local authorities to warn those underage or otherwise not fit for the area not to enter.
I first reported on the foreigner-oriented Hooker Hill many years ago. I intended to report on the many other red light districts in the country in the time since but other things got in the way. Recently I was finally able to report on the Cheongnyangni 588 red light district in Seoul. Today I will write about the Cheonho red light district in the same city. Soon I will write about Miari Texas.
As it turns out there is a real drive to limit and even dismantle these red light districts as these pieces are being published. There is no real way to know how this will go. There have been efforts to close these and other similar areas in the past. Most turned out to be empty threats. Usually it all came to naught with the red light districts continuing to operate often thanks to the efforts of the sex workers themselves. These women have even been known to stage mass protests to protect their livelihoods and in many ways that has been effective.
It is of course possible that these red light districts will be destroyed. If it isn’t done soon it could come in the near future. While I am of the clear position that prostitution should be legalized all around the world I have no special stake or interest in South Korean red light districts. I simply report on the knowledge I have for the entertainment of readers. Most of the readers are not even in South Korea since this website is apparently blocked there for reasons known only to the censors in charge of deciding what people should and shouldn’t be able to see.
The Cheonho red light district is one of the largest in the city of Seoul. As the name would suggest it is located in the Cheonho section of the city. Most people access it by taking exit 3 or exit 4 out of the Cheonho subway station.
Walking north from either of these exits and turning right on to Gucheonmyeon-ro or “Rodeo Drive” leads directly to the smaller Gucheonmyeon-ro 23-gil road that serves as one of the main entrances to the district.
The Cheonho red light district take up several blocks. Small roads make their way through the area. The roads are lined with large hair salon like lobbies surrounded by big glass doors. Women wait inside of these windows for customers.
The women who work at Cheonho tend to be in their twenties or thirties. For the most part they follow the popular K-Pop style and many look a lot like some of the women in well known music videos. Plastic surgery isn’t uncommon at all. A lot of the women are heavily covered in cosmetics and appear to be a lot more attractive from a distance than they do up close but there aren’t many gals working Cheonho who would be described as ugly by the vast majority of men.
All sorts of men wander through the Cheonho red light district but local Koreans are the most common. Foreigners can be found but those who are obviously not from East Asia are often ignored. Some women will accept foreign customers especially if there are no Korean guys around to see it go down. Probably around half of the shops will except Western men when possible.
Unlike other famous red light districts such as De Wallen in Amsterdam each window at Cheonho is usually worked by several women. These ladies are almost always accompanied by a mamsan or older female manager. These old ladies stay out of the limelight until a customer enters one of the rooms. Then they appear suddenly to explain costs and collect money.
The standard rate for a short full service session is 150,000 Won ($136 USD). This can be higher than some other red light districts and is probably explained by the tendency for more attractive women to work at Cheonho. Negotiation is possible. Some customers pay less or more. Foreigners are more likely to be overcharged especially if they do not speak Korean but in general there are few attempts to really rip off non-Koreans.
Once customers select a lady and pay for a session they are quickly guided up a set of stairs to one of many small rooms where services are provided. These rooms are usually decorated like bedrooms and fitted with elevated beds and dressers.
Short sessions typically last around fifteen minutes. Protection is usually used for full service. Oral services are sometimes provided without it. There are no hard and fast rules. Customers are often offered a drink on the way out though there are pushed out the door as not to linger in the lobbies and scare away other potential customers.
When women are busy with other customers or have another reason to hide from view they cover their windows. Police do pass through the area at times but it is not very common. No one seems to mind in any event.
For now this is how things go on a regular basis. Only time will tell how long it will all continue.
Cheonho red light district. Cheonho, Seoul, South Korea. Open seven days a week from around noon to around midnight. Click here for a map.