TAIPEI, Taiwan — Gone are the days of scuzzy "rest" hotels, rented by the hour to furtive lovers.
The latest generation of Taiwan love hotels are over-the-top pleasure dens, kitted out with full karaoke sound systems, massive jacuzzis and high-tech privacy protection.
The basic principle remains the same. As in Japan, many young Taiwanese can't afford their own apartments. Well into their 20s, they may still live with mom and dad — making sex logistically difficult.
"Taipei is too crowded, rooms are too small and many young people live with their parents," said Cheng Po-ren, a manager at Wego Hotel in Taipei. "So they want a place with more space, where they can go for privacy."
Nowadays, Taiwan's romance shacks aren't just for young lovers or older philanderers. They are increasingly aimed at fashionable young women, privacy-conscious playboys, and groups looking for a party room with a difference.
Holy handcuffs, Batman
The Eden Motel in Kaohsiung may have the wildest theme rooms. There's a "jail room" complete with concertina wire and fuzzy handcuffs. A "Japanese comic" room, with murals of erotic manga. And yes, even a "Batman" room.
Eden's 46 rooms go for $40 to $60 for a three-hour stay, said the motel's Ann Shu. Like many of Taiwan's love motels, Eden offers plenty of marketing ploys. During the Christmas and New Year's period, for example, they're giving away lubrication, sexy lingerie and other perks.
Wego Motels launched Taiwan's high-end love motel trend earlier this decade. They've started offering themes targeted at women, such as the "Louis Vuitton" room or "Fantasy Fun Park" room, complete with carousel horses ($50 for two and a half hours, or $215 for a full night).
"Usually it's the woman who decides where to go, and the man who pays," said Cheng, the manager.
Love motel: the movie
Wego is also breaking ground in love motel marketing. It hired professional directors and actors and paid nearly $400,000 to produce three artsy, provocative flicks inspired by the Wego experience. The results were screened at a Taipei movie theater, then posted online earlier this year.
The creepy "Scentless Soap" is aimed at young men, to advertise that Wego offers many small touches "to help them avoid difficult situations," said Cheng. (Read: to fool suspicious wives who might pick up a strange soap smell on their man.)
Ethics aren't us
Cheng said Wego has taken flak for catering in part to cheaters. But he says the motel chain operates by the old adage of "any publicity is good publicity."
"Whether you think well of Wego, or think of bad of us, if you want to go somewhere like this, the first place you'll think of is Wego," he said.
Most of Wego's customers are 22 to 35, said Cheng. Wego does have its rules: staff generally don't admit male couples, because gay men are much more likely to do drugs in the rooms, he said. And they don't admit single women.
"Some suicidal women want to find the prettiest, most expensive place they can, to dress up and kill themselves," Cheng explained.
Love motels regularly pop up in Taiwan's sensational media. Usually it's a failed suicide pact, or a politician caught sneaking a mistress into a motel by the island's paparazzi.
The latest such scandal involved a legislator at a Wego and took the media by storm in November.
For such high-profile customers, Taiwan's love motels now are now advertising extra security. iMore, outside Taipei, is one. This recent article from the China Post describes its special services, including covering visitors' license plates to avoid detection by spouses or private detectives.
Like Wego, iMore's rooms boast sound systems that can pipe in the strains of a subway platform, street traffic, bank or other locale, to bolster a guest's cover story. And it has a back door for emergency exits.
"If a guest's wife shows up, we will help the female guest by taking her out the back first, so she's not discovered," said iMore manager Lisa Chang, by way of example.
Chang said that young Taiwanese groups are increasingly opting for love motel party rooms instead of a KTV, or karaoke parlour. Such rooms are especially popular on Christmas and New Year's Eve, she said.
At iMore, groups of up to 10 can watch movies and enjoy a jacuzzi, in addition to singing karaoke.
"KTVs don't have many facilities," said Chang. "And young people think it's more interesting and special to have these themes. So these days they prefer to go to a motel to have a party."