Noraebang (노래방 - literally, 'song room') is Korean karaoke. But you knew that already, right?
You also know, of course, that Korean karaoke is not like pub karaoke, but rather it involves private rooms, very similar to Japanese karaoke.
Noraebang establishments are hugely popular in Korea. It doesn't matter how old you are, or who you're with - A trip to the noraebang is an essential part of Korean life. And if you're a foreigner living in Korea and you've never been to a noraebang ... Seriously. GO NOW.
The trouble is (and I was shocked when I found this out), some people don't actually like singing. Can you imagine?! Well, maybe you are one of those people. If so, don't worry. Here is my ultimate noraebang survival guide.
1. To drink or not to drink?
I've heard it so many times: "You'll have to get me drunk before I sing in front of anyone!" Ahh, the shy singer who is not completely unwilling to brave the microphone, but who needs a strong dose of dutch courage before doing so. In this case, you might wish to start your night in a bar, and move on to a noraebang a bit later. If you wish to drink at the noraebang, there are many that sell cans of beer as well as soft drinks. However, they will not be happy if you bring your own alcohol into their establishment, so bear this in mind. Lastly, don't think that you have to drink to enjoy the noraebang. It's fun anyway!
2. Don't just sit there.
There are always some people who hate singing so much, they will get dragged along by friends to the noraebang, only to sit in the corner and watch as everyone else sings and they don't. (You know who you are!) OK, nobody should have to do something they don't want to, and it's cool you even agreed to go to the noraebang in the first place. But come on, guys, at least try to have fun! Get up and dance, or shake the tambourines or maracas that are usually provided. You don't have to sing but you can still get in the spirit.
3. Expect 'service'
(Konglish dictionary: service (서비스) n., something provided to a customer free of charge, as an added 'extra' or complimentary product or service.)
When you pay for an hour of noraebanging, you will usually get around 20 minutes of free 'service' time added on at the end. Which is nice.
4. Is this the kind of noraebang I'm looking for?
Sorry, I can't answer that question. I lived in Korea for two years but I still don't know exactly what to expect when I walk into any place with a neon sign saying 'noraebang'. Some places are amazingly fantastic, and some are filthy grimy crap-holes. I also don't know the difference between '노래방' and '노래연습장', but I think they are essentially the same thing. Make your judgement based on what kind of neighborhood you're in, and what kind of people you see walking in and out.
In areas like Hongdae and Gangnam you'll see some places described as 'luxury', which have everything, with bells on. They might cost a little more than an average noraebang, but can be cool to visit. Even in a standard noraebang, there will often be flashing disco lights and stuff. Just take it that every noraebang you walk into will be slightly different to the last, and if you're not sure, you can always ask to see the rooms before you commit to spending an hour there. If it turns out to be really awful, at least it's an experience!
5. How much should I pay?
It depends on the size of the room, which depends on the number of people in your party. Expect to split around 15,000 to 30,000 won between you for a room for one hour.
6. What is this massive remote control with a million buttons and how do I use it?!
Ahh, I still don't know all the buttons on the remo-con. It's possible to do different sound effects, bring up a list of popular songs, and search for songs and artists in either English or Hangeul. However, all you really need to do is this:
a) find a song number in the book
b) use the remo-con to input the number
c) hit "예약" to cue, or "시작" to start!
Lastly. I'm not going to tell you what to sing, but don't worry, there are plenty of English songs! Most noraebangs have the same song lists and you'll find an English section in the colour-coded book. Check the back of the book for newly added songs. Happy singing!