If you’re in Korea, or traveling through the region, one thing you should be sure to experience is the Korean jjimjilbang. A jjimjilbang is a Korean sauna, though referring to them as such is perhaps a little lacking, as they offer so much more. For around 5,00won, about US$4, travelers can take advantage of many of the great features the spas offer.
Most jjimjilbangs work the same. You enter, place your shoes in one of the tiny lockers at the entrance and take the key with you. You pay the entrance fee, pick up a towel, and proceed to your gender specific changing room. Here you will find a locker with the same corresponding number as your shoe locker key. Strip down completely and proceed to the sauna area. Many people like to bring a towel to dry themselves, or dra over their faces in the sauna rooms. You can also bring an artillery of products needed for grooming, though they all can be purchased in the changing room.
In nearly every jjimjilbang you will find a row of showers and several rows of seated washing and showering areas. Grab one of the tiny plastic stools and scoot up to the mirror. Before proceeding to the baths it is essential to take at least a quick shower.
Next, leave you things perched around the shower area, and you may proceed to the pools. The number and variety of pools depends on the scale of the jjimjilbang. Most will have a few pools of varying temperature, one pool with timed jets for the whole body, and a few saunas for a good sweat. However, large-scale spas like Seoul’s 7 floor Dragon Hill Spa, will have almost a dozen pools. Some will have cedar pools, rose but baths, sea salt pools, and multiple bubbling pools of different temperature. The larger spas will boast of a large variety of saunas, a steam room, an ice room for a good cool down, and an endless list of beauty services. Most jjimjilbangs offer a basic massage, but the larger ones will offer hair and nail care, a variety of facials and skin treatments, hair removal and styling, and every massage treatment under the sun.
After a good scrub and soak, change into the shirt and shorts set that you were given at the entrance. Sometimes you have to specify that you would like a set of these, though they are usual folded there on the counter and pointing and smiling goes a long way if you are not up on the local language. Nearly all Jjimjilbangs have a common area where men and woman can lounge together on the great heated floors. You can pull up a mat and sleep comfortably here until dawn. This is also where you can purchase refreshments, beer, mokoli, snacks, kimbop, and sometimes complete Korean style meals.
Jjimjilbangs are a great place to soak out your weekly stresses, but they are also great for travelers who have exhausted their muscles from traipsing all over sightseeing for days. If you’ve fallen upon a bit of traveler’s exhaustion, the jjimjilbang is a great place to recharge your energy for the road.
Jjimjilbangs are also a wish come true for the shoestring traveler. Hostels are harder to come by in Korea than in some places, and most travelers end up spending a few extra won to stay in a love motel. While these accommodations can be a very cosy treat, you may not want to shell out the 35,000won each night. Jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours, and at roughly US$4-8, travelers can sleep, shower, relax in the pools, and recline in front of the big screen TVs in some of the fancier spas.
Going to the jjimjilbangs is as common a practice as eating kimchi in Korea. It is a social custom, and you might just find yourself making friends in the common rooms as locals inquire about your visit to Korea.