“… hot spring facility with cave jjimjilbang, jade and elvan jjimjil rooms, oxygen room and the biggest open-air hot spring in the nation!”
The above is what an ad on a spa brochure said.
It enticed me.
I’d heard Koreans often frequented community bathhouses. Why?
For most westerners the notion of “community bathing” and exposed nudity doesn’t spark positive excitement. The Korean bathing ritual (click here for my ‘bathhouse series‘) was steeped and steamed in a well-scrubbed mystery.
I had to see for myself..
Palgong Spa & Hotel was the last stop on the Daegu City Bus Tour (near Donghwasa Temple). At 4,500 Won (approximately $4) the hotel’s spa didn’t bore a hole in my bank. It was a perfect budget tour adventure!
The variety of ways to spend your time being naked.
Some bathhouses can be as modest as a few hot and cold bathing pools, seated bathing stalls and one female masseuse-scrubber. Others I’ve heard, can boast the grandeur of a mega-complex: aroma-scented saunas, heat and ice rooms, green tea and mineral bath pools, noraebang, dvd rooms, gyms, even golf courses!
If the bathhouse offers 24-hour overnight accommodations (a common sleeping area with blanket, mat and sleeping smocks), then it’s called a jjimjilbang and offers the cheapest traveler bed in all of Korea!
Palgong Spa was just a simple bathhouse and sauna.
Or was it?
Entrance to the jjimjilbang.
I dropped my shoes on the shoe shelf near the door, got a locker key at the main desk, for my clothes and bag.
The key is on a rubber band and conveniently slips over your foot or wrist, so you won’t lose it between the soaks and scrubs.
Many Koreans come prepared with plastic shower totes filled with their own products. I bought a small scrubber, soap and shampoo for under 3,000W.
Where do you put your clothes at a Korean bathhouse?
Can I get some translation help here?
The bathhouse was enormous.
From washing stalls, showers, soaking pools, sauna rooms and naked folk, the options overwhelmed me.
I didn’t know if there was a procedure to all this washing…. a way to ensure proper molting.
Nude and naturally awkward in a Korean bathhouse
I was surrounding by naked Korean bodies of all shapes and sizes. From mothers washing crying babies, sisters holding hands and ajumma grandmothers, laying back in deep relaxation with their hair bound in towel turbans.
If you’re not comfortable being nude around your own sex, then it’s something you need to hurdle to enjoy yourself. A newbie’s first five minutes of standing stark-naked amongst Korean strangers is like being center stage holding an “awkward”-guarantee.
As an Asian, I felt fortunate to blend, because all I had was a tiny pink scrubbing mit to shield me!
A Korean bathhouse is like a Waterworld playground.
Being it was a weekend, the showers and saunas were crowded. Sitting real estate was scarce. Showers stalls fashioned fogged mirrors and washing stations garnered hand-held shower sprays, white water buckets and plastic sitting stools, making it convenient to sit, wash and hose yourself off, while getting a bit of splash from the neighbor next to you. Gotta love community bonding.
Korean women take bathing seriously.
They scrub ardently for long periods of time, as if they’re trying to remove chunks of dead scales.
Next time I come, I’d gladly pay a scrubbing masseuse ajumma to scour me down for that de-husked effect.
A station opened up and I jumped in!
Me and my scrubbing mit were doing fabulously, until I realized I didn’t know how to turn off the shower hose, which resulted in several shots to the face and at neighbors.
After several embarrassing attempts of fighting with my hose, I gave in to my damsel-in-distress and mimed for help to the woman next to me. So much for naked grace…
My next stop was the jade and elvan jimjil sauna.
Crystals of jade and amethyst lined the ceilings as oak panels covered the walls and seats. A light vanilla scent fragranced the air to enhance the tranquil vibes, but ten minutes of roasting had drained all the repose out of me.
…“the biggest open-air hot spring in the nation”.
So maybe the ad exaggerated a little by claiming “…the biggest… in the nation”. If so, I didn’t care. Stark-naked in the gentle chill of Mother Nature and it all felt luxurious and grand.
Before me lay a bubbling outdoor hot spring, which flowed along stone walls into a huge cave, where I relished in the heated swirls of a jacuzzi. A waterfall fed a neighboring bath of icy mineral water; a place to dip into for relief if the hot springs had me feeling overcooked.
Note: *The mineral water is actually said to be a mineral elixir which cures many ailments. These Korean saunas are often known for having waters with medicinal purposes.
I baked off calories and detoxified in a small mud-like sweat lodge hut. Kicking back with my head on a woodblock, I drifted off lightly to the low patter of Korean buzz around me.
There is nothing more beautiful, relaxing or liberating than to spend your afternoon, naked, staring up at the sky, kicking back in a open-air hot-spring of a Korean bathhouse.
Related Korean Bathhouse experiences:
- Sleeping at a Jjimjilbang (a Korean bathhouse & sauna) (Busan)
- Finding Youth at Yulpo Green Tea Saltwater Spa (Yulpo)
- Naked in a Mineral Bath (Chocksan Spa, Mt Seoraksan)
- Luxury at Dragon Hill Spa… hip or hype? (Seoul)
- Why Siloam Spa is the best jjimjilbang in Seoul.