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Table of Contents: A Guide to Korean jjimjilbangs 찜질방 | Bathhouses in Korea
Entering a Korean Jjimjilbang 찜질방
Bathhouses in Korea
Jjimjilbangs are 24 hour bathhouses in Korea, that also have spa facilities that can make the bath house experience feel like Disneyland. As the operating hours are 24 hours, you can also sleep in them.
1. Pay the admission fee
2. Get a smock and towels
3. Get your shoe locker key
4. The toiletries counter/shop
5. Your locker
Each person gets their own locker unit. The locker is about the size as a high school locker and fits a small duffle bag. It has a hook and mirror. The locker key has a spring wristlet so you can wear it either around your wrist or ankle. If you’re going to the bathhouse, you disrobe and leave your clothes and smock in the locker.
Entering the Bathhouse… Naked
General rule of thumb of the bathhouse : you enter naked.
But it’s not like this is Germany! The bath houses are not co-ed. Only the rest of the facilities are. You’re naked among your own sex. As nude as you are, it’s very non-sexual. Asians tend to have strong ties with family, so you’ll often see mothers scrubbing their children or grandmothers, scrubbing or being scrubbed by daughters.
Take a drying towel and your toiletries with you and place them on the scrubbing station walls or cubby holes (if there are any).
The Korean Bathing Ritual
1. Do a light pre-shower with a soap and scrubber.
2. Visit the bathing pools and sample the different herbal waters (or Infrared light stations), which have health benefits.
3. Ready for a scrub? Get your toiletries and take them to the scrubbing station, where you’ll see others sitting and scrubbing themselves down. Koreans take scrub baths seriously and after your soaking, your dead skin will be ready for husking. Don’t feel like a scrub, take a shower instead.
Many spas have an area with an ajumma, dressed in black lace underwear, who will scrub you down. They look a little S&M but the service is pure innocence. You will lie on a table and she will pummel massage you and scrub you down, removing dead skin in chunks like in a Moroccan spa. This is an extra charge, usually starting from around 20,000 won.
4. Dry off with you towel and go to your locker to change into your smock.
Exploring the Jjimjilbang facilities
You’ll find various types of saunas and facilities. Some have DVD rooms for entertainment, PC bangs, game rooms, gyms, restaurants, Korean beauty salons, even golf courses. Some spas offer beauty packages, ripe with massages, facial treatments and other fun yah-yahs (read about Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul).
I love the saunas- each jjimjilbang has their own specialties. Watch my video to see some of the options.
There will also be a snack center where you can buy drinks and even snacks like patbingsu (depends on season), etc… A popular drink is something that looks like a cross between an iced coffee and/or herbal tea. Koreans love to drink them at jjimjilbangs as much as they hard-boiled eggs. I think this has to do with replenishing your body after the soaks and saunas.
Where’s the bed?
Some spas have separate sleeping spaces for men and women. But there is always a co-ed option too. Basically, any floor or reclining chair real estate is open for sleeping. On a particularly crowded night (usually weekends), it’s not uncommon to sleep right next to another person (I’d just watch out on the flailing arms). Also, you’ll find some Koreans asleep in the saunas.
At my favorite jjimjilbang in Seoul, I like sleeping in both, the charcoal room and the bunk bed room.
In Korea and especially in the spas, a wooden block is your pillow and a mat or towel like blanket on the floor is your bed. Korean floors (aka ondols) are often heated.
Do they store luggage for you?
Yes and no. Depends on the jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbangs are 24 hour spas, not hotels. Some spas may accommodate you by putting it behind their desk. Others, if close to a transportation hub, might have a storage area, but don’t expect it to be in a secure room. Koreans however, aren’t known to be big on theft, especially in public areas.
Is there WiFi or charging outlets?
Depends on the facilities. At the very least, they’ll have a PC bang where you can use the internet via coin-operated computers. Some places might have many outlets for guests to charge; others might have a limited few. It’s best to bring a backup external charger to be safe.
What if I forgot to bring soap?
You’ll find the toiletries store in your locker room, fully equipped to sell all the common toiletries. Prices are standard to dollar stores (and Korea has dollar stores!).
How do I buy things inside the spa?
The locker key that you’ll keep around your wrist has a computer chip in it that will act as a surrogate charge card. You’ll tap it on the electronic pad near the register when you buy something and when you leave and return the key, the front desk will total your expenses.
How much is admission?
Each spa charges different rates but they tend to rate around 6,000 won to 12,000 won. In the evenings, the rates raise to the higher end of that spectrum. After 24 hours, if you’re still in the spa, you’ll need to pay the next day rate too.
Will people stare at me if I’m foreign?
If you’re foreign, you’ll probably attract attention, naked or clothed. Korea, for a long time, was a homogenous country. While there’s been more exposure to foreigners, it’s still largely homogenous. Things like tattoos and Brazillian waxes may turn heads as Korea is a conservative culture also and there is some stigma associated with these things. It doesn’t stop expats from frequenting these spas.
Overall, Koreans tend to be more fascinated with foreigners than look upon them with negative feelings.