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“… 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 nudity and community bathing doesn’t spark positive excitement. Korean culture loves its bathing rituals (check out my ‘Naked in a Korean bathhouse’ series) and it’s 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!
.Read my Guide on How to Use a Jjimjilbang.
Life in Korea | What’s the difference between Korean bathhouses and jjimjilbangs?
Not much. The discerning factor is whether or not the bathhouse offers a 24-hour overnight stay (with blanket, head block and sleeping smocks). If you can sleep overnight at the bathhouse, it’s called a jjimjilbang and offers the cheapest bed in all of Korea! All bathhouses are separated by sex, but the sleeping area is co-ed.
Some bathhouses can be as modest as a few hot and cold bathing pools, seated bathing stalls and one 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!
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.
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.
How to take a bath in a Korean bathhouse | jjimjilbang:
• Undress and leave your clothes in your locker
• Put your locker key around your wrist or ankle
• Take your bath toiletries with you: towel, scrub mit, soap, shampoo (If you forgot anything, there’s a counter, which sells these things. It’s where you get your locker key and pick up your towel)
• Rinse under a shower.
• Jump into the sauna or one of the pools.
• When you’re done with all the soaking and sweating, take your toiletries to a scrubbing station.
• Find a station and start scrubbing (or hire an ajumma at one of the scrubbing/massage stations to scrub you).
• Rinse off and return to the lockers.
Naked in a Korean bathhouse !
Yup, I was naked in a Korean bathhouse and this was a totally “different” experience. I was surrounding by naked Koreans with 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 with the idea of being naked around your own sex, then it’s something you’ll need to hurdle in order to enjoy yourself. A newbie’s first five minutes of standing stark-butt nude amongst Korean strangers is like being center stage in the word, “awkward”.
As an Asian, I felt fortunate to blend, because all I had was a tiny pink scrubbing mit to shield me!
When is the best time to visit a Korean bathhouse or jjimjilbang?
On the weekend, the showers, bathing pools and saunas are crowded. Weekdays aren’t.
I was there on the weekend and 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.
Entering the crystal and mineral sauna was a treat. It wasn’t just a wooden sauna of steam. 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.
Koreans take bathing seriously
They scrub thoroughly and ardently for long periods of time, as if they’re trying to remove chunks of dead scales. For the most part, the human body does shed skin daily and when you bath using one of their scrubbing mits, you’ll see your skin come off like you’re in molting season.
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…
Palgong Spa’s…“biggest open-air hot spring in the nation”.
Stark-naked in the gentle chill of Mother Nature, 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.
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 naked Korean women 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.
How adventurous are you? Would you be caught naked in a Korean bathhouse?
Getting there to Daegu’s Palgong Spa:
Palgong Spa & Hotel (bookings here)
84-16 Yongsu-dong, Dong-gu, Daegu-si
Website: http: //www.palgongspa.co.kr
The easiest way I know to get there is to take the Daegu City Bus tour (Tour Cost: 4,500W ) which meets outside of DongDaegu KTX Station outside. By the curb, where you catch taxis, there will be a city bus tour sign.
Other Spas in Daegu:
#27-9 Naengcheon 1-ri
Gachang-myeon, Dalseong-gun, Daegu
Hours : 08:30 ~ 22:30 Check the website for hours for specific activities
Related Korean Bathhouse experiences. Watch my favorite jjimjilbang experience below:
- 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.
- Jjimjilbang Guide