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Naked in a Korean Bathhouse | jjimjilbang (Photo by Jejulife on Flickr)

 

“… 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?

naked in a bathhouse, palgongsa spa hotel

what a korean bathhouse looks likeEntrance 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.

naked in a korean bathhouse, korean jjimjilbang locker

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.

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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.

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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!
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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?

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Getting there to Daegu’s Palgong Spa:

Palgong Spa & Hotel (bookings here)
84-16 Yongsu-dong, Dong-gu, Daegu-si
Tel: +82-53-985-808
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:

Spa Valley
#27-9 Naengcheon 1-ri
Gachang-myeon, Dalseong-gun, Daegu
Tel: 053-608-5000~8
Website: http://www.spavalley.co.kr
Hours : 08:30 ~ 22:30 Check the website for hours for specific activities

Cost:
• Hot Springs Only
Weekdays Adult 5,000
Weekends/Holidays – Adult 6,000
• All-Access Pass
Weekdays  Adult 30,000
Weekends/ Holidays – Adult  35,000

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31 Comments. Leave new

Do you think you’ll ever visit a co-ed nude bathhouse? For all you know, you might see some really handsome, well-hung guys there!

Reply

[…] General rule of thumb of the bathhouse : you enter naked. […]

Reply

    Just arrived in Suwon for a couple of months and i can’t wait to try! I loved going to onsen in Japan (especially Kurama, in the woods outside of Kyoto), it looks quite similar. Oddly enough, when I mentioned the idea to my Korean girlfriend, she looked quite embarrassed… I won’t forget to buy a small towel before :).
    Great blog, thank you.

    Mathieu

    P.S. : when do you intend to write a “best spots to go climbing in Korea”? 😉

    Reply

[…] you’ve watched Korean dramas, you may already know that going to the bathhouse/spa is part of Korean culture. You can relax in one of the assorted saunas which bare crystals, jade, […]

Reply

[…] Awhile back, Maggie wrote a hilarious post about her experience at a Korean sauna in America. After I read her account, I realized that I’ve been holding out on y’all. I have defied one of the most basic principles of life for far too long: the law that says it’s virtually impossible to go to a 찜질방 (jimjilbang) and not share the experience with every living soul around. The universal sign for the jimjilbang in Korea Source […]

Reply

Oh, man! These were one of my favorite spots while in Korea, but only in the wintertime. It’s one of my survival secrets during the cold. You just have to find a calm jjimjilbang otherwise it will be sooo loud.

Even after I met my girlfriend I was able to make it into a date night–we would separate for an hour or so and join together in our loaned clothes and watch tv and even have a meal sometimes. Good times, great article.

Reply

    @Andrew: I find foreign guys either love the bathhouse or hate it. You’re one of the exceptions on loving it. Hope you and your wife still occasionally visit a jjimjilbang for old time’s sake. Seoul’s got some great ones I hear… I’ve been meaning to get to one out there!

    Reply

I doesn’t happen all of the time, but it happened enough to make me try to go there when it wasn’t busy. Surprisingly what I found even more disgusting was the way that the hot tub water could take on a garlic odor as if it were turning into some kind of soup stock.

But I shouldn’t really trample over your beautiful description of how relaxing the public baths and saunas are. The bath house that I went to most often, was a part of a health club that was on the eighth floor of a home plus. So you would get both the casual sauna customers, and people showering up after a workout. (And for some reason, a lot of gangsters. Usually the only people in Korea who get tattoos are gangsters, and every time I would go there I would see someone with a full body dragon or tiger tattoo.) Also you are right. When I went to that health club I would end up rushing through the workouts so that I could go sit in the sauna. It kind of defeated the purpose of exercising because I would just end up wanting to go stew for a bit, and in that situation I would end up willfully ignoring the guy relieving himself next to me.

Reply

    @3gyupsal: wow, it sounds like you’ve gotten much more of a grittier experience than me. I think if I were a guy, I’d probably not want to go at all. I can’t imagine soaking in soup or having a gangster pee next to me while I showered. yikes.

    Reply

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