Naked in a Korean Bathhouse

Last Updated on October 1, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

 

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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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Bathhouses & Jjimjilbangs in Korea, Daegu, Korea

31 Comments.

  • It must be a better experience for women. For dudes you always get someone brushing their teeth and spitting, or peeing next to you while you are in the shower stall, I don’t mean stall, I mean wall of shower heads, so there is little protection for your feet from someone’s bad aim. But yeah, women are probably a lot less gross so you might not have as much to worry about.

    • @3gyupsal: eeew! Is that what really goes on in the men’s section– it’s one big urinal?! I don’t even want to think what the pools are like. Gross– kinda takes away from the bath experience, huh?

  • You MUST check out Spaland in Busan. It’s in the Shinsegae Department Store at Centum City, and it’s luxurious to the max. No kids allowed, either! It’s 12,000 won and it’s AMAAAAAZING. You can’t sleep there though. Otherwise, I totally would.

  • I’ve got to say, the jimjilbang is one of the greatest experiences in Korea, and the thing I miss the most in Canada.

    Sitting under an open-air spa is truly awesome… I did that in North Korea, at the Geumgangsan resort, before it closed.

  • Very excellent insight into the jjijilbang culture in Korea. I’ll be moving to Korea soon and I’ve heard about these. Interesting concept- I’m curious and yet as a western guy I’m not sure if I could get past the “naked” part. Glad you took the leap and shared it with us.

  • Rachael Takeuchi
    September 16, 2010 4:38 pm

    Cool post!! Very informative. I can’t wait to try this when I get to Korea!

  • This is an excellent insight into bathhouse culture but misleading because a jjimjilbang is not a bathhouse. A bathhouse is a mogyotang. Bathhouses exist on their own and can be quite large. A jjimjilbang has a bathhouse attached to it. In the jjimjilbang you are clothed and they are mixed, in the mogyotang you are naked and males and females separated. You cannot go naked in a jjimjilbang unless you go the mogyotang area.

    I am making a link to your site as I write extensively about bathhouse/jjimjilbang culture and am male and it is great to hear about a female’s perspective. I am not being at all negative but many westerners conflate bathhouse and jjimjilbang and your excellent article would be much better if you removed ‘jjimjilbang’ and replaced it with ‘mogyotang.’ (목욕탕).

    Best wishes

  • […] to strip starkers and get a scrub down. I’ve read too many stories about this one, like HERE, but dammit, these bloggers don’t mind getting nude and sometimes even hunt down such places- […]

  • […] A Jimjillbang is probably the number 1 Korean solution for stress.  truly I cannot imagine a better place to take a rest than amongst 100′s of naked people!  Okay probably not 100′s but still.  A Jimjillbang is a Sauna and spa where Korans all flok to over weekends.  It’s all indoors and the prerequisite is that you are comfortable in your birth suite.   I am yet to experience everything that is the Jimjillbang but almost 6 months in and I still haven’t built up the courage.   It’s just as a foreigner in Korea you get stared at ALL the time.  As if the circus rolled into town, or some sort of alien!  Now can you imagine the stares a naked foreigner would get!   Nope I’ll need more courage.  A friend of mine here in Daegu wrote an excellent blog on her Jimjillbang experience.   Read the post here! […]

  • […] Related posts:My visit to a Jjimjilbang (the Korean Sauna & Bathhouse) […]

  • […] Related posts:My visit to a Jjimjilbang (the Korean Sauna & Bathhouse) […]

  • Sadly, I never made it to a bathhouse while I was in Korea. I lived in an area so rural that we didn’t have one, and on the rare chances I got to leave the island, I didn’t usually want to spend the time to go to one somewhere else.

  • Christine, just reading it made me a little uncomfortable! But it is something Korean that I also want to experience. We went for a few beers on Saturday in downtown, and when I went to the toilet the urinal next to mine was occupied by this Korean dude. He made no effort to hide the fact that he was blatantly staring at my goods. So… I think it will take a lot of courage to get me to the Jimjilbang. But I will do it before the year ends . . . . !

  • Great post, Christine! I also went to a bathhouse/spa like this but I haven’t been able to write about it yet. I can’t really describe the experience, but I think you captured it really well in this post. May I link this on my blog? You wrote about it so well, I can’t imagine writing anything better!

  • I agree with Katja… I wanna hear more haha. This place sounds amazing.

    I dunno if I could bring myself to get naked though.

  • I found myself mesmerized by your story…but it ended too abruptly, my dear!!! As if you almost fell asleep due to all that relaxation and just wanted to finish the article…haha! Part 2 please….in DETAIL!

    • Thanks for reading, grrrls. ha ha…
      @Katja: Well the rest is… I had to run to catch the bus after! LOL. But there is a Part II coming.
      @Laura: The naked part is not for everyone. I do hear there are larger jimjilbangs where they have a co-ed section in which people can get sauna action with their clothes on. One EPIKer blogged a little about the co-ed one here.
      @Malou: Thanks- I would consider it an honor if you link to me. And as for jimjilbanging… I think we’ll have many more jjb experiences to blog about. 😉

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