South Korea’s jjimjilbang experience is like taking a bath but 10 times better. When you see locals in a place built with Korean sauna, snacks, and salt rooms, you’ll realize that this country doesn’t take relaxation lightly. If you haven’t set a foot in a jjimjilbang before, then this guide will help wrap your head around it.
Basically, a jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse with hot tubs, showers, saunas, and massage areas. “Bang” in Korea refers to room while “jjimjil” is placing a hot or cold pack on the skin to produce a calming effect. A loose translation of the term is “steam rooms.” A Jjimjilbang can be compared to the hot springs popular in Japan.
Jjimjilbang is gender-segregated though some have unisex areas that come with a snack bar, TVs, exercise spaces, and sleeping rooms. Some Jjimjilbangs are open 24/7 but they observe strict sanitary standards. The experience or services may differ in every jjimjilbang but here’s how it typically happens:
When you first enter a jjimjilbang, you have to pay at the front desk. You may be asked about the activities or services you want to avail. The average prices are:
Bath only (day): 8,000 won
Bath only (night): 9,000 won
Bath + Jjimjilbang: 9,000 won
Bath + Jjimjilbang (night): 11,000 won
After making your payment, the staff will give you your locker key so you can store and leave your clothes, shoes, and anything else you’re carrying. Then the staff will show you where to get your towel, robe, or cotton pajamas as well as the changing room based on your gender.
You will likely have to choose if you’re going to the baths, which are for same-sex only and require you to strip off your clothes, or the sauna areas, which are communal and would allow a piece of clothing.
Before going inside the baths, you have to wash first. You will see washing stations. You can also shave and brush your teeth if you want to be completely clean. After that, you can start trying out different tubs and steam rooms. The temperature of the tubs ranges from 38°C to about 42°C. You can stay in a tub for 15 to 20 minutes. You will notice Koreans, especially women, scrubbing themselves. Some even avail of a professional scrub, also known as seshin. Some baths have charcoal in them to help you get rid of impurities, ginseng for your metabolism, and jade for relaxation.
As a first-timer, you would feel uncomfortable. The first step to reducing that feeling is to accept that you will likely get a few glances, but it does not mean you are being scrutinized. It could be just natural for anyone who sees you in the room. Remember that jjimjilbang is part of Korean culture, and for most Koreans, undressing in a jjimjilbang is normal. You should be more concerned with splashing or playing in the tub or talking loudly because these will be considered rude by others in the room.
When it comes to saunas or jjimjil rooms, you can choose from different themes and temperatures. Some of these are salt rooms with heated salt rocks, charcoal rooms, jade rooms, clay rooms, and an ice room.
Jjimjilbangs usually feature a large and warmed common area where people relax and are connected to another space where the cafeteria, bathrooms, and sleeping rooms are. Bigger jjimjilbangs have spas or massage centers.
If you want to eat, you can purchase foods and drinks that are generally associated with jjimjilbang, such as Shik-hye, a sweet, malt water drink; the fruit-based hongcho; and the maekbanseok eggs, which are slow-cooked in high heat sauna. You can also look for patbingsu, or red bean shaved ice. Regular soft drinks and coffee are usually available too.
So, are you ready for your first jjimjilbang experience? Book now on KKday!