Jjimjilbangs are one of the truly great aspects of a unique Korean culture. These are large, gender-segregated public bathhouses complete with hot tubs, showers, Finnish-style saunas and massage tables, similar to what you might find in a Korean sauna or mogyoktang.
However, in other areas of the building or on other floors, after donning your robe, you will enter the unisex areas and will usually find a snack bar, ondol-heated floor for lounging and sleeping on, wide-screen TVs, a PC bang, a noraebang, and sleeping quarters with either bunk beds or sleeping mats.
Jjimjilbangs usually operate 24 hours and are a popular weekend getaway for Korean families to relax as the parents spend time soaking in tubs or lounging and sleeping while the kids play away on the PCs.
Jjimjilbangs are also a great deal for the cost-conscious traveller in Korea. For 6,000-10,000 Won, one can sleep overnight there and enjoy the bathhouse and sauna, and wake up fresh and ready to travel the next morning. If you have bags and backpacks with you that are too big to fit in the lockers, the front desk will usually watch over your bags at no charge for the length of your stay.
There are many words to describe Korean bathhouses and most usually mean the same thing. However, keep in mind that while a place that says 24 hour sauna definitely will have a bathhouse, it might also have the recreation facilities of a jjimjilbang. And a small jjimjilbang might not offer the full services of a larger one. Check for a "24" on the sign, and make sure they have sleeping facilities if you're planning on staying overnight.
- When walking into your run-of-the-mill jjimjilbang, you will encounter the front desk, who, upon payment, will give you a receipt, key, towels, and outfit.
- At this point you will want to walk through the doors or elevator titled 남탕(men's sauna) or 여탕(women's sauna). Depending on the place, either before the entrance or just after it, you'll find shoe lockers. That's what your key is for. Store your shoes and go inside. Some modernized places have keys that only work once, so once you re-open it, you might not be able to lock it again without a trip back to front desk for a new key.
- Once inside, you'll usually have somebody there or at a desk who will take your receipt and give you a locker key. This is where you store all of your clothes and belongings. If you didn't bring a razor, shampoo, or toothbrush with you, this person will have a small, cheap selection for you to choose from. You can also buy a green scrub pad that Koreans like to use to scrape excess dirt and grime off of themselves. Toothpaste and soap are free and can be found in the bathhouse.
- If it wasn't already happening since entering Korea, from this point on, expect to be noticed and watched. Korean bathhouse populations usually raise a collective eyebrow over a foreigner being in their midst and use the opportunity to check out physical features not seen in public.
- Once you are all naked, put your key band around your ankle and venture towards the glass door heading to the bathhouse area. Towels are usually kept on the outside of this door.
- Inside, there will be jacuzzis and hot tubs of various temperatures. Some will have minerals such as jade added for health benefits.
- You will also see rows of stand-up or sit-down showers. Cardinal cultural rule: Shower before getting into the jacuzzis.
- Also interspersed in the bathhouse area, you'll find the hot Finnish-style saunas, heat lamps for lounging under, and sometimes tiny swimming pools and cascading mini-waterfalls that are designed to act as a massage for your back. Somewhere in the mix, you'll also see massage tables manned by a masseuse, with rates ranging from 20-50,000 Won. Sorry, but it'll be someone of your gender.
- Once you are finished with your soak, head out of the bathhouse and you'll find an area with hairdryers, cotton swabs, gel, hairspray, etc...
- From that point on, after putting on a robe or T-shirt and shorts, you are ready to walk out into the rest of the jjimjilbang and explore the unisex area and facilities mentioned earlier.
- It is customary to fold the towel into a "Mickey Mouse hat" or "Princess Leia hat" as seen in popular Korean dramas. This can be done by folding the towel into thirds lengthwise and then rolling up the ends to form buns hence the "Princess Leia" name.
- Nearly all jjimjilbangs will sell the traditional Korean drink sikhye and it is very refreshing after sweating in a hot room. Most will also sell hard boiled eggs and as seen in dramas, Korean teenagers like to crack the eggs on their heads before eating them.
Jjimjilbang and Saunas in Korea : English blog with pictures, reviews and maps of spas throughout Korea. Hosted by S. Freeman at Blogspot.
- Dongnae Spa/Heoshimchung. With a capacity to handle up to 3000 naked bodies, Heoshimcheong touts itself as being the biggest sauna in Asia. One downfall is that despite having sleeping quarters, it's not 24 hours. Directions are tricky, but a taxi driver will simply know it as 허심청 (heo-shim-cheong) or 동래온천 (dong-nae ohn-cheon). Throwing in the Korean word for sauna, 사우나 (sah-woo-na), may also help.
Jjimjilbang here include:
- Mancheon Sauna and Jjimjilbang
- Whasan Spa Land
- World Oncheon 24