Let’s Jimjilbang! Relaxing in South Korea’s incredible bath houses
© Copyrights: Noby Leong
South Korea Bath House
After a day sightseeing in South Korea, most visitors need to relax. There’s always the hostel, of course, but in these parts you can go one better – head to a traditional jimjilbang and you’ll get a big dose of chill and an authentic Korean cultural experience in one. While initially intimidating, Jimjilbangs are amazing value and give you a great glimpse of Korean society, so leave your modesty at the door and get involved. Let’s jimjilbang!
The countless jimjilbangs across Korea operate in the same way. Walk in, decide if you want the overnight or day rate and pay the fee at the front desk. You will be handed a set of loose pyjama-type clothes and ushered through a gender-specific door. You now find yourself in a changing room where you put your shoes in a locker and exchange the key for another one from the room attendant. You then place your uniform in a new locker, followed by all of your clothes. You are now naked with a locker key attached to your wrist.
Time to wash…
From here, you join the other naked people in the all male/all female bath room. Note the showers at which Koreans are all busily scrubbing themselves thoroughly with soaped up cloths. You will need to do likewise. You could get an attendant to this for you at an extra cost, but most non-Koreans stop short at that point. After washing yourself, you can sit in the various steam rooms and hot tubs of differing temperatures with other bathers. The hot sauna rooms can reach temperatures of up to 90 centigrade and the cold pools a chilly zero. In no particular order, you move from one to another until you are suitably woozy and relaxed.
Dry off and put on your pyjamas. Proceed upstairs to another section with various doors that lead into mixed-gender fomentation chambers. The archaic word to foment means to bathe in medicated waters, and that’s the gist of what happens here. You’ll move between rooms with varying temperatures, moisture levels and mineral ‘themes’ (salt and jade are both common ones). Some chambers are searingly hot, some chilly. You’re free to move from room to room as you please, so relax and take your pick.
Eat, sleep, repeat
Jimjilbangs aren’t just bath houses. The biggest are fully kitted-out resorts with restaurants, communal sleeping areas, gyms, karaoke rooms and TV areas. If you pay the reasonable overnight rate, or arrive at the beginning of the day, you are under no time pressure and can do as much as you like in any sequence you like. And that’s what Koreans tend to do, so block out a whole day and/or night and join in!