All right lovely people! 🙂
Today has been a very interesting day- I went to a traditional Korean bathhouse (jjimjilbang) and I of course want to tell you all about the experience! 🙂 I went there at about 1 pm and stayed until 6. pm. As the actual process can be quite complicated (at least I thought so and I had to read about other experiences before I went!) I will try to break it down to make it slightly clearer 🙂
So! First of all, what is a Korean jjimjilbang? As said, it is a public bath house, however it is also much more than that as they are in big buildings across multiple floors. They are also open 24 hours. Obviously, the facilities at each one will vary depending on which one you go to. However, in general there will also usually be a restaurant, rest areas, sleeping areas for overnight guests, and numerous different types of baths and saunas (herbal and mineral/stone based). Some even have cinemas, entertainment areas and gyms inside too, so going to a jjimjilbang is a full day experience for sure.
The koreans are VERY particular with their hygiene (as you will see walking through the streets of Seoul with so many beauty stores and products- they are everywhere!) so it is customary for koreans to visit a jjimjilbang at least every week. They often go with family members or friends as I found out asking when I was there. I do not know if this also has something to do with the small apartments I mentioned were standard- I guess so, as it would be difficult to shower fully in such small bathrooms, so going to a jjimjilbang would be a place to become SUPER clean again.
The entry fees to a jjimjilbang is in the range from 8000-20000 korean won (6-12£), which usually gives you access for 12 hours and a fee of 1000 korean won for each hour thereafter- so going to a bathhouse like this is also super cheap for all the facilities you get to experience!
Any treatments you will want does cost an additional fee, however compared to Denmark and the UK I thought these really cheap! I got a manicure for just 25£ and a full body scrub for 15£! The lady who did the scrub was thorough and my skin was slightly sore to the touch afterwards, however it was so worth it- so much dead skin came off and I have never felt so clean or had such smooth skin! Sorry if that sounds graphic haha I just wanted to mention how much it really is worth it- exfoliation really is something you just are not good at doing on yourself!
Now, the jjimjilbang I went to is called Spa Lei, which is for women only. As it is a bathhouse, you guessed right- once inside by the changing rooms, you strip down to your birthday suit (also while having the treatments!) and that is how you are throughout the remainder of your time there (you get a robe as well but more about that later). I should mention that all jjimjilbang’s are gender separated in the locker and bath zones (not necessarily in the saunas though, however here you wear the robes given). I just thought that for my first experience I would like to be in a women’s only one as I was not entirely sure what to expect, even after reading about them.
Spa Lei was great and I can highly recommend it- I have listed the facilities below, however please do visit the link provided (language can be changed to English) to get an idea of the layout and looks- it was luxurious! 🙂
Facilities at Spa Lei include:
Baths- Foot bath, lower body bath, seawater bath, two large hot jacuzzi baths, massage baths with water jets and an outside heated open water bath.
Saunas- A traditional Korean Bulgama, which is basically like an oven- super hot and dry. I could not spend a lot of time in here! Other saunas include a wet sauna and an infrared one
Mineral saunas include a charcoal room and red clay room
Restaurant and a small shop
Two rest areas and one sleeping area
Massage and wellness areas for facials and body treatments
So as you can read, quite a few facilities to choose from and I spent a good 5 hours there trying out everything. While the staff were not the best at English, they were very friendly and helpful. There was also a “get ready” room as I call it, with hair dryers, beauty products and female hygiene products at your disposal. The actual spa was beautifully decorated with mirrors, chairs and everything throughout, and drinking water fountains and a small shop.
So, how do you actually go and visit a jjimjilbang? I have tried to explain below- while my experience is related to Spa Lei, the procedure is pretty much the same regardless of which jjimjilbang you visit, so here are some steps to ultimate relaxation and etiquette rules I found out while there.
- When you step in through the front door of the jjimjilbang, take off your shoes and put them in the shoe locker provided. This is usually right by the entrance or you can ask a staff member where the shoe lockers are located. The shoe lockers have a key- put in your shoes and take the key to the reception counter.
- Give your shoe locker key to the staff member at the reception. Here you pay the entry fee and any up-front treatments you know you want. They often have packages you can choose from (for instance, Spa Lei have a body scrub, massage and facial package for about 60£). You will then be given towels (you usually get 2) and a robe or t-shirt and shorts, depending on the jjimjilbang. You will also be given a wristband with a locker number- this is your assigned locker number in the changing rooms. This wristband is also scanned or noted if you choose to have any treatments while in the jjimjilbang you did not already pay for.
- Take your towels and robes to your assigned locker and strip to your birthday suit. Then head down to the baths and remember to shower before going in. Common courtesy right?
- Enjoy the numerous baths and saunas!
- Have a body scrub!
- Relax in the rest areas!
- Have a lovely dinner at the restaurant!
- Explore the jjimjilbang and just RELAX. Be yourself and use the facilities. While it can be daunting being nude throughout the experience, remember that the bath areas are gender separated and I can tell you with 99% certainty, no one will care what you are doing or how you look. No one batted an eyelid at me- while it was a bit scary at the beginning, that feeling disappeared almost instantly because you know what? Everyone else is nude and did not care, so neither did I. No one looked up from whatever they were doing. Just focus on the relaxation and the experience. If you are under water, you cannot see much anyway and if you are above water walking around in the saunas, restaurant or rest areas, you have your robe anyway so it is really not bad at all.
- When it is time to leave, there are baskets where you drop your towels and robe. Head to your locker and get dressed. If you decided to stay overnight, I should mention that it involves sleeping on a tatami mat and is not luxury. It can be a good experience though and a good way to save money compared to a hotel.
- Head to the reception counter and give back your locker wristband. Then pay any outstanding balance from your visit and you will be given back your shoe key locker.
- Collect your shoes and that is it! You visited a jjimjilbang! Im sure you had a great experience! 🙂
The below are some common jjimjilbang etiquette I feel like I should mention too 🙂
- Tie back long hair. It is usually not permitted to have long hair draping in the baths. If you have a hair wrap, even better!
- Do not run around
- Bring your own toiletries if you wish, or you can buy at the jjimjilbang shop. I bought a facial mask which I used while resting for 30 minutes. I recommend bringing shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, moisturiser and any other bits and bobs you feel like you need. The regulars usually have baskets with their stuff in as well.
- If you have a large towel, I recommend bringing it as the korean sizes are european hand size towels. They are quite small so if you want a towel to wrap around yourself, you will need a bigger one.
- While this did not happen to me, I have read from several other blogs that it is normal for koreans to ask if you need help scrubbing. Do not be offended at this, they are merely trying to help and see it as completely normal.
- Just look at what others are doing and do the same! 🙂
And that is pretty much it- I hope you enjoyed this little guide! 🙂
Aside from Spa Lei, two other popular jjimjilbangs include the Dragon Hill Spa and Resort, and the Siloam Bulgana Sauna and Spa. These are very popular with tourists as they speak English, so while I have not been there, I would recommend them based on the blog posts I’ve read about them and their google reviews- and I myself can for sure recommend Spa Lei, although their English was not as good- their menu and treatments etc. were stated in English as well as Korean though! 🙂
After I headed out of Spa Lei, I then had a lovely ramen dinner and then headed home- I was quite tired even after relaxing so much haha- I guess all the sauna heat does that to you!
I definitely have had a great day and experience, and I would recommend anyone in Korea to try this. It is a must do for sure if you want the traditional experience 🙂 If you are still undecided due to the getting naked part, honestly take my word for it- you will be fine. No one will care 🙂 Just enjoy yourself and have a lovely time being pampered like I did! 🙂