Taking a bath at a jimjilbang is one of must-do things when you visit Seoul in South Korea. I mean… Who wouldn’t enjoy some good pampering of a good soak and scrub?
Jimjilbang is a 24-hour, gender-segregated bathhouses featuring relaxing hot and cold soaking pools, bathing and massage areas, various saunas, entertainment lounges, and communal sleeping rooms.
Let me tell you something… Koreans take their baths more than serious. Depending on Korean individuals’ preferences, some would attend Jimjilbang on a weekly, biweekly, or even monthly basis. After my complete Korean bath experience, I could see why it’s a big part of their culture. Happiness and contentment is what destress Koreans, and to reach that point, taking a deep and good bath is the way to go.
Before I share you my experience, I want to mention that I am a water person. I love being in the water for hours, hours and hours. Anything goes with water for me, really. I even go out swimming or cliff-jumping into waters! Like I mentioned in another article, I was born in Santa Monica, California and my heart goes to the beaches!
But the idea of being naked in public is a whole different story. The only time I’d be comfortable being naked is in a closed space with a female, or when I’m entirely alone in a locked room. That’s right, Korean bathhouses are nude affairs.
Therefore, the thought of going to a Jimjilbang was a bit daunting to me at first. But then my Deaf friend, Hoon Kim, who hosted me in Seoul insisted that I get the experience regardless how uncomfortable I had been.
Hoon persuaded me, “You would really get to immerse yourself in a Korean culture that’s so different from anything you’d experience.”
That was when I figured that I’d just go since I was already in South Korea and what if I didn’t get another chance?! I reckoned that there’d be always a first time now or later because I was so sure I’d experience something like that somewhere else in the world. You would never know what’s out there.
Finally, I agreed to go and Hoon recommended Dragon Hill Spa & Resort because it was tourist-friendly. It is known as the Designated Famous Tour Site in Seoul, featured by CNN. Not only that, it is also featured as a Cultural Staple of the Korean bathing lifestyle in The New York Times.
I didn’t disagree. Hoon went on and assisted me by calling the manager of the spa via their Video Relay Service (VRS). It was smooth and the manager was quick to check his email and approved complimentary admission for both Hoon and me on the spot.
At last, the experience began when Hoon and I finally came and met with the manager at the front desk to get our complimentary admission.
Nevertheless, I came up with a formula of 10 steps for you to enjoy your VERY FIRST JIMJILBANG. I think it’ll be self-explanatory, but I’ll drop by pieces of my experience along the way. 😉
STEP 1: Get your bracelet and locker key at front desk.
Simple and sweet, I’m telling you. You’ll get a rubber bracelet with a locker key attached to it.
Once you get your bracelet, no cash transaction would done there through out the building when you take in different spa experiences such as massages, treatments, and few others. They would merely refer to your key locker number and charge it to your tab which you would pay on your way out.
TIP: Don’t lose the bracelet or you’d have to pay extra for the replacement.
STEP 2: Secure your belongings in a locker.
Make your way to the floor for your sex.
Yeah, this is the part where it became surreal and hard for me. I think this would probably be the hardest part for the most foreign first-timers.
Hoon and I located our lockers and we opened them and put all of our stuff there. I was kind of trying to buy myself some time by “checking few more things” on my phone, but Hoon approached me and told me to just R E L A X.
He pointed out a number of nude Koreans walking around or watching TV as if they owned the place.
TIP: The number on the bracelet will correspond with the number of your locker, so be sure to look for that when you get in the locker room.
STEP 3: Strip to your birthday suit.
Hey! Who says you’d be seeing me naked? No, no, there’s no way I’m going to include a picture for this step. =P
Anyways… Once, I left the locker room into the shower room, I had to wear nothing but myself!
YES. N U D E. Naked. In the raw. In the buff. Unclothed. Undressed. Plus all other synonyms for ‘naked’!
Dead serious. It’s not an option, period.
As I stripped down my clothes all way down to my bare skin in public for the first time, Hoon taught me this:
Taking towel with me = C’mon in! Leave the towel by the tub. (“Bravo!” if this is your first time as a foreigner)
Wearing shorts and shirt = Awkward silence. *Cricket chirps*
Wearing underwear = What’re afraid of? Just take it off. Nobody cares.
Wearing a sexy underwear = Hey! That’s just too much. Save it for your sex.
While this may sound terrifying, I promise that overcoming your fear is worth every nervous, naked step, especially in this one.
TIP: It’s all about acting. If you’re not confident or comfortable, act confident and comfortable. Act like you own the place too. You’ll have less eyes on you that way, otherwise Koreans will just stare you thinking, “so typical of tourists.”
STEP 4: Lather, rinse, repeat.
Where else would you do this? Yeah, in a shower—duh!
Hoon explained that it is very important that I washed myself very well because Koreans take their cleanliness and sanitization very seriously.
Clearly, it’s required that you take a shower before going into the tubs. Be sure to shave, brush your teeth, wash your face, and so on.
While showering, a guy actually checked me out. It was kind of awkward at first, but then I realized that we all are naked. It shouldn’t have mattered to me, so I let it go and went with the flow.
Keep in mind that you probably will see other Koreans checking you out. Try not to be offended – it’s merely a curious thing.
TIP: If you’re worried about people staring, you don’t need to, honestly. Most people don’t care what you’re doing and they aren’t looking at you, and even if someone is looking, they’re naked too! Just keep the end goal in mind: ULTIMATE RELAXATION.
STEP 5: Soak in the tubs.
What else? It’s the main thing you have to do in order to have the complete Jimjilbang experience.
My first sight of the public tubs was very revealing for me and it took me a short while for me to get adjusted to the environment with the nude self.
The place was filled with men of all ages, sizes and shapes walking around naked. Some of them gave me a stare. I stared back like it was normal.
Hoon and I took a walk around, trying each of the baths and steam rooms. He also walked me through all of the important steps that is to be done in the Jimjilbang experience. By the way, if you weren’t in any hurry, you should go and enjoy the scenery and differences between each room with a jacuzzi in it – they were all different.
Even he’d take me to certain tubs for my feet. I had terrible athlete’s feet at the time, he made me soak for a length of time before scrubbing down the dead skin of my feet.
In that moment, he emphasized that I should maintain (or pamper? haha) my feet more often to keep it healthy and immune to feet fungus and whatnot, which is why Koreans take their baths regularly to keep their skin as healthy as possible. That was when I wasn’t exactly proud of my so-called healthy feet, haha.
At least I was giving my feet the attention they needed!
TIP: Be sure to grab an extra towel before leaving the pools for a deep scrub on your body in the bathroom.
STEP 6: Scrub and shed.
I’m not kidding here. You will shed like a snake here.
Well, I did just like what a real Cobra would have done. 😉
…With Hoon’s assistance of scrubbing.
Boy, he surely gave me a good scrubbing all over and I felt it was the perfect thing after a long month in the Philippines where I got so filthy from participating in all of the fun activities, walking around with layers of dead skin for so many days and possibly not showering properly.
We both took turns to scrub each other and he also left some technique tips on the scrubbing when I was doing it wrong or too light.
He mentioned that it’s one of their norms you would probably get offered to some assistance in scrubbing by random Koreans. Don’t feel too awkward about this if anyone offers you. It saves you money rather than paying extra to have one of staff scrub you as well.
This reminded me of one of the cultural attributes in India. Indian males are affectionate physically to show how close they are. It’s part of their culture to be intimate, just like here with Koreans.
TIP: Do not stop scrubbing until you do not see any more dark dead skin flaking off you. Do feel free to rinse and go back into the pools to soak some more and then scrub more if dried up and still want to get rid of more of the dead skin.
STEP 7: Get pampered with some massages.
Check out the Orchid Spa to get different kind of spa treatments including Sports Massage, Thai Massage, Stone Massage, and many more.
They have professional staff who would scrub and massage every single spot of your body. Yes, including your private parts.
Nonetheless, you can skip this part if you want. I didn’t take any massages because I was on budget and I wanted to save as much money as I could.
TIP: To avoid paying anyone to scrub you, bring a friend you’re comfortable with. Otherwise, you could still pay to get the luxury if you want.
STEP 8: Try eight different saunas (plus a cold room!).
You’ll be missing out if you don’t give at least one or two a try.
Hoon guided me through all of the sauna rooms with different themes and temperatures. Remember that the floors would be also heated along with the room, so you might want to wear socks to the rooms with highest temperature.
Nice spot to veg around for a while. Be sure to take all the time to sit or lay down here.
TIP: Allow yourself to sweat a little – it’s good for you – but be safe about it!
STEP 9: Repeat or rest/sleep.
Self-explanatory, I’d say.
You can either repeat all of the steps above, take a short nap or sleep through the night there.
Besides, if you were expecting something like Hilton from their sleeping accommodations, it’s nothing close to that at all. Accommodations here pretty much would be just a pad and pillow for you to sleep on the floor in one of sleeping rooms. I’d suggest grabbing a second pad if you’re not used to sleeping on the floor.
I didn’t sleep overnight in this Jimjilbang, but I did sleep in one when I was in Jeju Island. However, I did take a nap here. =)
TIP: Jjimjilbang is well known among foreign travelers as a clean and affordable place to stay overnight and relax after an intense day of sightseeing. Usually cheaper than hotels and hostels.
STEP 10: Be smooth and fresh!
Have I said enough?
Just give yourself a nice and soft rub, you will realize that you probably have the smoothest skin you’d ever experience after the bath.
TIP: Seriously, enjoy it while it lasts!
Throughout the experience, I realized that it made sense to spend so much time cleaning your body ’cause cleanliness is sacredness, which leads to happiness and contentment.
I surely had a pleasing experience at the Jjimjilbang and it was kind of an awkward experience for me but it was still fun and relaxing. I totally would recommend it on a must-do thing in Seoul.
Dragon Hill Spa and Resort
- Address: 40-712, Hangangno 3-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
- Day (5:00 AM-8:00PM)
- 11,000 KRW for Adult
- 6,000 KRW for Child
- Day (5:00 AM-8:00PM)
- Night (8:00PM-5:00 AM)
- 13,000 KRW for Adult
- 6,000 KRW for Child
- Night (8:00PM-5:00 AM)
- Weekends and holidays
- 13,000 KRW for Adult
- 6,000 KRW for Child
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.dragonhillspa.co.kr/en/
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DragonHillSpa