One of the best ways to relax in Korea is to strip down and spend a day at the jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse/spa. If you’ve never been before, it can be a little overwhelming to figure it out. Namely: when should you be naked and when should you not be? (Coincidentally also one of life’s greatest questions.) Here are some guidelines for your first time.
* At Dragon Hill Spa, it costs about 12000 won ($12). This is on the pricier side, but the facilities are really nice. The price is usually higher if it’s a weekend or if you want to stay overnight.
* If you have tattoos, check the rules beforehand. They aren’t allowed at all spas.
When I first visited a jjimjilbang, I was really looking forward to the experience. I figured that by putting myself in a situation where nude was the norm (the only option, really), I might begin to feel more confident in my own body. I was right! I felt comfortable quickly, and by the second time I went, I was eagerly peeling off my clothes. (Should I be revealing how much I apparently like taking my clothes off in public? Oh well.)
Who will massage me? An ajumma, or feisty, older Korean woman! Wearing lacy black undergarments. Yep, she will be your masseuse!
Will it be relaxing and gentle? Hellzzz no! Are you also expecting frangipani to be floating around in the tubs? She is an ajumma! If you get a massage, she will pull your limbs from their sockets (with your body’s best interests in mind, of course). Your knots will take a (much-needed) beating! She will walk on you! If you get a scrub, she will rub until you feel raw! Your dead skin will roll off of you in spaghetti noodle-sized flakes! She will leave *no* body part un-scrubbed. Be prepared for her to get all up in those cracks, and to have your armpits rubbed relentlessly as you try not to explode in a fit of ticklish laughter.
Will she reassure you, let you know that everyone produces this much dead skin? HAHA what? NO! She will scold you (with a twinkle in her eye, and a little smile). You should be doing this more often!
Umm… then why should I do it? Because your skin will feel like butter. Your knots will be loose. You’ll want to go back every day. Seriously you will never regret a body scrub.
*At Dragon Hill, it’s about 50000 for an oil massage (good when you need a treat), and 25000 for a shampoo scrub (a little pricey but worth it at least seasonally).
The rooms at Silloam Fire Pot Sauna are great; there’s tons of variety. Dragon Hill’s have fun themes, but fewer to choose from. Your preference will depend whether you want to prioritize the baths or the rooms. Overall, Busan’s SpaLand is my favourite bathhouse; they had great baths and an awesome lounge area. There are also some women-only jjimjilbangs; Spa Lei in Sinsa is lovely.
*When you buy anything (e.g. food, juice, massage in the baths), you can just scan your key bracelet.
If you feel nervous about the naked part, remember this: the jjimjilbang is a place for friends and families. Communal bathing is an ancient tradition (as it is in many places), and many people frequent the sauna for its health benefits. Everyone’s at their most vulnerable, entirely exposed, and no one’s in a position to be judgemental. So essentially… you’re naked with a bunch of strangers (and probably some of your friends)… in public… but no one cares. It’s a comfortable way to become comfortable with yourself.
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