Just as Japan has onsen and Scandinavia has sauna, Korea has Jjimjilbangs. These public bathhouses are cheap, clean and the perfect place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
In a Korean spa you can get steamed, soaked and scrubbed for around $20 US. In the larger establishments you can also get manicures, pedicures and a haircut (although this will cost you extra).
Many of the larger multi-levelled Jjimjilbangs, like Siloam Spa near Seoul station, are 24 hour places that double as inexpensive places to stay the night.
On the 5th floor of Siloam are the sleeping rooms. There is a women only section, sound proofed cubicles for heavy snorers and even a “red light room” where the red lamps stimulate the production of melatonin and whisk you straight to dreamland.
Before we get further into Siloam and it’s 6 floors of fun, let’s address the elephant in the room: Yes, nudity in Jimjilbangs is mandatory but ONLY in the communal (but sex segregated) bathing areas. You don’t wander the whole establishment naked. This is a spa, not a nudist colony. You need to wear something and happily the spas have it covered.
On my arrival at Siloam, after after checking my shoes into a shoe locker and paying my entrance fee, I was given a locker key and a fetching orange t-shirt and red shorts ensemble.
I was also given a couple of orange towels. One I noticed the locals fashioning into Princess Leia-style buns and wearing around the spa. For some reason.
If you just can’t get past the idea of communal nudity, don’t worry, you don’t have to take your clothes off to have a good time at Siloam.
Instead, enjoy the heated sand foot baths. Have a meal at the restaurant. Play some video games in the entertainment room. Win a trinket on the claw machines or visit each of the fomentation rooms on the 4th floor.
These rooms are basically saunas of differing temperature with one difference – each is fitted with a specific therapeutic ingredient.
There’s the salt room
the charcoal room
the jade room
the ice room
a sauna set at a staggering 86 degrees Celsius
and, my personal favourite, the Loess ball room where you can lie down in warm marble-sized clay balls (said to improve digestion).
Then after you’re done sweating, salting and shivering, if you’re feeling brave, why not take a bath? Just remember to take a shower and clean and rinse yourself off thoroughly before you get in. In a Jjimjilbang showers are for cleanliness. Baths are for soaking and quiet contemplation.
As with the fomentation rooms, the baths are also different temperatures, colours and mineral compositions. Aside from the healing properties many, like the mug wort and loess baths, are coloured which can help you feel a little less exposed while you soak. Not that you’ll feel that way for long. A few minutes soaking in the super-heated water and you’ll forget all about your nudity and pretty much anything else that was on your mind when you climbed in.
Besides, everyone else is naked too. Well, almost everyone, there are the ajumma or “aunties” who perform the full body scrubs. They preserve their modesty by wearing lingerie as they scour the dead skin from your body with fabric mitts.
This is another one of those services that costs a little extra but is soooooo worth it. I swear, I actually felt lighter after I’d had it done and my skin has never felt so smooth. But yeah, the experience itself was a bit odd.
Overall though, my trip to a Jjimjilbang was fantastic and if you find yourself in Korea I highly recommend visiting one.
Oh, and if you were wondering why there weren’t any photos of the actual spa in this post, I just didn’t think it was right to take photos or footage in a public bath house. Taking photos in bathrooms is icky. But if you’re keen to see what’s been described then check out:
where no one’s privacy was invaded to get the photos.
Interested in reading more about South Korea? Then try one of these posts: