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Travel Hack in South Korea - Skip Hotels and Stay in A Jjimjilbang

What is A Jjimjilbang?

A jjimjilbang is a Korean public bathhouse, where people go…to take a bath. Because apparently bathing at home is not enough. The Koreans take beauty and personal care very seriously. If you’ve seen their 10-step beauty regime, you’ll get what I mean. I barely have the motivation to clean my face every night.

But a jjimjilbang is not merely a communal bathtub, it is more like a spa. A typical jjimjilbang would feature hot and cold soaking pools, massage tables, different types of saunas, Jacuzzi, steam rooms, entertainment lounges, restaurants, and even sleeping halls!

That’s right – a jjimjilbang is usually open 24 hours, and if you like, you can squeeze in a few hours of sleep there or better yet, spend the whole night.

Where to Find One

There should be at least a few of them in each major city. Some of the best ones in Seoul (as listed on The Culture Trip) are:

  • Itaewon Land Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
  • Spa Lei (females only) – Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
  • The Spa in Garden 5 Munjeong-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
  • Siloam Sauna Jungnim-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • Dragon Hill Spa Hangangno 3(sam)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Click here to read the full reviews.

How Much Is It?

This, of course, varies from one spa to another, depending on their facilities and location. In the bigger spas in the city center, expect to pay around KRW10,000 – KRW14,000 (USD8.50 – USD11.90) for 12 hours, and KRW 1,000 for each subsequent hour. Extra services such as body scrubs, massage, facials, etc will be charged a separate fee.

I went to Dragon Hill Spa & Resort, which is the biggest and most tourist-friendly jjimjilbang in Seoul. It has been featured in various media including the CNN and The New York Times. Due to this fame, they may be more expensive than the other jjimjilbangs in the area, but still very affordable. Here are the latest admission fees as stated on their website:

  • Day (5 am – 8 pm): 13,000 won (Adult) / 7,000 won (Child) 
  • Weekend & Public Holiday (5 am – 8 pm): 16,000 won (Adult) / 7,000 won (Child)
  • Night (8 pm – 5 am): 16,000 won (Adult) / 7,000 won (Child)

Free parking is available for up to 5 hours for day customers, and until 11 am the following day for night customers. Click here to see their special packages.

Dragon Hill Spa
Photo credit: Wonderfly Asia

What to Expect

Registration

The first step you need to do once you arrive is to register at the front desk. You will be given a wristband, a locker key, a towel, slippers, and a change of clothes to be worn in the communal areas (apart from the bathing areas).

The number on your wristband corresponds to the number of your locker. This wristband also acts as your ID and credit card while you’re in the spa. Because you’re going to keep all your valuables–including cash–in the locker, all transactions made during your stay will be put on your tab, which you will pay during checkout. All you have to do is show them the number on your wristband. So, you might want to take good care of it, because if lost, not only will you need to pay a replacement fee, someone may even try to score free spa treatments at your expense.

Dragon Hill spa bracelet
The wristband. Photo credit: Dragon Hill Spa

Getting Ready for the Bath

The jjimjilbang is gender-segregated (sorry!). So, make your way towards the designated floor/section for your gender. Unfortunately, South Korea is still pretty conservative when it comes to gender identities, so non-cisgenders might have some problem with regard to this.
 
Next, find your locker, secure all your belongings, and…strip to your birthday suit! A fact that both surprised and delighted me was that everybody walked around naked in the bathhouse. I know it can be terrifying for a first-timer, but just remember that everyone else is naked too, regardless of their ages, shapes, and sizes. Besides, they have probably been doing this every week since they were kids. The sight of your naked butt won’t be anything new to them. So, embrace your curves (or a lack thereof), and flaunt what you’ve got, because none of us is perfect and all bodies are beautiful.
 
Dragon Hill Spa locker area
The lockers. Photo credit: Dragon Hill Spa
 
Can you wear a bikini or a swimsuit instead?

Nope. In the bathing areas, you’re prohibited from wearing anything. Period. This is to preserve the cleanliness of the pools.

For the same reason, you also need to take a shower and clean yourself properly before getting into the pools. Be considerate to others. If you have any infectious skin disease, please do not get into the shared bathing area.

Dragon Hill spa
Photo credit: Dragon Hill Spa

Soaking in the Pools

Once you’re clean and ready, it’s time to enjoy the many different facilities available. If you’ve never gone skinny dipping before, this is your chance to experience it. Each of the pools has a temperature indicator so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

And what do you do in the pool? Just sit back and relax. Close your eyes if you need to. You may feel awkward if you’re the only foreigner around or if you’re the only one without a partner to talk to. Well, if it’s any consolation, no one knows you there, and you’re not going to see them again.

I didn’t make any friends there either. It’s pretty hard to mingle when you’re butt naked. And I imagine it must be impossible to maintain eye contact with anyone when their naughty bits are staring back at you.

Scrubbing And Other Treatments

As mentioned earlier, the jjimjilbang is not only a place to take baths, but also to get other spa treatments such as body scrub, massages, facials, ear candling, and manicures. They have professionals to provide these services to you at an additional fee.
 
However, I didn’t try any of it because I was on a tight budget and was just there to get cheap accommodation. According to Melissa from Heels and A Backpack and Calvin from Seek the World, body scrubbing is a pretty serious business in South Korea. They really know how to make you shed like a snake. It’s also quite common for strangers in the bathhouse to help scrub each other’s backs, so if you get offered assistance, just say yes!
 

Sleeping in the Jjimjilbang

Dragon Hill Spa sleeping hall
The sleeping room. Photo Credit: Dragon Hill Spa
 
Sleeping in the jjimjilbang is not a luxurious affair. You’ll be lying on the floor, with only a pillow and a tatami mat for padding. Nonetheless, the hall was clean and well-maintained. It was way better than the only alternative I had, which was to sleep at McDonald’s (this was before I discovered Couchsurfing). Besides, sleeping on a flat, hard surface can be good for your back.
 
As to why they provide sleeping accommodation to their customers, I have no idea. It doesn’t make sense to me why people would go to a bathhouse and sleep there instead of going home. Unless you came from somewhere far, that is. But then, why would you travel all that distance just to go to a bathhouse?
 

In A Nutshell

If you’re not looking for luxury and don’t have much luggage with you (the lockers are small), this is a perfect way to save money on accommodation. But in any case, I think the jjimjilbang is a must-try experience when you’re in South Korea, whether or not you choose to sleep there. I really wish I had tried the body scrubbing service though.

Have you been to a public bathhouse before? Share your experience below.

Posted in Experience, South Korea

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