So, if you didn’t already know, Korean bath houses are a thing. In Korean they are called Jimjilbang and are very traditional. With that said Korean bath houses are not your average spa experience. If you are looking for some authentic Korean relaxation, or are just curious, definitely make time in your itinerary for a day at the Jimjilbang! This post walks you through all you need to know about how to visit a Korean Bath House. From what to expect, what to bring the jimjilbang and how it works.
Spa in Korea
So what is a Korean Bath House? Jimjilbang is a bath house, jimjil comes from a word that means something like heating, and bang means room, so that basically translates to heating room. A Jimjilbang consists of several areas with different uses applying to each section. Some parts of the Jimjilbang are gender segregated and another parts are gender neutral. The Jimjilbangs are open 24 hours a day, all week round, and you can spend the night there sleeping on the floor or in a bunk. Trust me, it’s more comfortable then you would think.
The history of Jimjilbang
Use of saunas in Korea can be traced all the way back to 1427 and small writtings about Korean bathing culture can be traced back to 1123, but there are little science and writing on the tradition of Korean Bath Houses. Scientists means this may be due to the fact that bathing in Korean culture was seen as something so daily and normal that there was no need to report about it. However, the first Jimjimbang appeared in Seoul in 1992. It’s a fusion between the traditional Korean bathing houses, and a western spa resort.
Today visiting the jimjilbang is seen as an important recreational activity by Koreans. A study in 2005 even showed that it was the most important free time activity shared by mother and daughter. Read more about the Korean bathing culture in this paper!
What can you find in a Korean spa?
Korean Spas, the Jimjilbangs can vary in size from fairly small, all the way up to 30 000 square meters. So, what can you find in a Jimjilbang? Before writing this article I’ve been to South Korea 3 times, traveled around to various cities, as well as talked to others about their experiences in Jimjilbangs. This article is therefore based on the jimjilbangs I’ve visited, they are of the bigger type, but the traditional Jimjilbang should have more or less the same system, sections, and selections as stated in this post. The photos I’ve used in my post about visiting a Jimjilbang in South Korea are all from Siloam Bulgama Sauna Spa in Seoul.
Arriving at the Jimjilbang you’ll first pay in the reception. It’s basically a booth much like a metro ticket office. You’ll probably find various brochures about the spa there as well as a sign with prices for the spa. There are usually alternatives for a fee to visit during the day or a fee to stay overnight, which will be just slightly pricier.
After paying you’ll head into the gender-segregated wardrobe area. You’ll have to lock in your shoes in shoe lockers and head to the counter where you’ll exchange your shoe locker key for a wardrobe locker key, get slippers, towels and a uniform provided.
You can buy soap and other small toiletries here, but you’ll most likely find basic toiletries by the counters in the wardrobe. At the counter you can also leave any valuables you don’t for any reason feel comfortable leaving in the normal lockers. The normal lockers also have keys.
The uniform provided is for the uni sex areas of the spa, but first, prepare to wear your own skin and nothing more as you get undressed and head down to the bath rooms.
Gender segregated bath rooms
The gender-segregated part of the jimjilbangs are, in addition to the changing rooms, the spa and bath area. It consists of several thermal pools and saunas and you have to be completely naked in these areas. They also have shower areas with stools in from of every shower. It is quite normal to see family members and friends scrub each other, color their hair or doing other wellness treatments in these areas.
Alongside the different pools, you might find laminated texts, news articles and so on, that visitors can read while soaking in the warm waters if you can read Korean that is…
The spa area usually also has an optional massage area where you can pay for different massage treatments. Don’t expect much privacy here though as the massage benches are usually there in a corner of the spa. With that said, the massages are usually pretty affordable.
When you’re happy with your time in the bath and spa room, you shower, get dressed in your uniform and head to the unisex area. the uniform is usually a loose t-shirt and shorts in a thick cotton fabric.
The size of the unisex areas depends on the size of the Jimjilbang that you visit, but they have a wide variety of rooms and activities and you can easily spend 24 relaxing hours in one of these Korean spas. The unisex areas usually have Ondol heated floors making it comfortable to walk around and relax in the various areas.
Ondol heating is a traditional type of underfloor heating that traditionally uses wooden fire and smoke in stoves underneath the floor to heat the floors up.
Activities in Korean Spa with additional fee
From more open lounging areas where you can sleep, read, watch tv or conversate. You’ll also find a PC bang (gaming room), exercise rooms, norebang(Korean Karaoke) and even a hairdresser. Some of the services like the norebang and the use of the pc-bang are available with an extra fee per hourly use.
Sleeping in a Jimjilbang
There are even special rooms for sleeping with bunks or pod-beds. If you’re in a bigger Jimjilbang the sleeping rooms are sometimes even gender-segregated and mixed and some have different lights for relaxation.
Jimjilbang Cantine and Snackbar
There is also a canteen and snack bar available at the jimjilbang. They usually serve traditional Korean food and they are not to pricey.
Relaxation Rooms in a Jimjilbang
Jimjilbags also have various relaxation rooms with different temperatures and maths on the floor where people can relax and sleep. The rooms are made from different materials like wood, stones, crystals, metals, and minerals. Examples are rooms made from, jade, salt, ice or specific types of wood. The materials are supposed to give various health effects according to the Korean medicinal tradition.
So, anything else you should know about the Korean bath house etiquette, you might wonder. Apart from keeping the noise down, jimjilbang bears a relaxing and homey ambiance. It will definitely make you relax and fit in. Make sure not to stare and trust me, you’ll get more looks wearing a bikini to the spa area, then going naked.
A little tip can be to research properly before choosing which jimjilbang to go to. In the less touristy ones, you’ll probably get more looks for being a foreigner than in others. With that said, we went to a jimjilbang in the middle of Seoul and were still the only foreigners there. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or stared at though and just got a couple of friendly smiles and nods. Also, be aware that tattoos are still taboo in Korea and might not be welcomed too warmly. Still, my sister had a couple of big tattoos and other than a couple of curious looks didn’t experience anything else.
If you are staying in Korea for a longer period, consider going all in and do as the locals. You’ll see many of them bringing small plastic baskets with their scrub, soap, slippers and so on with them to go for their regular jimjilbang visit.
What to expect from your jimjilbang experience
Expect to feel a little awkward in the beginning but leave relaxed and fresh. Also, you’ll probably spend more time than anticipated in there as its so relaxing and time really does fly when enjoying, lounging around, eating some and exploring all the different relaxing rooms.
What to bring when visiting a Korean Bathhouse
So, what should you bring to your jimjilbang experience? Bring soap and your shower essentials. But if you want to treat yourself a little extra, consider bringing a scrub, hair mask or what about a Korean sheet mask? Don’t forget money or your card, to try some food in the canteen. After relaxing in all the different pools, I’m sure you’ll work up an appetite!
How much does it cost to visit a Jimjilbang
The cost of visiting a jimjilbang depends on where in the country you do it and also the size. The cost of a Jimjilbang visit is usually between 8,000-15,000 won and they sometimes have other prices if you spend the night there. But it shouldn’t be more then a couple of thousand won more.
What Jimjilbang should you visit in Seoul?
So, now you know the basics of jimjilbang Etiquette. Where in South Korea should you visit a jimjilbang? You can find a jimjilbang in pretty much any city, but the bigger once have bigger jimjilbangs, with more activities, options and also a crowd a little more accepting to tourists with ex. Tattoos.
I’ve only ever visited two jimjilbangs, and I can highly recommend both of them. Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan is a great option for a jimjilbang experience. Especially if you are staying in Hongdae and need to recover from a night of partying or a long day of shopping.
However, last time I visited Seoul, I went to Siloam Jimjilbang close to City Hall. All the photos in this post are as previously mentioned, from Siloam Spa in Seoul, but due to previous experience and talking to others who’s been visiting jimjilbangs in other places in South Korea, what’s described here is a standard. Both Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan and Siloam Spa in Seoul city center is big and span over several floors, meaning you should definitely make a day out of visiting.
If you are in Busan you should really consider visiting Shinsegae Centum City Spa Land. Spa Land is the biggest jimjilbang in Busan and the world’s largest department store Shinsegae Centrum City.
So, I hope this article makes your first Jimjilbang visit a little easier and convinced you to visit a Korean Bath House if you were on the fence. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions. I’ll be happy to answer!