Korean jjimjilbang / Bathhouse

How to visit a Korean Jjimjilbang bathhouse and Why!

Jjimjilbangs (찜질방 or  찜질房) are a popular weekend getaway for Korean families. A jjimjilbangs, literally meas ‘heated rooms’,  are a large, gender-segregated, public bathhouses in South Korea. Most jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours. You can find inside a lot of relaxing hot and cold soaking pools, bathing and massage areas, various saunas, entertainment lounges, and communal sleeping rooms. No service would be complete without the entertainment of karaoke. The most difficult part of the experience for a lot of people is being naked with strangers. Koreans consider this a normal part of visiting Bathhouse and the weird feeling will pas quickly. You are unlikely to be given a second glance by anyone else. Naked Rules!  All wet areas prohibit the use of clothing for safety reasons.  It is believed that toxic chemicals can leach out of clothing.  It is also believed that if you wear a swimsuit or cover up you may be trying to hide a disease.

Foreign travelers can feel intimidated by something they never tried before. There is nothing to fear. Its enough to follow those simple rules:

  1. First thing you may encounter is wall of small lockers. These are for your shoes. Put them inside and take a key.
  2. Pay admission fee and hand over your shoe locker key. In exchange, you’ll be given a new locker key for the changing room.
  3. You should get a towel and a pair of cotton pajamas / robe.
  4. Many places use electronic keys, which work as your tab, so you don’t have to bring your money inside.
  5. Next you should go to gender-segregated changing room. nam (남) for men and yeo (여) for women.
  6. Check your card or key for your locker number.
  7. Go to the baths, which are same-sex only. Remember if you’re going to the baths, you need to remove all clothing. VERY IMPORTANT UNSPOKEN RULE IS: Wash up in washing stations before getting into the Hot Baths. Tie up you hair if its long. Bring loofah and toiletries with you. Nice and clean go and soak up in hot waters and relax.
  8. Temperatures very from around 38°C  to 43°C  Some Jjimjilbangs have open-air baths.
  9. The best, and the cutest way to deal with your small towel placement is to put it on your head (make sure not to soak it) Tutorial here! .
  10. Optimal soaking time is around 20 minutes. if you will stay  longer, make sure to keep your heart above the water.
  11. Its time for your professional Scrub now! Ask for the Scrub Treatment beforehand.
  12. Next you can go to the sauna areas, which are communal. Change into the outfit Jjimjilbang provided at the entrance.
  13. Traditional Korean saunas are stone or clay kilns heated to between 50°C and 90°C
  14. After spending some time in sauna area you may choose to go to The sleeping rooms (which double as Korea’s best budget accommodations!) . But be ready the sleeping room might just be a big room with some thin mattresses and hard block pillows. If you are planning on sleeping get yourself ear plugs.
  15. There are also usually big common entertainment rooms where people congregate to hung out. These areas are for both genders and non-naked.

Extra tip: splashing and loud talking is considered as rude.

Professional scrub. 

There are special areas in the Jjimjilbangs where you can experience seshin; 세신 exfoliating treatment manned by ajumma (aunties) on special tables. You would do this after soaking for a bit. Most likely you need to make appointment first. Ask about it while paying for admission.

My own experience with exfoliating treatment: I spent around 30 min on soaking and steaming in the various pools, Then I was retrieved by a middle-aged woman and  She led me into a secluded but notably door-free nook with a massage table inside. I barely had time to understand what was going on before the woman had whisked away my towel and pointed at the table. I laid down on cold table, face up, with a washcloth draped over my eyes. I Imagine I looked scared and nervous.  The woman began attacking my shins  with surprising vigor, using what felt like sandpaper (I later learned about those mitts and bought them for my own use) She methodically worked on my legs, down to my feet, and back across my stomach. I have never been more aware of how much skin space I have. I caught sight of my newly pink skin as I changed positions, and it was not pretty.  Small gray rolls of dead skin where everywhere. It was one of those weird experiences in my life.

Aftermath: My skin had never felt softer. Ever!

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How to visit a Korean Jjimjilbang bathhouse and Why!

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