Methods to go to a Korean bathhouse for the primary time

Conventional bathhouses are a vital a part of up to date Korean tradition. Actually “heated rooms,” these jjimjilbang (찜질방) are the place locals come to unwind, hang around and have interaction in an entire host of well being and sweetness rituals that go far past a fast soak.

A Korean bathhouse attracts grandmas and younger {couples} alike. It would not be odd for a bunch of buddies to fulfill up at a jjimjilbang on a Friday evening. Name it a spa date, however a surprisingly reasonably priced one (entrance prices about ₩13,000, roughly US$10). The extra elaborate joints have eating places, out of doors swimming swimming pools, hair and nail salons, and karaoke rooms along with the standard baths and saunas.

These spas have an unstated code of manners and customs, which may make a first-time go to intimidating for international vacationers. Learn up on the towel methods and Korean bathhouse etiquette to expertise the jjimjilbang like an area.

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Arriving at a jjimjilbang in South Korea

The very first thing you are prone to see once you stroll within the door is a wall of small lockers. These are to your footwear: slip them inside and take your locker key to the entrance desk. Pay up (the value must be posted on the reception desk) and hand over your shoe locker key.

In change, you will be given a brand new locker key for the altering room (typically the primary key’s used for each), a towel and a pair of cotton pajamas. Many jjimjilbang use digital keys, which double as your tab; in any other case, the workers will be aware your locker key quantity when you add any companies inside (resembling a scrub or therapeutic massage) to invoice you on the finish. The entrance desk workers ought to level you within the course of the suitable gender-segregated altering room. If not, it is nam (남) for males and yeo (여) for girls.

The important thing in your hand ought to have a quantity on it – that is your locker, the place you will retailer your garments and anything you are carrying.

The baths

Most jjimjilbang have two distinct areas: the baths, that are same-sex solely, and the sauna areas, that are communal.

Whichever you need to go to is as much as you, however most individuals favor to scrub up earlier than sweating it out (after which wash up once more). If you are going to the baths, you have to take away all of your clothes, bringing solely a small towel and toiletries with you. If you are going to the saunas, become the pajamas. Put on your locker key in your wrist.

The cardinal rule right here is that you have to wash earlier than moving into the baths. There might be rows of washing stations and piles of plastic stools; seize one and decide a faucet. There might be cleaning soap, however there is not prone to be shampoo or conditioner, so you will have to deliver your individual (most comfort shops in Korea promote little single-use packets of assorted toiletries, and jjimjilbang often promote them as properly).

You do not have to scrub your hair, however when you do not and it is lengthy, ensure to tie it up so it does not path within the bathtub. When you’re good and clear, head to the tubs.

There’ll often be a wide range of temperatures, from about 38°C (100°F, not too sizzling) to about 42°C (108°F, fairly sizzling), and likewise a chilly tub. In most jjimjilbang, these are indoor soaking swimming pools, however some even have open-air baths. Bathhouse regulars have their particular person routines all the way down to a science, however on the whole, optimum soaking time is taken into account to be 20 minutes. To remain within the water this lengthy, it is best to maintain your coronary heart above the water.

Koreans, and girls particularly, are mad about exfoliation, and you will see them giving themselves lengthy and hearty scrubs (you too can purchase scrubbing towels and mitts at comfort shops and markets). In the event you actually need to up your jjimjilbang recreation, you may go for an expert scrub (referred to as seshin).

In a nook of the lavatory, there might be a number of plastic tables manned by ajumma (aunties) of their underwear (or males on the lads’s facet) wielding scrubbing mitts. They’re typically cruel, however you’ll by no means have smoother pores and skin in your life. You’d do that after soaking for a bit, so the steam from the baths loosens your pores and skin. A scrub often prices ₩20,000 (US$15.75), and you too can get an oil therapeutic massage right here for about ₩60,000 (US$47.25).

Being within the buff

Essentially the most troublesome a part of the expertise for lots of first-timers is being bare with strangers. Worry not: Koreans think about this a traditional a part of visiting a jjimjilbang, and you might be unlikely to be given a second look by anybody else. 

You need to use your towel to strategically cowl your self as you stroll round (however the towels are small, so this is not straightforward).  You should not deliver it into the water although, and you will need to preserve it dry sufficient which you can towel off earlier than heading again to the altering room. The easiest way to attain that is to put on it in your head.

One other etiquette tip: splashing and loud speaking would possibly earn you soiled appears to be like.

The saunas

The sauna you would possibly image – a steaming room heated to hellish temperatures – might be totally different from a Korean sauna (and when you’ve by no means preferred saunas, you would possibly like these). Conventional Korean saunas (referred to as hanjeungmak; 한증막) are stone or clay kilns heated to between 50°C (122°F) and 90°C (194°F) and are actually fairly nice.


As you lie on hemp mats (or typically salt or jade crystals), the heated stone gently warms your physique, and after about 15 to twenty minutes, you begin to sweat. It is simple to go to sleep, however do not – or threat dehydration. Cap off a great sweat with a chilly, candy sikhye, a standard fermented rice drink often offered at jjimjilbang. It’s also possible to purchase eggs which were steamed within the saunas, referred to as maekbanseok gyeran.

The sleeping rooms

Jjimjilbang, that are open 24 hours, truly double as Korea’s finest funds lodging: for a number of thousand gained greater than the usual entrance charge, you may choose to spend the evening within the sleeping room. At less complicated spots, the sleeping room would possibly simply be a large room with some skinny plastic mattresses (and sure, they’re skinny) and squishy plastic blocks (“pillows”) on the ground.

At extra refined locations, the sleeping rooms resemble capsule motels, with two ranges of cubbyholes, which provide a little bit privateness. Some have separate rooms for girls and snorers (regardless, earplugs are a good suggestion). Some even have blankets to mortgage or lease, although the rooms are often heated – conventional under-floor ondol model – such that they don’t seem to be essential.

The outdoor pool at Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul. Image by Megan Eaves / Lonely Planet
The out of doors pool at Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul © Megan Eaves / Lonely Planet

There are additionally often massive widespread rooms the place individuals congregate to observe TV, sit in therapeutic massage chairs, snack and customarily hang around. These areas are blended and non-naked, so ensure you put on the pajamas supplied. A few of the fancier jjimjilbang, resembling Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, even have out of doors swimming areas, sizzling tubs and leisure zones like arcades to maintain sauna-goers busy, typically all through the evening.

Trying out

This half’s straightforward: hand your locker key to the entrance desk workers, they usually’ll current you with a invoice when you’ve racked up any fees inside. When you’re paid up, you get your shoe locker key again, and also you’re good to go. Most jjimjilbang count on you to remain no a couple of evening, although some, like Siloam Sauna in Seoul, will permit you to keep a number of nights and to return and go. You simply would possibly end up wanting to return again.