Any traveler who has been to South Korea would have probably heard about these facilities called jjimjilbang.
The equivalent of onsens in Japan, jjimjilbangs are scattered across South Korea as bathing here is considered a pastime by families and friends. Jjimjilbangs offer a wide range of amenities, including gyms and most importantly, sleeping rooms. In fact, jjimjilbangs are a good alternative for budget travelers in transit between cities or catching a flight.
Jjimjilbangs are very different from the saunas and spas Filipinos know locally: Korean public bathhouses are widely available and affordable (expect to pay around 8,000 to 12,000 KRW), and oh, did I mention that customers also bath nude in public?
The mere mention of this fact will bring some giggles or gasps within our group of friends. How do they do it? No awkward moment? Could they cover with towel? Isn’t that liberating and embarrassing at the same time?
During our recent 8-day trip in South Korea, we braved the cold weather and tried one of the most popular jjimjilbangs in Busan to see and experience the Korean public house for ourselves. Many else are spread across South Korea; in Seoul, Dragon Hill Spa is among the popular ones.
A few blocks away from the nearest bus station, Hill Spa stands tall like a 5-star hotel overlooking Suyeongman Bay. It was 8 pm, and Korean customers have just come from work to unwind with friends.
After settling the bill at the front desk, we deposited our shoes and proceeded to our gender-designated floors.
On your floor level, you may choose which locker you want to use. If you carry luggage that require bigger storage, some larger lockers are available but you should confirm this first with the front desk.
Remove all clothing and deposit them inside your locker. Any first timer would find this easier said than done, but confidence sans clothing is key.
Walk to the public bath area and, like proper swimming pool etiquette, wash yourself first before taking a dip. Jjimjilbang etiquette stresses cleanliness, and jjimjilbang operators you to follow suit. The shower is an open area.
Temperature of the public bath ranges from 35 to 40 degrees. A cold plunge pool is also available.
At Hill Spa, there is an outdoor bath overseeing Suyeongman Bay. I don’t recommend this during winter but yes you may try this with a brave heart.
For additional professional services, back scrubs are also available.
After you finish, take another shower and exit the sauna area. An open room nearby offers food and entertainment amenities if you want to linger. You can also proceed to the sleeping rooms, which we didn’t avail, but you can read about the experience here and here.
In general, my jimjilbang experience was one of the most exciting parts of this particular trip. It was an interesting immersion to Korean public bathhouse culture, and I felt so relaxed throughout. I look forward to coming back again!
P.S. Looking for a jjimjilbang in Seoul? Try Dragon Hill Spa, one of Seoul’s most popular!