Korean Bath Experience
What better way to relieve the stresses of traveling than by visiting a Korean bathhouse? Called a jjimjilbang, these traditional spas are frequented by many Koreans starting from a young age. A low entry fee (around $10) gains you access to a multi-level spa with numerous facilities. The bottom floor is host to a number of hot tubs, pools, and saunas, is gender-segregated, and, somewhat shocking to a Western sense of propriety, fully nude.
Upon entering, you are given a set of robes (for the upper floors), and a locker key to store your belongings. After donning your birthday suit, you can make your way down to the spa room, which is overflowing (heh) with different hot tubs and pools. Each pool is filled with a different type of water, including a saltwater tub, a jade pool, a mud pool, an ice bath, and more. Each tub is meant to have a different health benefit for your skin or overall health. I’m not sure whether they made me healthier, but they were definitely relaxing. There were also a few different sauna rooms, reaching temperatures of up to 90 degrees Celsius, which is pretty damn hot. Each sauna had a different theme as well, including a mist one, a jade one (they like jade), and a salt one where you actually rubbed salt into your skin while roasting, presumably for flavor. On the same floor, there are showers, a station full of hair and skin products, a massage parlor, and a full-fledged barbershop. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the bottom floor.
Once you’re finished alternating between sweating, wet, and freezing, you can head back up to the lockers to grab the robes that are used for the upper floors, all of which are coed. The second floor has a meeting area so you can group up with your opposite-gender friends, as well as a restaurant and numerous sleeping areas. People sleep everywhere in the spa, so there are mats and pillows strewn about the entire place. Some of the sleeping areas even have special properties, like increased oxygen or different wood or materials. The waiting area had a “foot fomentation” area, which was basically a trough filled with hot pebbles in which you could soothe your bare feet.
The third floor was the entertainment area, which had ping pong tables, a full gym, an arcade, a PC room, and even a cinema room showing incomprehensible Korean films. There are also, of course a bunch of areas to take a nap. If you’ve had your fill of healthy activities, I guess you can just head to this floor to watch a movie and play some arcade games.
The fourth floor had a dozen or so fomentation rooms, which were sort of like saunas, in that they were mostly hot, but different due to the fact that you lay down in them, usually half-burying yourself in hot stones of different materials (depending on the room’s theme). Ranging from almost unbearably hot to room temperature, as well as one ice-themed room, it was a constant shock to the body. The warm, smooth stones were sometimes a foot or so deep and felt particularly nice once you adjusted to the temperature. There were also, as always, plenty of people napping in each room.
On the fifth floor were dormitory beds; for an extra five bucks you can actually spend the night here, taking advantage of the 24-hour facilities to your heart’s content. Lots of people opt for a night at a spa rather than a hotel if they’re here on an overnight layover just passing through the city. You get a nice relaxing visit, and $15 for the night is a hard price to beat even disregarding the spa itself.
Once I got over the initial 30 seconds’ worth of my mind telling me that it was weird that I had no clothes on, the hot tub area was actually super relaxing. Nobody else cared about it; communal bathing is a normal part of the culture here, to the point that whole families come to the baths together. The different baths themselves felt really nice on my skin and muscles, and the facilities on the upper floors were enough to warrant a half-day visit. There were very few westerners at the spa as well, which made it feel like a more authentic experience. Some Koreans visit these spas multiple times a week, so it was cool to get a peek (not that kind) into this aspect of the culture.