How Not to Be Awkward Inside a Jjimjilbang or a Korean Spa
At a jjimjilbang, you will experience a complete wellness activity like no other.
Korean spa admission rates are usually set at ₩9,000-15,000 (around ₱445-740 or $8.3-15), give or take.
Jjimjilbang and chill. Make this part of your South Korea itinerary!
Also read: LIST: Best Jjimjilbangs in Seoul
What Makes a Korean Spa Special?
Your trip in South Korea wouldn’t be complete without visiting a local spa or a jjimjilbang. It’s a highly cultural activity that promotes R&R and a wellness experience that you will not easily get elsewhere.
What makes a jjimjilbang so interesting is its layout. Most have designated sections for the services that you’d normally look for, such as massages, sauna, and body scrubs, but no traditional Korean spa is complete without the public baths and a huge common space where people can eat, sleep, watch movies, play games, rent a PC, and even sing karaoke! The concept is so interesting and holistic that it actually makes for a decent place to live, if not at all great.
Of course, that’s if you don’t mind being in the nude, among other things.
When you visit a jjimjilbang, the expectation is that that you’re ready to strip all your clothes off in the shower and the public bath areas. You can't have a single piece of clothing on since it brings the idea that you're bringing outside dirt in or you have a communicable disease. Obviously, Koreans wouldn't have a problem being naked in this setting. However, for tourists, this is precisely where we’re more likely to draw the line.
If you’re somewhat or completely okay without a stitch on, then read on; the following are the things that you should do on your jjimjilbang visit. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of being undressed in front of others, I still encourage you to read through the end. It might just change your mind.
In case you're wondering, the photo above was an attempt to get drama fans inside a Korean spa. Still no? Well, at least I tried.
Korean Spa Etiquette & Guide
Here are the things that you should observe to have an enjoyable time in a jjimjilbang. (Trust me, if you do it right, you’d soon look forward to your next visit!)
1. Pay up
Some Korean spas charge solely based on the time of your visit. Here’s how most schedules would look:
Day (when you visit some time around 5am-8pm): ₩8,000-12,000 for adults (around ₱400-600 or $7.5-11)
Night (8pm-5am): ₩10,000-15,000 for adults (around ₱490-740 or $10-14)
Weekends/Holidays (5am-8pm): ₩10,000-15,000 for adults (around ₱490-740 or $10-14)
Some establishments also charge depending on the services you would like to avail, i.e. bath only or bath + jjimjilbang (sauna and access to the common area):
Bath only (day): average ₩8,000 (around ₱400 or $7.5)
Bath only (night): average ₩9,000 (around ₱445 or $8.3)
Bath + Jjimjilbang (day): average ₩9,000 (around ₱445 or $8.3)
Bath + Jjimjilbang (night): average ₩11,500 (around ₱565 or $10.8)
If the establishment offers an indoor water park or outdoor pool, then you can opt to get the entire package, which costs around ₩25,000 (₱1,230 or $23).
Once you've settled the admission fee via cash or card, you will then be given an electronic key for your shoe locker and changing room. You’ll also be handed a set of cotton shirt and shorts (PJ’s!) for the jjimjilbang area.
2. Store Your Shoes
Your key number corresponds to the shoe locker assigned to you. Find your locker, keep your footwear, and then take the key with you to the changing room.
If you were just given a receipt, it should still bear the number of your designated shoe locker. This is where you will find your key to the changing room.
In other Korean spas, the first thing you might see are the shoe lockers instead of the front desk. If this is the case, then choose any locker where you want to store your footwear. Take the shoe locker key with you and bring it to the front desk. You’ll be handed another key for the changing room.
Changing room and electronic locker key.
Once you’ve completed these two steps, head your way down to the gender-segregated locker areas for a surprise.
3. Get naked
Yes, it’s time to be in your birthday suit. Leave everything behind, including your phone and cameras. Do it quickly.
If you have a personal bath kit and loofah, bring them with you. Otherwise, just use the complimentary items in the shower area.
4. Get Squeaky Clean
This is a rule you surely must not break. Other bathers want you to be clean when you get inside the hot or cold baths.
You can choose an open shower cubicle or sit at a stool with a handy faucet for a different style of bathing. Scrub well.
5. Hit the Korean Baths
This is where it really begins.
After showering, have a look around the area and find the bath that’s hot enough for you (I always go for the 42°C first!). You can stay in one bath for 15-20 minutes before moving on to the next one. The idea is to work your way down to the coolest tub. Whatever you do, don’t splash your way in.
Some baths are infused with charcoal, which gets rid of your body’s impurities, ginseng, to enhance your metabolism, and jade, for relaxation.
If you’re in Korea during the winter, your body will be thankful for the hot baths! Of course, if you’re in town during summer, the cooler ones will be most enjoyable.
Oh, if you’re looking to get a massage and/or body scrub (seshin or 세신), this is the time to do so! Simply walk up to the corner where the therapists are (they’d most likely be in their underwear) and ask for the service that you want. They’ll either get your key (it functions as your tab) or note your locker number if the establishment’s still following manual procedure.
6. Shower up and groom
Once you’ve tried the public baths, have a quick shower and wear your cotton pajamas. Head on over to the common area (clothed please!) to continue the fun alone or with your special someone, friends, or family. At this point, feel free to bring your gadgets, playing cards, or what have you.
Note that the next steps don’t have to be followed religiously, so do as you and your company pleases.
6. Enter the Fomentation Rooms
...or more commonly known as the sauna rooms or hanjeungmak (한증막).
Similar to the baths, you will find fomentation rooms that claim to improve blood circulation, relieve stress, and even lose weight.
They also vary in temperature, so you can try entering the hot ones first (50-90°C), the cold ones second, then back to the hot. This should help you extract all of your bodies’ impurities and calm your tired muscles.
Before entering, you might also want to try making your own Korean sheep or lamb head towel. (You know you want to.) There's a video way below to guide you!
7. Cool down with a Jjimjilbang Sikhye
After undergoing all these body treatments, you’ll most likely feel some thirst or mild hunger. Here are the more popular jjimjilbang menu items you can try:
Iced Sikhye. A sweet and malty rice beverage that’s meant to be consumed slowly. One order’s usually good for two people and costs ₩3,000 (around ₱150 or $3), give or take.
Boiled or baked eggs. These were slow-cooked in the sauna, too. I kid you not.
Jjimjilbangs may also offer cup ramyeon, coffee, bibimbap, fried chicken, seaweed soup, and other treats for your satisfaction. Hand over your key for the payment.
8. Enjoy your time
You may find some leisure rooms, such as the DVD-bang (DVD방 or movie room), PC-bang (PC방 or computer rentals), kids’ room, mini-arcade area, massage chairs, and a fitness center, so take your time to unwind!
Yes, you can spend the night in a jjimjilbang. Some people, locals and tourists alike, skip numbers 3-8 in this list just to doze off. This usually happens when they miss the train or bus late at night.
Bunk beds + sleeping mats. 잘자요!
Of course, even during the day, it’s not uncommon for people to be in a jjimjilbang just to sleep. It’s a decent enough place to recharge. So if you’re feeling tired after days of walking and touring, simply grab a sleeping mat and a head block, find your comfy spot (just don’t block any entrances or walkways!), and doze off.
Oh, some Korean spas have separate rooms for snorers and non-snorers too. Thank heavens.
10. Repeat and check out
Yes, feel free to enter the baths and fomentation rooms for as many times as you please!
When you’re ready to go, proceed to the front desk to check out. Simply hand over your key and pay for the additional charges, if any (scrubbing service, food, drinks, etc.). You’ll then be able to get your footwear back.
If you're looking for a super low-cost accommodation, spend a night or two at a jjimjilbang. Just make sure they operate 24/7! You may want to rent a subway locker to store your luggage.
When talking to the front desk, simply say jjimjilbang and they’ll know the service that you’re referring to.
Don't be surprised if people are asking each other for a full-body scrub. It's completely normal for friends and families to do it with each other.
You will most likely have 10-12 hours to enjoy the jjimjilbang before you’re charged the next set of rates.
Don't doze off inside the sauna or fomentation room. You'll get dehydrated.
Keep it down. People are sleeping.
Here's a video guide on how to make your own jjimjilbang sheep towel head:
Here's another video for you Steven Yeun and Conan fans!
Care to share?
Tell us about your first time in a Korean spa by submitting a story or photo.
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