Ah, the jjimjilbang (찜질방).
Korea’s nude saunas can be a pretty intimidating for someone who has never bathed naked with a bunch of strangers before. The first time I went I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and subsequently awkwardly followed people around. I was convinced that everyone would stare at me – the only naked Caucasian woman for miles – but my experiences at the jjimjilbang haven’t been like that at all. For the most part, people let you alone while you’re trying to take a bath, and that’s all right with me.
Since my first intimidating time at the jjimjilbang I’ve come to love it. I go alone or with friends at least once a month, and think they’re one of the best things Korea has to offer. And, at only 8,000-15,000 won, (about 7-13 USD), they’re more affordable than any spa day you had back home.
To help you be more successful than I was my first time at the sauna, here’s a handy to help you along.
Approach the person at the counter. If you are fortunate enough to look western like me, chances are they aren’t going to ask you too many questions. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed or don’t speak any Korean, just say “jjimjilbang.” Pay them money. They’ll give you some loose-fitting scrubs and a couple of towels.
Take off your shoes before entering the sauna. There should be lockers for them near the entrance. If the person at the front desk gave you a key (electronic or physical) you may need it to open the shoe locker. (The key will have a number on it. Find the corresponding locker.) If they didn’t give you a key, chances are there’s one in the locker. Take it out AND TAKE IT WITH YOU. You’ll need it for your clothes.
Find your clothes locker. Take a deep breath and strip down. If you’re nervous about accidentally somehow walking out in a public area like I was my first time at the sauna, you can scope out where the baths are first.
Go to the bath/shower area. TAKE A SHOWER BEFORE YOU GET INTO THE BATHS. Baths are for clean bodies ONLY. The jjimjilbang normally provides free (bar) soap and sometimes even toothpaste. Of course, you can bring in all of your own bathing essentials. If you forget, or are in a pinch, don’t worry: they normally sell everything from shampoo to toothbrushes at the jjimjilbang counter!
Enjoy your bath! Once you get past being naked with a bunch of strangers in a bathtub together, the jjimjilbang is one of the nicest things in the world. There are usually at least three pools of varying temperatures, and sometimes a lot more! If you’re lucky, there will also be pools with different minerals or properties on it to help your skin glow like a pregnant woman, without all the hassle of getting knocked up.
Once you’ve enjoyed your bath, you can dry off, put on the scrubs they gave you, and check out the rest of the jjimjilbang. Often, there are dry saunas (both hot and cold) in the public areas. If you want a nap (or a cheap place to crash for the night), a lot of saunas are open twenty-four hours and have places where you can sleep.
Have you ever visited a jjimjilbang in Korea? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!