If you’re looking for budget South Korea hotels or a remarkable, traditional experience, you can’t do better than an overnight stay at a jjimjilbang. These public spas have the usual facilities such as his and her showers, hot tubs and saunas, but they also have unisex common rooms equipped with TV sets, heated floors, food bars, PC areas and sleeping sections. For complete, affordable comfort after a day’s sightseeing, the jjimjilbang is a sure bet.
Photo courtesy by Kuruman.
Loosely translated as “steam rooms”, jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse with a series of inherent rituals. For a fee of 6,000 to 8,000 won, clients receive a robe and a shoe locker key. You then shower and disrobe before you enter the gender-segregated hot tubs. Most toiletries are offered freely, while others may cost a small fee, including scrub pads that Koreans use to remove grime and dead skin. Massages or ashimas, are also available.
You can enjoy a cool drink of misutgaru (rice grain powder juice), shikhye (a sweet beverage made from fermented rice) and boiled eggs while sweating off the day’s stress and cleansing your pores from toxins and dirt. Other rooms available for enjoyment are the hot Finnish-style sauna rooms, Japanese-style open-air jacuzzis, ice rooms, heat lamps and various mineral rooms such as red clay, jade or salt for a healthy dose of nutrients.Â Afterward, you can head off to the common rooms or visit the gym, laundry or silent rooms for reflection and meditation. The floors are heated with traditional ondol, an underfloor system that distributes hot wood smoke along thick masonry.
One common jjimjilbang tradition is the “lamb’s head” towel hat. The idea to roll both ends of a towel so that when you place it on your head, they look like spiral horns, or even Princess Leia from Star Wars. The ritual has a purpose of course – to protect delicate ears from the heat.
Backpackers whose carry-on gear won’t fit the standard jjimjilbang locker can leave it with the front desk, taking only a change of clothes, toiletries and the necessary cash. While itâ€™s great to have a Korean friend accompany you, most visitors can handle the experience by themselves.
To differentiate a day-only sauna from a 24-hour jjimjilbang, look for the “24” sign at the front of the building. Recommended jjimjilbang in Seoul include the luxury Dragon Hill Spa near Yongsan subway station and the family-friendly Oasis in Yesin Plaza near Janganpyeong station. Whether you’re a budget traveler in need of affordable accommodations during festival or peak tourist season, a businessman who missed the last train home or a have family in tow, the jjimjilbang is a memorable experience in Seoul and indeed, South Korea.