The Kimchi-ite: Relax And Get Lazy In The Nude At A Korean Jjim-Jil-Bang

After a long, six-day workweek, a night of drinking or just a day of walking all over town, the jjim-jil-bang is the perfect place to unravel in South Korea. Literally meaning “heated bath room” (not “heated bathroom” mind you), jjim-jil-bang are relaxation emporiums with a heavy lean towards hot tubs and saunas that are affordable, open 24/7 and a staple of Korean culture. With good reason, they have become increasingly popular, and not just for the overworked Korean office worker or drunk college student.After you pay your 10,000-won entrance fee (less than $9), you will be directed to your gender’s locker room. There you’ll slip into the entirely too comfortable, loose-fitting clothing they provide you with. You have your choice of various forms of relaxation at that point. The main attractions are the hot tubs, with each jjim-jil-bang having a handful to choose from, at differing temperatures and water types, such as green tea hot tubs. These are to be enjoyed in the nude of course, with the hot tub areas segregated by gender. Be sure to thoroughly wash yourself beforehand just outside the baths.

There are traditional Korean stone dome saunas, hanjeungmak, with differing intensities, but they are always very hot and refreshingly dry. Often there will be a “cold room” to cool down that continuously has fresh air pumped into it. Depending on the size, a jjim-jil-bang may also have karaoke, an arcade, exfoliating massages, a barber, a swimming pool, gym facilities or a restaurant.

All of these are linked together by a large common room with a heated floor where patrons of both sexes can gather, watch TV and relax. This area facilitates jjim-jil-bangs popular use as ultra-cheap, last minute accommodation after a late night out when the trains stop running.

It’s required that any visit to a jjim-jil-bang be accompanied by shikeh, a nice mellow rice drink, and making yourself a sheep’s hat out of your towel to absorb sweat. The hat is actually quite terrible at sweat absorption, but extremely efficient at making you feel ridiculous and putting a smile on your face.

One of the largest jjim-jil-bangs, and the most accommodating to foreigners, is the Dragonhill Spa in Yongsan across the street from Yongsan station, with a staff fluent in English.

Continue on with previous Kimchi-ite posts with more on Korean culture, food and eccentricities by clicking here.

[Photo Credits: Flickr User Wootang1, WhiteNight7 via WikiMedia, and Jonathan Kramer]

A hot date at NYC’s Russian & Turkish Baths

“So what are you doing tonight, Jimmy?”

As I listen to the question, I gasp for air. Steam clouds my eyes as sweat drips down my face. The smell of eucalyptus hangs heavy in the air.

“My wife, she thinks I’m gonna bring her flowers or take her out for sushi,” Jimmy says, his voice thick with the swagger of a New York City accent.

“She thinks I’m gonna do one. I’m gonna do both. That’s how you make her happy.”

The men laugh while the moisture suffocates me. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m in a steam room at the Russian & Turkish Baths in downtown NYC.

Jimmy continues talking, discussing the finer points of his marriage (“Put it this way, when I go to work, at least I’m getting out of the house”) and debating the merits of different falafel joints (“You can’t say one is the best, that one is only best for you”). When he leaves the room, he drops a gem on two girls chatting about failed relationships: “Without love, we can’t have peace.”

The Russian & Turkish Baths are an East Village institution, and tonight it’s crowded with couples, singles and regulars like Jimmy and his crew, all seeking a hot, steamy respite from the February cold. New Yorkers in varying levels of undress hop from room to room: the mild steam room, the pleasant redwood sauna room, the radiator-heated Turkish Room, the intensely scented Aromatherapy Room. A regular advises us to stay no longer than 15 minutes in each spot and take a plunge in the icy central pool between sessions, which is said to improve circulation.

Then, the regular points us to the largest room, the big Kahuna, the star of the bathhouse: the Russian Sauna room. Here, an oven filled with 20,000 pounds of stones cooked overnight emits a radiant heat that ranges from intense to unbearable. Before we head in, we listen to the splashing of water and whipping of platza oak leaves, and we watch as people emerge with bright red skin, soaked from head to toe and looking like they’re about to have a heart attack. I brace myself.

Inside it feels like a cauldron and smells like a heady mix of essential oils and B.O. The room is packed with people, some sitting on bleacher-style benches, some receiving platza oak leaf treatments ($40) from husky men in robes and some dousing themselves with buckets of ice cold water streaming from a spout in the center of the room. The walls are solid rock. I’d never seen anything like it.

Unfortunately, I only last about 3.25 minutes before the room started spinning. The Russian Sauna isn’t for the faint of heart. I push my way out, skin bright red, and dive into the plunge pool. I think I’m done.

Upstairs the smell of homestyle Russian food greets us. After a quick shower and change, we ditch our plans for a swanky night of dinner and dancing and settle instead for a warm meal of dumplings and borscht — no flowers or sushi needed.

The Russian & Turkish Baths are located at 268 10th Street in New York City. A one-day pass is $35 and includes facilities, robes, slippers, towels, soap, razor and timeless words of wisdom.

[Image via Russian & Turkish Baths]

SkyMall Monday: Personal Infrared Sauna

Ah, Labor Day. It’s a day to honor the hard work of the people who make America strong and stuff the last few hot dogs of summer down our gullets. After months spent baking in the sun and indulging in fried items on sticks at state fairs, our skin is tight and our bodies are full of cheese. To properly cleanse ourselves, we could spend a fortune on a fancy spa treatment, but that’s just a waste of money. Spas are covered in fungus and require awkward nudity with strangers. Why should we have to leave SkyMall Monday headquarters (or, in your case, whatever you call your headquarters) just to sweat out three months worth of fried dough and turkey legs? Thankfully, now we can heal our bodies and maintain peace of mind in the comfort of our own homes thanks to SkyMall. All we need to do is drop $500 on the Personal Infrared Sauna.Why crowd into a three-person sauna or experiment sapphically in a two-person sauna when you can take care of yourself by yourself? With your head outside of the hot box, you’re free to watch television, make phone calls or try on hats while your body benefits from your own personal heat wave.

Think that saunas should be supervised by professionals? Believe that only illusionists should lock themselves in wooden boxes? Well, while you turn your thermostat up as high as it goes, we’ll be reading the product description:

Equipped with a main control panel and a separate on/off switch, the Hide-Away Sauna takes only 10 minutes to heat up and has an adjustable temperature setting from 68 – 107 degrees F. Boost your immune system from the comfort of your own home.

Finally, your very own box that replicates the daytime high and nighttime low of Phoenix in May. Sadly, it does not come with fajitas.

So, enjoy your Labor Day barbecue and indulge one last time before the temperatures drop. And, when they do, you can keep things hot on your Personal Infrared Sauna.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Five ways to make a dollar go further in New England this holiday season

New England was made for the holiday season. Sure, it’s a bit chilly up there in the winter, but bundle up, and it’s impossible not to be sucked in by the charm of one of the oldest corners of America. If you’re looking for a great way to maximize your spending power this Christmas (who isn’t?!), check out five great ideas from New England Inns and Resorts. There’s plenty of variety … but little room for Scrooges.

Cut your own Christmas tree
This is a tough one if you’re traveling any distance, and trying to cram a fir into the overhead bin will not help you win friends and influence others. But, if you’re within driving distance, check out The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine. The holiday package gets you two nights in an ocean view room and a fresh-cut Christmas tree from nearby Bragdon Farms. Fortunately, they’ll wrap it and fasten it to your car. Back at the inn, you’ll also get two hot chocolates and use of the sauna and spa – you’ll need this to warm up a bit; Maine gets pretty cold.

Shop ’til you drop
At the White Mountain Hotel & Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, you’ll be close to the outlet stores (famous to anyone who grew up in an adjacent state). The package includes discount coupons to make the savings even greater, and you’ll also get breakfast every morning (two-night stay required). So, instead of cramming into the local mall, dash off to do your shopping this year, and make it an experience worth remembering.

No stress involved
Up in Lyndonville, Vermont, The Wildflower Inn wants to make your holiday season as easy as possible. Rather than worry about fold-out couches and relatives lurking in your kitchen in the middle of the night, invade the Wildflower and occupy its 570-acre resort. Stay for three nights, get a full breakfast every day and unwind. Every room has a Christmas tree that’s ready to be decorated. And, the inn will serve dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas day itself. Don’t worry: Santa goes to Vermont (hell, he doesn’t live far from it). Every room can be expected to have packed stockings!

Movie marathon by the sea
Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine is offering a low-key holiday that will make any holiday host drool. Instead of fussing over guests, take advantage of the “Ho-Ho-Ho Package,” and enjoy a holiday movie marathon, caroling and a visit from Santa himself (he doesn’t live far from Maine, either). Bring an unwrapped gift for Meadowmere’s Toys for Tots tree (do it), and relax be the fire.

Think past Christmas
There’s more to the holiday season than Christmas. For the next big event, skip the mayhem of Times Square (or the boredom of watching the ball drop on television), and go to Adair Country Inn & Restaurant in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Spend two or three nights at the inn, and sit for a four-course dinner on New Year’s Eve. Bring your tux; formal attire is encouraged. A party will follow, with dancing, champagne and a fireworks display. When the festivities are over, scarf down a late-night snack. Drag yourself out of bed the next day for high tea.

Sit on an ant hill in Finland, win a prize

What can’t you do in Finland? If traditional activities don’t scratch your bizarre itch, try to endure sweltering heat or hurling electronic devices. This country is home to the strangest “sporting events” you can imagine … and it’s enough to make me consider going back.

Throughout the year, you’ll find more than 40 weird contests, some titillating and others just plain freakish. I’ll pass on the World Sauna Championships, as sitting in a sweat box isn’t exactly a good time. My wife is probably thinking of trying the World Cell Phone Throwing Championships on my behalf (I can’t put the damned thing down, sometimes). Hay mowing contests don’t interest me, but I’d probably enjoy being a spectator at the topless winter jogging event … hey, at least nobody will need sunblock!

Yeah, there’s more.

Air guitar playing, swamp football and table-tapping challenges are hosted in this Scandinavian wonderland. Depending on your better half’s disposition, you can even try wife-carrying.

Check the calendar of events after the jump.


Wife-Carrying: This occurs at Sonkajärvi, in eastern Finland. The contest dates back to 1992, though the tradition traces to the 19th century (if you can believe the locals). The world championships are held on July 3 and 4.

Mobile-Phone Throwing: Staged in Punkaharju, also in eastern Finland, show up on August 22 to throw an “official” cell phone as far as you can. In case you were worried, “there will be no doping tests. However the jury can rule out the contestant if his/her mental or physical preparedness is not adequate for full a performance.” I guess that means everyone.

Sauna Bathing Contest: Attend the 11th Sauna World Championships in Heinola, and you’ll get hot. It’s held on August 7 and 8, during which “competitors have to sit in the sauna with buttocks and thighs on the seat.” Wait, it gets better: “Posture must be erect [I bet!]; elbows must stay on the knees and arms have to be in an upright position. The competitor will have to leave the sauna without outside help; otherwise he/she will be disqualified.”

Air Guitar Playing: Your friends used to laugh at you … and they will again if they watch you at this unusual competition. You and other would-be rock stars will converge on Club Teatria in Oulu in northern Finland (where else would you find something like this?). If you aren’t ready for prime time, attend a training session, lecture or demonstration. (No, you can’t make this shit up.) The event runs from August 19 to 21.

Swamp Football: It is what it is. Go to Hyrynsalmi on July 17 and 18 and try to kick a soccer ball in the mud. There’s no offside rule, which clearly solves everything.

In case these aren’t eccentric enough for you, there are other choices: mosquito swatting, milking stool throwing and sitting on an ant’s nest. I really wish I were lying about this last one … I really do.