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]