Korean spas (also known as jjimjilbang) are different from other spas as they specifically focus on relaxing, spending quality time with friends and family, and beauty. Where other spas tend to just be an hour or two sessions, there is no time limit to how long you can stay in the communal area or relax in one of the heated rooms. But how different can it be?
Korean spas, commonly known as Jjimjilbang, is a large, public bathhouse with hot tubs, showers, traditional massage tables, and is segregated between genders. There is a communal unisex area that is filled with snacks, heated floors to sleep, lounge, and watch TV. In the communal area, you would have communal heated rooms with elements of wood, crystals, and more to help relax. You can also fall asleep there without much worry as they are open 24 hours and serve as a perfect weekend getaway. Some Korean spas are open all day or close late at night.
Before the modernization of Korean spas took place, it was mostly known as a sauna, translated from hanjeungmak. Korean saunas are hot and dry with burning of wood pine to heat the stone around the room. Nowadays, saunas are incorporated into spas as they are separate rooms blasted with high heat (which you should monitor yourself and not stay in the sauna for too long).
Hanjeungmak was formed during the 15th century, where Korean saunas were used for medicinal purposes. Although bathing first started as a religious practice during the Song Dynasty, it eventually evolved into a traditional Korean spa for all genders. Similar to ancient Roman bathhouses, it was a place for relaxation and segregation.
After Japan colonized Korea, the idea of a bathing house was now implemented. Although Koreans and Japanese weren’t allowed to bathe together, this helped create the idea of the first modern public bathhouse. Public bathhouses were known as Mogyotang, and the popularity soared as customers who visited significantly enjoyed skin scrubbing. Skin scrubbing is now a necessity in Korean bathhouses as it would help dead skins to be removed by scrubbing with a prickly towel and makes the skin feel refreshed and extremely smooth.
Jimjilbang was developed many years later in 1992, as it is now the modern bathhouse you see today. You can now also find entertainment like watching TV, playing games while also having the chance to take a nap or stay overnight. And some worry about the cleanliness and security of a bathhouse, but there is continuous sanitation throughout visits and a special locker that keeps your stuff hidden and protected.
When you first enter, the receptionist in the front will help you get organized before entering. If you have any coupons or special offers, they will let you know and notify you of the entrance fee. You can also reserve a time slot for a service like scrub or massage at the front. You are then handed a locker key and comfortable drawstring clothes that you can wear into the communal space. You are then directed to your gender-segregated locker rooms where you can put your shoes and clothes into the specific locker number that you have and you can wear the locker key as a bracelet so you wouldn’t lose it. Either you can take a nice hot shower before you begin or you can change into the clothes and head into the communal area. As the drawstring clothes are freshly washed every day, you can have nothing underneath.
The moment you walk out of the communal space, you are greeted by many rooms of dry sauna, a snack area, and a large space of heated floors with people watching tv or napping. You can either head right into the snack area or start strong within one of the rooms. The dry sauna rooms have their special benefits! There is a red clay ball room, salt rooms (which are usually hotter), gem rooms, clay rooms (the hottest room), and more. Make sure you take breaks in between and head into the cold rooms and drink water as you can get dehydrated.
After a nice sweat, you can head over to the snack area where there is delicious food served as a restaurant. You don’t use money because your wallet stays in the locker protected. You use the locker key you have, as it gets charged through your key and goes on your tab to pay when you leave. You can charge things to your locker key so that physical money isn’t used until your checkout.
You can also take a nice nap on the heated floors as there are pillows provided. Oftentimes friends like to play games together and talk while they are sitting on the warm floors. It also helps you fall asleep after eating some delicious food as you watch tv. It’s a great place to rest, and there are a lot of people around so you don’t need to worry about feeling unsafe. If you do, you can know a staff member.
Now you’re standing in line, but what do you eat? Most Korean spas will have the typical snack foods like spicy rice cakes (topokki), boiled eggs, noodles, soup, and more. The typical snack to eat with friends if you aren’t extremely hungry would be eggs and a sweet rice drink known as sikhye.
Korean spa-styled eggs are different from your normal boiled eggs as they are nicely brown and a satisfying snack to keep you full. The nice, sweet, and cold sikhye is addicting and extremely refreshing. If you feel more hungry, you can order some delicious spicy rice cakes or some hot noodles to help you relax.
In addition, if you feel like you need something cold after being in a hot dry sauna room, you can also order Korean shaved ice! It is the best thing to eat after sweating profusely inside a hot room. It is served cold and fresh with delicious fruits and ice cream on top.
Once you’re back inside the gender-segregated bathrooms, you have to take a shower before entering. Because you want to have clean hygiene, you should wash your body at least if you want to keep your hair dry. The customers need to follow up with hygiene even if the spa is doing its part to keep the place clean. There is shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and towels all provided so you don’t have to worry at all. You can dip into the nice warm tubs or enter the steam rooms when you are done with showering. Make sure to leave your communal clothes in the locker so that it doesn’t get wet. Safe to say, you’re naked in the shower, tub, and steam rooms. But everyone respects the privacy you have!
If you make an appointment to do a special scrub or massage, you are directed into a small section within the bath where the magic happens. You are scrubbed down with professional hand scrubbers who make sure they get every dead skin cell off your body. They ensure that your skin will be left soft once you leave the baths.
You can chill around the steam rooms and bathe until either you want to put on your communal clothes again to go back into the public space or head back home. It’s recommended to take another shower before you leave and also wash your hair clean. There are hairdryers provided afterwards, and a huge mirror space for you to put on makeup. These similar situations happen in the men’s bath as well. But instead of professional female scrubbers, it will be men instead.
And once you are all ready to go, you can head back outside to the lobby area where you will give back your locker key and pay for the food, massage fees, and more. Make sure to leave a tip for your scrubber or massage person.
You definitely won’t regret your time at a Korean spa as it is affordable and a great place to go with your friends or family members.
Korean spas are not only focused on beauty, but it focuses on bonding and feeling comfortable with good food and sleep. Families and friends can comfortably go together and enjoy a relaxing spa all together while taking a nice nap afterwards. American spas only focus on massages and facials whereas Korean spas are all about making sure your skin is smooth without the need of using products. Sure, there are facials provided at the Korean spas but bonding is a special part of the experience that helps you naturally feel distressed.
Watch below as Conan O’Brien visits a Korean spa for the very first tiem with Steven Yeun.
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