One of the best things to do in Korea is going to a traditional bathhouse where there is a mogyoktang (목욕탕) and a jjimjilbang (찜질방) section. Many Koreans come here for a relaxing bath, to get a scrub, to get an oil massage, to soak their bodies in a spa, to sweat it out in the sauna, or to hangout with their friends. Some people even come here to spend the night as it is a very cheap and affordable option.
A Korean bathhouse contains the an area of mogyoktang 목욕탕 which is an only one gender area as it’s a space where people get undressed and are fully naked. There are a bunch of warm jacuzzis to soak your body in, a shower area, some saunas, and then a corner of older Korean ladies or men that do massages and help exfoliate. Fair warning that if you are not comfortable with nudity, you might have to reconsider going to this area. However, Bath houses are known for being a good bonding activity that help friends break out of their shells and be fully naked with each other. Most importantly, it also helps you become more comfortable in your own body.
The other area is the common hangout area called the jjimjilbang 찜질방 where people are dressed in gym-looking like clothes and can buy some refreshing drinks or order things to eat. There are also massage chairs and cool rooms like the ice rooms that people can check out.
Here is a list of things to expect and a breakdown of a step-by-step guide of what to do based on my own experience:
The basic entrance fee is usually around $10,000 to $20,000 KRW depending on which area the spa is located at. They give you a key with an assigned number for you for your lockers, one small towel, a shirt, and shorts that you can use for the 찜질방.
After you pay at the counter and before you head into the mogyoktang 목욕탕, there is an area of small lockers that are meant for you to put your shoes in. Use the keys that you received at the counter to know which locker to use.
If you are planning on going into the bath area, there will be a bigger locker inside. Your locker number will be the same number as your shoe locker as you will be using the same key you received at the counter. You can leave all of your belongings here such as your bag and your clothes. If you are going to the bath area, make sure you fully undress and just head in with only your small towel; If you are choosing to skip the baths and just go to the common area, make sure you change into your spa clothes. An important thing is to remember to take your key with you everywhere you go!
The very first thing you have to do when you arrive at the bath area is to take a shower to rinse off the outside germs. While soap is provided, you have to either bring your own shampoo and conditioner or buy it at the counter. This step is a must do so make sure you don’t skip it unless you want to get dirty stares or get yelled at.
The next step is to go to the bath pools! There should usually be around 3 of them with each being at a different temperature. You can soak inside of them as long as you want but the recommended time is usually 20 minutes.
After relaxing at the baths, people head into the saunas. While some people just sit and sweat it out, there are also people that decide to do some light exercises inside. Fair warning that the saunas ARE REALLY HOT. You will definitely be sweating everything out. The general cap time for the saunas is the same as the baths of around 20 minutes.
You can choose to exfoliate yourself at the showers OR you can choose to pay around $15,000 KRW to have the workers do it for you. It’s a very worthwhile experience to get it done once in a while as it is very affordable and you will feel extremely clean afterwards. Fair warning that the workers are usually more rough and they can be merciless when scrubbing all your dead skin cells off of you while you lay there on a table.
There is also an option to get an oil massage or a scalp massage after being exfoliated at a cost of around $50,000 KRW.
After being exfoliated and getting a massage, you rinse yourself off at the showers for one last time so you can be completely clean. You can choose to go to the bath pools again or wrap up your experience and head to the common area!
After you have enjoyed your experience at the bath area and are squeaky clean OR if you decided to skip that part, you can head to the common area where it’s mixed gendered. Remember to put on the spa clothes that the people at the counter provided you for this section. At the jjimjilbang 찜질방, I recommend getting the Sikye 식혜 which is a refreshing sweet rice beverage. You can also explore the area by checking out the different themed rooms they have. The jjimjilbang 찜질방 area overall is a place where people hang out or even take naps so make sure you are not talking too loudly so as to not disturb other customers! Pictured below are some rooms that some spas might have (left: ice room; right: salto room).
Going to one bathhouse during your visit to Seoul is a must! If you are able to embrace the nudity side of bathhouses, I would highly encourage you to get a scrub and a massage to make the experience even more worthwhile!
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