Korea is a country that takes its beauty industry seriously, and stretches it limits as far as it can. $400 face creams, high-end plastic surgery clinics and entire zones dedicated to beauty are a norm.
It is this cultural environment that has given rise to the Jimjilbang: the highly popular 24-hour Korean Saunas that are found all over the country.
What’s a Jimjilbang?
Jimjilbangs (짐질방) are Korean bathhouses. Think of them as recreational places where you can spend an entire 24 hours mastering the art of chilling out.
While these bathhouses used to be simply places for people to clean themselves up, they have evolved over time to include things like massages, hot and cold baths, entertainment lounges, buffets and even communal sleeping halls!
Koreans are rather avid bathers, and some of them even make it a weekly ritual to visit their favourite Jimjilbang. So, for your next trip to South Korea, to help you live like a local, here’s a guide to help you bathe like a local in no time at all!
The bathhouse experience
These sleepless saunas are not small. Some of the more popular Jimjilbangs are actually standalone buildings, with different facilities on each floor.
It is important to remember that the first thing to do upon entering a Jimjilbang is to register yourself and get a bracelet. Usually, no cash transactions happen within the building, and your activities are tracked using your bracelet. Make sure you don’t lose it!
Once that’s done, make sure you clean yourself throughly! It is important to do an extensive scrub-down in their showers before you hit the spa, as these facilities are shared and most patrons will be undressed. If you’re in a smaller Jimjilbang, the locals will appreciate your attention to hygiene.
Once you’re done with the spas, you could choose to hit the communal lounges. These are generally large, open halls where people can hang out, watch TV, have a nap, or chat and relax. You will need to be clothed in this area, but fret not, as the Jimjilbang would have provided you with some large, baggy shorts and T-shirts.
If you’ve relaxed enough, then take the time out to brave the saunas! The Koreans have a very unique type of sauna called hanjeungmak (한증막), which are giant, room-sized kilns made out of stone or clay.
These kilns are heated up to 90 degrees Celcius, and people go in to lie down on hemp mats. It is recommended that you lie inside for about 15-20 minutes to let your body sweat out.
If the heat has gotten you thirsty, communal lounges are also where you can find food and drink. Highly recommended post-sauna drinks include a fermented rice drink called sikhye (식혜), and ice-cold Korean ciders. You’ll see all the locals lounging with cold drinks in their hands, so go join them!
There are plenty of other things, like arcades, massage rooms, ice rooms and even shopping areas spread throughout most of the newer Jimjilbangs! The only way to truly discover what your facility has to offer is to take the lifts to every single floor and find out for yourself!
The best Jimjilbangs in Seoul
Spa in Garden 5
If you want to see the best of Seoul’s bathhouses, then we’d recommend you skip the usual recommendations and go straight to the beautiful Spa in Garden 5.
Spa in Garden 5 is one of Seoul’s newest Jimjilbang, and affords some of the best views of the city. Some of its more modern trappings include things like yoga classes, libraries, and even an Internet cafe.
While Sinsa-dong is popular for great restaurants and enjoyable cafes, it is also home to one of the more unique Jimjilbangs in Seoul. Spa Lei is the ultimate women-only spa, and boasts amazing scrubs, herbal beauty baths, well-being massages, diet rooms, and even a jewellery and lingerie shop.
This is the ultimate pampering spot for women, and plenty of Seoul’s urbanite population head to this place to rest and recuperate after a long work week.
Seoul Station’s bustling crowds hide Siloam Sauna, one of the city’s best Jimjilbangs. While it’s not as fancy as some of the newer places, Siloam has everything you need to relax in hectic Seoul.
With 3 heated medicinal baths, a charcoal cold room and 24-hour bunk bed accommodation, Siloam is perfect for the weary traveller seeking some comfort.