When I was planning a trip to South Korea, I came across this term called jimiillbang. However, as I tried to delve more into it, I realised that there is not much written about them. So, I promised myself that when I am done with the trip, I will write a post about these jimijilbangs, in order to fill in the void.
So, this is me, fulfilling that promise to myself, for the benefit of those who are planning to visit a jimijilbang.
For those of us who do not know much about the Korean spas (or jimijilbangs), in a nutshell, this is what you can expect when you visit one of these places:
You take off your shoes and put them inside a locker. In the next room, which is gender segregated, you take off all your clothes, and I mean all of them, and head to the shower area. You enjoy a nice relaxing shower, take a dip in the pool, and soak up the heat in the sauna rooms and hot tubs of varying temperatures. You can avail massage or body scrubbing services as well. Once you are done, you change into the clothes provided by them and then enjoy the entertainment options or the delicious food that are on offer or just go to bed. Few of the spas also have gyms and offer horse riding and golf lessons. It all depends on how fancy the place is.
While for the Koreans visiting a spa is a weekly or a fortnightly affair, most visitors to the country refrain themselves from visiting these spas.
The fact that one has to be completely unclad in the shower and sauna rooms with the others is, I believe, one of the biggest reasons why foreigners avoid the Korean spas. For most of us, it can be awkward, uncomfortable, even mentally scarring to even think about being in a roomful of naked strangers of the same gender.
This post is not about convincing you that being naked in a roomful of people is not going to be awkward. Yes, it is going to be awkward, especially when you are pulling down your pants for the first time. But you will soon realise how normal it is for them when you enter the shower area and see a father and a son in the same hot tub, talking and laughing. Or when you see two friends scrubbing each other’s back. Or when you see kids running around and having a great time while their parents talk to each other about their work, politics and baseball.
In most other countries, being au naturel in front of your son, or your boss can alter relationships. Change lives, even. However in South Korea, you just have to internalise the fact, as hard and strange as it may seem, it is just not as big a deal for the Koreans.
The closest cousin to a Jimijilbang might be a Turkish bath.
Many of us, backpackers, often look for a cheap place to crash and rejuvenate after a long day of travel. Dorm beds in most cities in South Korea start from around 15000 KRWs. While many hostels are nice, clean and homely, most are not. As an alternative, these spas, even the best ones, will set you back at most by 12000 KRWs, and you can be sure about the quality of showers and the fact that no one will be banging on the door asking you to hurry up.
Also, you can sleep overnight in most of these spas. They will provide you with a clean set of clothes, a mat and a brick shaped pillow. Almost all of these spas are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so you do not have to worry about the check-in and check-out timings. Check-in is valid for 12 hours with a specified hourly charge after that.
The Dragon Hill Spa is considered to be one of the finest jimijilbangs in Seoul and is extremely popular with the locals and the tourists alike. It is definitely one of my favourites since, apart from a really good authentic Korean restaurant, they have video games!
After spending over 50 hours inside these establishments during my recent trip, I can safely say that jimijilbangs are a major motivating factor for me to visiting South Korea again.