In South Korea sauna and relaxation comes in the form of jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbang are places which can be found all over South Korea including the capital Seoul, although foreigners might have a problem to recognize the buildings which house these sauna venues. It is not easy to find the saunas unless you understand Korean writing because the entrances are discreet in design.
Once inside a Korean sauna (Jjimjiibang) you can easily spend 8 hours in one with facilities including:
These places are very popular with Koreans and with many people living at home with a large family, the attraction of Korean saunas jjimjiilbang is that they offer not only a place to unwind for the stresses of work, but they also offer a temporary escape for some space.
As a foreigner try and visit a Korean sauna if you have the chance. If you have Korean friends you should get the chance. The saunas are normally male or female separated. You can also sometimes find saunas and spas in some of the elite and luxury hotels in South Korea, especially in Seoul.
I was in Seoul last year for an academic conference and I was keen to try one of these so-called Jjimjilbang (or what some people might call a bath-house). I had heard a lot about these places before and rather than just a sauna, it is more like a social area where you can take a nap, a sauna, check your emails on one of the computers or pretty much do what you need to, to relax. You have to understand the Korean culture to really understand the idea behind a Jjimjilbang. The culture here is such that many grown ups live long term with their parent and often stay at home to look after their elderly parents, rather than see their parents end up in an old people’s home, as is more common in Western Europe. Having many generations in the same house or apartment can though mean a lack of space sometimes. Herein lies one of the key benefits of the jjimjilbangs. They provide an escape and some space to catch that sleep you might need or place to unwind and away from family. Norebangs (singing rooms) act as another place of escape and are popular with teenagers and those in their twenties.
Inside the jjimjilbang, I found it quite confusing because my reading of Korean signs is very minimal and I am used to European saunas and spas, but was uncertain of the expected etiquette here in Korea. The areas where you experience nudity are usually separated into male and female areas. I actually accidentally went into the women’s area and was about to slip off my towel before realising that I had taken the wrong door.
Many people I am told spend many many hours in them and if you are a traveller or business person looking for a cheap overnight place to get some sleep and to relax, you can even use a jjimjilbang for this purpose. They even have big movie rooms and so you can find that you can almost treat this type of facility as a type of hotel room area, albeit a shared facility. Some jjimjilbangs do have separate sleeping areas also though.
Getting started – The first thing that happens is that you pay at reception and then you are given your outfit and towels. You can then go to the locker room to strip off and head into the public sauna and bathing area.