Jjimjilbangs are probably instantly recognisable to anyone that has watched Korean dramas or variety shows. Need a place to stay overnight? A jjimjilbang can be a good place to keep warm and relax for a day or two. Need to destress with some spa treatments. Jjimjilbangs have a good few options whilst still being affordable. Known simply as Korean bathhouses, they’re not something you would see at all in the west. But they’re very common in Korea and for many, they wouldn’t be without them.
Visiting these spas is actually a pretty recent development. Before jjimjilbang style retreats, Korea had traditional kiln-fired saunas known as hanjeung. In the early 20th century, Japanese influence inspired more public bath house, called mogyoktang, to start appearing. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that elements of a western style spa, such as the massages and entertainment on offer, were added to these more traditional bathhouses, creating what people recognise as a jjimjilbang today.
The most convenient thing about jjimjilbangs is that the majority are open 24 hours a day. This means that anyone can enter at any time and stay for as long as they want, provided they pay. The fee isn’t large considering the amount you receive on one stay. At around 8-12,000 won (around £5-£8) it’s a relatively cheap way to get some rest, whether that’s through staying overnight or from using the spa facilities. These can range from hot tubs and traditional baths, to massage tables and Korean kiln saunas. Don’t worry; as soon as you enter a jjimjilbang, you are separated by gender, save for in the communal meeting areas. So if you’re a little self-conscious about stripping down around other people, that should make the experience a little less awkward. You’ll also be given your own set of clothes to wear around the spa, usually just a t-shirt and shorts so you can feel completely comfortable and clean. A locker is given upon arrival to keep all your belonging safe too.
There are not just spa facilities to be found either. The main relaxing areas, often wide open rooms with heated ‘ondal’ flooring, are also separated by gender and can be themed too. If sleeping with too many people here isn’t your thing, there are usually bunk rooms to find too. Some rooms are warmer, others cooler, so you can choose where to go to suit the temperature you prefer. There’s also plenty of entertainment areas to be found. This, of course, ranges from place to place, but most have PC rooms, TV’s in the main areas, snack bars, or even noraebangs.
Food served can range from light snacks to items from a menu at a fully fledged restaurant. The prices for these foods are kept relatively cheap, though they are often an additional expense. Many will offer jiggaes and other simple yet filling Korean meals, ramyeon, or deserts like patbingsu. There’s almost always coffee and tea available as well.
You could lounge a few days away at a jjimjilbang quite easily – maybe even try tying your towel on your head in the way that many Koreans do when roaming around the spa. However you decide to spend your time inside, it’s certain you’ll leave feeling more relaxed than ever.