Plan Your Trip
Staying Clean: Seoul’s Public Bathhouses and Jjimjilbang
No trip to Seoul would be complete without a trip to one of its hundreds of public bathhouses and jjimjilbang---Korean-style saunas. Self-contained worlds of steam, running water and heat that can swallow up the visitor for days and nights at a time, jjimjilbang play an important role in Korean culture. We let you in on the Korean arts of abrasive ablution and self-steaming.
Korea’s love affair with bathing goes back many centuries. Silla, one of the three kingdoms that occupied the Korean Peninsula for much of the first millennium AD, developed a culture of bathing for purposes of ritual purification. Bathing remained important through the subsequent Goryeo (918---1392) and Joseon (1392---1910) eras, when those that could afford it took baths in infusions of ginseng, iris, peach flowers or leaves, or even garlic, in order to make their skin whiter.
Korea’s first modern-style public bathhouse opened in Pyeongyang in 1924, during the period of forced occupation by Japan. With the mass construction of modern apartments equipped with bathrooms from the 1970s onwards, bathhouses were made partially redundant. On the other hand, the bathhouse and sauna came to play a crucial role as social gathering points in an urban environment that lacked other public spaces. Today, jjimjilbang remain favorite places to relax and socialize for Korean friends and families.
While not all bathhouses (mogyoktang) are accompanied by jjimjilbang, all jjimjilbang complexes contain a bath section where guests get thoroughly soaked and scrubbed. The Korean concept of getting thoroughly washed goes beyond cleaning the surface of the skin---it involves taking off the surface of the skin. This is usually accomplished with the use of small, rough cloths that rub away the outer layers of dead skin cells, leaving the victim glowing red for a while. These cloths usually come in bright green, yellow or red colors and can be bought very cheaply at the entrance to most bathhouses and steam rooms. Ask for an "itaeri tawol" if you can’t already see them. Scrubbing each other’s backs is considered a good way of expressing friendship between friends or between fathers and sons.
There are plenty of showers around the baths themselves. The unbreakable rule is that bathers wash themselves thoroughly in the shower, from head to foot, before getting into the baths.
Washing in the mogyoktang is just the beginning of a proper jjimjilbang experience. From here onwards, customers don the comfortable, loose-fitting cotton clothes they were issued at the entrance and settle down for any number of hours in rooms of varying degrees of heat and humidity. Sexual segregation ends at the exit of the mogyoktang, allowing whole families, couples or groups of friends to enjoy each other’s company. Warm lounges, steamy saunas, massage rooms, PC rooms and sometimes DVD rooms are just some of the elements that make up a typical jjimjilbang complex. But it is the opportunity for socializing in a self-contained, comfortable space, free from outside concerns, that gives jjimjilbang their enduring appeal.
Finding a Jjimjilbang
This is one area where word of mouth, especially the advice of Korean friends, is invaluable. Many neighborhoods have fantastic jjimjilbang complexes steaming away in rather anonymous buildings, and there is not a lot of English publicity about them.
Personal recommendations from our staff and contributors tend to include Yongsan’s Dragon Hill Spa (02-792-0001) and Silloam FirePot Sauna (02-364-3945; www.silloamsauna.com).
For a list of English-friendly jjimjilbangs in Seoul, you can visit the Korea Tourism Organization web site.
- Drink plenty of water while at a jjimjilbang---you will be losing a lot by sweating.
- Bring something good to read. This is handy for when everyone else falls asleep.
- Spend the night. The other big advantage of jjimjilbang is that most are open for 24 hours, allowing a cheap night’s sleep in the lounge or sleeping room.
- Dragon Hill Spa: Relaxation in Seoul 2009-01-03
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[2010-11-29 15:05 Input / 2012-11-28 16:21 Modify]
Article source: Seoul Metropolitan Government Tourism Division