By Rona Babb
Warmth surrounds you instantly as soon as you open up the door and step inside. You feel yourself relaxing for a split second before you come to the startling realization that there are others, just like you, completely nude and bathing in the mog-yok-tang.
WHAT is going on? You ask yourself.
Welcome to your first time at a jimjilbang!
If you’re new to Korea or just haven’t gotten around to it yet, the jimjilbang experience is one that you’ve got to try at least once.
Jimjilbangs are public bathhouses that are located all throughout Korea that are open 24-hours a day! Families often come on the weekends and scrub their kids down, friends come to spend time together and relax, and occasionally a daring group of individuals will stay the night at a jimjilbang whilst traveling through a new area. Entrance can cost anywhere from 6000-12000 KRW at most places.
What to Expect
When you first enter a jimjilbang and pay, you will be given an ugly outfit (a pair of shorts and a shirt) and two towels (DON’T LOSE YOUR TOWELS!). You’ll also be given a set of keys with a number on it. This number corresponds to the number of your locker. Once you locate your locker, put all of your belongings inside it except your toiletries (shampoo, soap, etc), a towel, and at some places cash or a card (at most places, you can use your key to make purchases and pay for everything when you leave). Also, keep your key on you at all times!
You can now choose where you’d like to go first: the common area where both genders are fully clothed and you can watch T.V., eat, lay around, sweat in one of the hot rooms, or the single-gender bathing areas where everyone is butt-naked.
Most people like to bathe first and then head to the common area. When entering into the single-gender mogyoktangs, make sure you shower FIRST before jumping into one of the hot baths. You will see a lot of old men or women (depending on your gender) sitting around in the baths. A word of warning, they may stare at you and though that may feel a bit strange because you’re naked, just embrace the discomfort and have a good time! Most mogyoktangs have showering areas, baths that vary in temperature, sauna rooms, and also tables where you can pay to get a massage or your entire body scrubbed!
If you’re new to Korea, body-scrubbing is a very common and important aspect to jimjilbangs. Koreans will bring a scrubbing pad that fits over their hands and scrub their skin, their friend’s skin, their children’s skin, their family members’ skin (you get the picture) until rolls of dead skin begin to fall off (I’m serious). If you’d like to get in on this experience (it’s actually quite refreshing), don’t just start scrubbing off your skin right away.
First: shower. Second: soak.
Find a good temperature bath and wait until your fingers get a bit pruny and soft. Then, you can either scrub yourself (and get a good pal to scrub your back for you) or pay about 20,000KRW and get an ajhuma (older Korean woman) or ajhussi (older Korean man) to scrub your whole body for you.
To a non-Korean, this skin-scrubbing thing may seem a bit absurd, but once you try it you might just change your mind and love it!
After you’ve had enough of the mogyoktang (bathing area), you’re ready to put on your ugly jimjilbang uniform and head on up to the common area. There are usually massage chairs, manicure shops, and some jimjilbangs even have massaging areas where you can pay to get a Korean-style (somewhat brutal) massage. If you’re hungry, most jimjilbangs have a restaurant area where you can purchase food or snacks. The most popular Korean snacks while jimjilbanging are hard-boiled eggs (you can choose whether you’d like to crack them open on your head or not!) and shikhae, which is a sweet Korean rice drink.
Make Sure to Sweat
In the common area, you will also find more rooms that vary in temperature from freezing to unbearably hot. Koreans like to sweat a lot to get out all the impurities and toxins (don’t ask me if this is scientifically proven…), so find a room that you’re able to stay in for a while until you can break a sweat!
If you’re traveling through a new area and want a place to stay, some jimjilbangs also have sleeping areas with mats and small pillows. Beware: there is usually a HEAVY snorer in these rooms so your sleep may not be the most restful!
Whether you’ve been in Korea for a long time and you haven’t mustered the courage to check one out, or it’s your first month here and you’ve never even heard of a jimjilbang, it’s always a good time to try something new!
If you’d like to check out a nice jimjilbang, Dragon Hill Spa is a good place to start!
I hope this post helps you make the most out of your jimjilbang experience! Happy scrubbing!