On Friday, Jon had to go in to school again so it occurred to me that it was the perfect day to check out a Korean bathhouse. I got a recommendation from his roommate, packed up some toiletries, and headed out.
I’ve been to Russian co-ed bathhouses, all-women bathhouses, and even a Korean bathhouse in America but the ones in Korea are on another level. You can opt for either just the hot tubs and sauna or the entire package which is called jjimjilbang and costed me about $9. A good bathhouse is equipped with a restaurant, TVs, a computer room, an exercise room, spa services, and heated floors for sleeping on.
That’s right, many people go to the bathhouse to nap and you can even spend the night. Since the trains shut down around midnight so partiers will pay the entrance fee just to have a safe place to crash. One of Jon’s friends told me that he had slept in a bathhouse for several weeks while in between apartments.
On entry, you are issued a pair of pants and a shirt, two small towels, and a locker key with an RFID tag. You lock up your shoes at the locker room entry with the key, and use the RFID to access your locker. One towel is for drying off and the other can be used to wrap your hair or to sit on.
I’m pretty comfortable in a locker room but I get a little paranoid about etiquette so I went through some confusion over whether I should don my issued clothing to enter the baths. The solution: spy on the other ladies to figure out how to behave. I quickly confirmed that the outfit is for the lounging part of the experience. Unfortunately, I hadn’t googled how to wrap the hair towel so I gave up on that pretty quickly. Now I know to use the sheep head method– look it up!
After finishing my bath, I wandered around to experience the rest of the jjimjilbang. Sure enough, there were nappers everywhere. I arrived around 1pm and probably saw 40-50 people sleeping on the floor. I found giant saunas that looked like kilns, one of which had a floor of rock salt. There were also massage chairs and books available for reading. I didn’t get a chance to eat (they were out of everything I wanted) but I later found out that they slow-cook eggs in the hottest sauna and sell them for eating. Jjimjilbang is truly a Korean tradition worth experiencing.