Imagine a relaxing day in a 24-hour pampering facility, doing nothing but laying around on the warm floor, soaking in a hot bath and knowing that you are away from all the stressful work you need to do. Sounds almost utopic, doesn’t it? Well, such a day can come to reality at a Korean jjimjilbang (찜질방). Similar to the Japanese onsens or Turkish hammams, jjimjilbangs are public, gender-segregated facilities that offer a great variety of baths with a mix of different temperatures and herbal infusions, saunas, rest areas, and massage services. But wait, where is the catch you ask? You have to be stark naked.
If the dreamy smile dropped off your face after reading the last sentence, you are just like most of the people who face this kind of concept for the first time. However, nudity isn’t a taboo in most Asian cultures as much as it is in other parts of the world. In fact, at a jjimjilbang, it is nothing special at all. Everyone is welcome to enjoy his/her day off at a very reasonable price or sleep overnight after a late stay at work (or at the club)!
So here are 5 things you need to try when you muster the courage to pay a Korean jjimjilbang a visit!
ENJOY THE BATH
First of all, the hygiene in the jjimjilbang is taken very seriously so after you leave your belongings in your designated locker and put on your birthday suit, it makes sense to take a shower before entering the public tubs. It is time to overcome your embarrassment and awkwardness from the fact that you are completely naked in a room with strangers because the truth is... no one cares. Focus on chilling in the baths infused with various different herbs and natural fragrances. People say that each tub possesses a different healing property and the order in which you enter them could have various effects on your body.
SCRUB YOUR WORRIES AWAY
After getting pruney from the baths, it is a great opportunity to get rid of the dead skin cells on your body with a good scrub. You could ask a friend to do it for you, or in case you go alone, pay for the service by the staff. You will be surprised with how light you might feel after getting your baby smooth “new” skin on the surface. In case you are still uncomfortable by the naked factor and decide to scrub yourself, don’t be surprised if a fellow customer at the jjimjilbang offers to give you a hand. There is no hidden intention, and you should just say “Yes!”
SWEAT IT OUT
The next stop is a unisex area, where you are supposed to put on the clothes given to you when you initially walked in. In fact, you will be missing out if you do not give at least one or two of the Korean saunas a try. Wood burning sauna, smoke sauna, steam sauna, etc.; each jjimjilbang will have at least a couple of these rooms, where you can rest and let your body heal. Of course, it is very important to remember to stay hydrated and go out for a rest if you feel like you need to. The temperature of each room can vary from negative to above 80 degrees Celsius, depending on its purpose. The ice room is told to improve the cold-resisting ability of the body, and the saunas help with decreasing the blood pressure.
TREAT YOUR STOMACH, TOO
Parts of the common area are also restaurants, PC and karaoke rooms, and other entertainment facilities, even cinemas! After the physical pampering, take care of your mental happiness by going for a treat at the snack counter. A staple found only in Korean jjimjilbang is the smoked egg. Marinated and slightly salty, it is a great snack to have while watching TV in the resting room or playing games with friends.
Another must is the sikhye (식혜). Sikhye is a Korean sweet rice drink, made from water, malted barley flour, sugar, and cooked rice. It is refreshing and a favorite to almost anyone who has ever had the chance to taste it.
KEEP RELAXING OR MOVE ON
You may spend the whole day chilling at a jjimjilbang. Either pull a tatami mat to nap for a while or go for another soak in the baths, just make sure to enjoy the day to the fullest! If you decide to call it a day, head to the dressing rooms and make sure to return the locker key bracelet given to you at registration when you went in.
Visiting a jjimjilbang is an opportunity to get close to the Korean culture and experience a new point of view of bathing. There is no reason to be shy as no one is really looking at you, and they definitely don’t care about your body. After all, everyone in the room is naked as well!
So, are you still hesitating or will you try the Korean spa?
Cover Image: Secret Garden (SBS)
Written by Monica Boyadzhieva