You might have seen Korean jjimjilbangs in dramas, where the characters scrub each others’ backs, wrap towels round their heads and eat boiled eggs.
Roughly translated as a sauna, the jjimjilbang is a uniquely Korean phenomenon sometimes featuring hot baths, massage, rooms with medicinal properties, a barber, arcade, gym, computer room, ping pong, swimming pool, restaurants, kids’ playground, manicure, cinema and everything else under the sun.
The jjimjilbang evolved from Japanese onsens built during World War Two but quickly took on a new life as a home away from home for Korean families on a weekend outing, working professionals who don’t have time to commute home every night, and even some ajusshis (uncles) who got kicked out of home after arguing with their wife.
Yongsan Dragon Hill Spa (Yongsan metro station) is the most popular with tourists and dating couples. It is the most fun, although it can be a little tacky. Siloam Sauna (Seoul Station, walk through Lotte Mart, turn right and cross the road) is a more family-friendly and authentic experience.
After soaking yourself silly in the sauna, don’t forget to put on the clean ‘uniform’ provided and order a sweet shik-hye (rice drink) to cool off.
If you’re sharp, you’ll also notice that you can sleep in the jjimjilbang – making it an amazing bargain for backpackers. Entry fees range from 6,000 won to 13,000 won and some places even have proper bunk beds!
I once stayed in a jjimjilbang for three weeks – read about my experience here.
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