korean bath houses – jjimjilbang 찜질방

This is one of the most key parts of Korean culture – and I knew that I couldn’t leave Korea without going to one of these at least once. Time to get naked with strangers!

I think I first found out about jjimjilbangs through 2PM’s variety show Wild Bunny. They invited 2AM and they did a video parody-ing Brown Eyed Girls‘ famous song Abracadabra in a jjimjilbang (please watch that video. The whole thing). The variety show Happy Together hosted by Yoo Jae Suk is also filmed in a jjimjilbang as well!

Lucky for us there’s a jjimjilbang called Sinchon Rest right in Sinchon, so we decided to go on a Tuesday night (so there wouldn’t be so many people when we went to shower…)

We arrived at the jjimjilbang at around 9pm? I wish I could write out directions on how to get there but I really don’t remember… we used Naver Maps to help us get there instead.

Pro tip: Google really sucks in Korea so if you ever get a chance to come to Korea, make sure you download Naver Maps. And a whole bunch of other apps that I will talk about… later.

It was 11 000KRW per person; the woman at the counter gave us our clothes to change into, gave Stef and I towels, and gave Marcius a key. Mens’ change rooms are on the 3rd floor, women’s are on the first (second? the floor that you go into right from the entrance).

Women’s locker keys are in the lockers already, and men have towels in the change rooms. So in the end everyone just gets the same things, but at different places.

Stef said that the clothes made me look like Chihiro from Spirited Away!

Originally I wasn’t going to shower. Stef had previously decided not to shower either since I told her she had to bring her own soap and shampoo and she was too lazy to.. but Marcius showered and he said that there was soap inside so Stef and I just ended up showering anyways. So now we are at that higher level of friendship!

From the girls’ changeroom, you go down to the bath area and then up to the sauna area. In the bath area, there’s rows of showers where you sit and wash, and then there’s 2 pools: a cooler one and a warmer one. There’s also a sauna in the bath area as well!

In the upstairs sauna area, there were 2 of the ovens that were open. I’m not really sure if there are only 2 saunas at all, since there were actually 4 sauna-like things but 2 of them didn’t have doors and weren’t warm so maybe they were only sleeping rooms. There’s a few TVs in the sauna area as well, so people can lie outside and just chill.

One of the saunas was hotter than the other (though I still don’t really know how to tell which one is  than the other). There was one that had pink rocks and then blankets on top of the little rocks (since the rocks were burning hot when I stepped on them), and then another one with nothing inside.

I really liked going into all the saunas – I prefer to stay warm rather than be cold. I’ve slept without air conditioning when I vacationed in Hong Kong in the summer before!

After the ovens, there’s a common area where the concession stand is, and then there’s a little path made of rocks (like an acupuncture mat) for you to improve circulation. There’s more TVs, a few tables for people to eat at, and then there are 2 cold rooms as well for people to cool down in.

You can see the streets of Sinchon from the cool room!

We’ve watched enough Korean shows to have seen this towel hat thing that people make when they’re at the jjimjilbang.. so being the total tourists we are we decided to do it too.

Stef did not eat dinner prior to going to the jjimjilbang, so we decided to order a few things that people usually get to share.

First we ordered a ramen set, which included the instant noodles, some dumplings, fishcakes, and rice cakes. I was really surprised because I thought it would be put on a tab – I had seen before on TV that people would just scan the bracelet that their key was on and then they would just pay for everything at the end.. but here, they made us pay in cash!

We also ordered shikhye 식혜, a sweet rice drink. It was really good and tasted like this pear water that my mom boils back at home but the more I drank it the sweeter it tasted.

We also ordered eggs. There were 2 types of eggs that you could get: just regular hard-boiled ones, or ones that had been baked in the sauna. We ended up getting the sauna baked ones, and they were darker and harder to crack than normal eggs.

We also ordered a misugaru 미숫가루, since I wanted to try – I’d heard about this on losts of shows as well. It ended up tasting like injeolmi mixed with water and sweetened – which wasn’t bad at all.

I originally didn’t want to stay overnight but we slept and slept until I woke up at 7am because someone was snoring super loud… I cannot sleep with people who snore so at that point we went home ==” There are mats and block pillows lying around everywhere so you can just drag a mat to wherever you want and go to sleep there. There are rooms in the womens’ changing area that women can sleep in so they don’t get bothered by guys, and you can also sleep in the ovens that aren’t on as well.

 Our friends had gone to this jjimjilbang before us (which was how we knew about it), and they said that a lot more people come in starting at around 2am… but it didn’t happen and the jjimjilbang stayed relatively empty for the majority of the night, which was how I liked it. As well, I think if you pay extra, you can get other ‘services’ done like getting your body scrubbed of dead skin. Which hurts a lot (if you want to watch this video)!

I’m not sure how to summarize my experience at the jjimjilbang at all. It was like.. a really cheap motel that was relatively safe and let me cleanse myself via the sauna. Coming here really hit home to me (even though I’ve been here for 3 months already) that I’m in Korea, since they don’t have things like this back at home. Definitely a must do if you want to experience real Korean culture – and Sinchon Rest is (apparently) a good one since it’s (apparently) a more legit Korean jjimjilbang (says the internet)! There are some more famous ones as well so depending on where you’re living, you can find one that’s closest to you.

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