Visiting a Korean jimjilbang (찜질방) is a highlight of any trip to South Korea and a unique “only in Korea” type of experience that you must have while you are in the country. If you enjoy spa treatments and self care, you will particularly enjoy spending a day at a Korean jimjilbang.
But what is a “jimjilbang”? A jimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse that is similar in many ways to a Turkish hammam.
It takes its name from the Korean word “jimjil” meaning “heating” and “bang” meaning “room”. The focus of visiting revolves around spending your time in heated pools and steam rooms.
These help you relax, open your pores and improve your skin health, and help you soothe sore muscles. But Korean jimjilbangs are typically pampering facilities that are open 24 hours.
Most establishments offer additional treatment packages and facilities too. For instance, you can opt to book a Korean body scrub, a relaxing oil massage, or a facial.
Or there are on-site beauty treatment centers where you can get a manicure, a pedicure, eyebrow shaping, etc when you are finished. Some of the larger jimjilbangs in Seoul and Busan are like entire entertainment complexes complete with movie theaters, restaurants, etc.
There are also often places where you can sleep in some Korean jimjilbangs. You can lay your head down and get some shut-eye on a futon bed in a large sleeping hall. (Some people even opt to do this as a way to save on accommodation costs during their Korean travel itinerary).
Visiting a Korean Jimjilbang in 2023
Since visiting a Korean jimjilbang sounds like such an appealing concept, you are probably curious about the process of visiting. What steps do you need to take to enjoy these bathhouses and how can you manage the language barriers if you don’t speak Korean?
Don’t worry. This article has been written by someone who lived in Seoul for 2 years (me!) and who has visited numerous Korean jimjilbangs in Seoul and beyond.
Korean jimjilbangs are a naked affair
Arguably the most important thing that you need to note about visiting a Korean jimjilbang is that you need to be naked while visiting. You cannot wear underwear or a swimming costume – just your birthday suit!
This can sound intimidating – especially to westerners who are from cultures where being naked in public is considered awkward and embarrassing. But Korean culture is different and nobody bats an eyelid at naked bodies here.
The same rings true if you are foreign and look different from everybody else. Sometimes people stare or glance for extended periods of time on the subway in Seoul because it is not usual to see a lot of foreigners (“waygooks”).
So it is understandable that you may be nervous that these stares are going to extend into the jimjilbang environment. No.
People are generally respectful of the fact that it is intimidating to be publicly nude and that it is rude to stare at a nude body. On your first visit, you can feel difficult to let go of your towel and head out to the saunas and pools.
You might feel that everyone is going to look. It is refreshing when you find that nobody does. If anything, going to a Korean jimjilbang can aid body confidence.
You see that people come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone is too interested in their own day and their own relaxation to be concerned about what other people are doing or look like.
Korean jimjilbangs are gender segregated
The other important thing to note about visiting a Korean jimjilbang for the first time is that they are gender-separated. There are separate areas for men and women.
There are different sections for male and female customers to use the baths, saunas, spa treatments, etc. In larger jimjilbangs, the canteen and entertainment areas are then mixed for all genders.
Other jimjilbangs, like Spa Lei in Seoul, are entirely women only. You never have to worry about predators or people being creepy at Korean jimjilbangs.
11 Steps to Visiting a Korean Jimjilbang in 2023
So you have decided that you want to visit a Korean jimjilbang in Seoul or elsewhere in Korea? Great!
Let’s break the process down into simple steps so that you don’t feel overwhelmed!
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step one:
Arrive at the jimjilbang of your choosing
There are dozens of different jimjilbangs across Seoul and wider South Korea. You generally do not need a reservation to get in, and you can just rock up whenever you feel like indulging in a pamper session.
(Although jimjilbangs often are busier at weekends when people are off work, so it is better to visit during the week if you can). At the larger jimjilbangs in Seoul and Busan, people often speak English.
At smaller, more local bathhouses they may not. Not to worry, communicating is still easy enough and Koreans are typically very friendly!
Most Korean jimjilbangs have a specific entrance price for using all of the baths and saunas and this should be printed near the entrance. The receptionist will direct your attention to the menu.
If you just want the general admission and to enjoy the various baths, you can agree and say “hana juseyo” (one please/ 하나 주세요). Many jimjilbangs also offer set treatment menus that include various things like massages, facials, body scrubs, etc.
Generally, you are looking at a price of between 14,000 and 20,000 KRW for general admission to the jimjilbang. Packages can often cost around 100,000 KRW.
You will be given a wristband that you need to keep with you for the duration of your stay. If you are on the fence about whether you want any treatments or not, it is possible to decide later, and the person will swipe your wristband.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step two:
take your towel, gown, and wristband
After you have selected and paid for your treatment package, the receptionist will hand you a towel, a gown, and your wristband. You will need to remove your shoes.
(It is considered very rude in Korean culture to wear shoes inside and you will generally be asked to remove them when you enter any restaurant, spa, etc). Sometimes, there will be shoe racks immediately by the door.
Alternatively, you can put your shoes away in your locker. If you want an extra towel for your hair, you can ask for one and this will be given at no extra cost.
You should note that for some unknown reason, Korean towels run very small. A body towel in Korea is essentially the size of a hand towel elsewhere and it can be a struggle/an impossibility to wrap these around you.
For this reason, it is sometimes worth bringing your own towel or a towel from your hotel.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step three:
head to the changing rooms
Make your way down to the changing rooms. Remove your clothes and lock everything away inside your designated locker.
Korea is a very safe country, and your belongings are generally safe in your locker. But still, it’s a good idea to not bring any valuables when visiting a jimilbang.
Your locker key will be affixed to your wristband. You must shower before using the jimjilbang so from here, just carry your toiletries bag and stroll naked in all your glory towards the bathhouse.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step four: shower!
Several showers will be located close to the baths and saunas. It is reassuring to know that hygiene and sanitation are taken seriously!
Toiletries are not complimentary. Some jimjilbangs may have a communal shower gel for all to use but most don’t.
It is a good idea to pack a little toiletries bag with a travel-sized bottle of shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner. These items are also often for sale at the reception if you forget.
But since the prices are generally higher than at supermarkets and beauty stores, it is better to bring your own. You can wash your hair if you like but it isn’t essential to do so.
Long hair must be tied up for the duration of your time in the baths. (Koreans are nice but blunt and people will approach you to remind you if you don’t tie your hair back!)
It is natural for self-consciousness to kick in when you drop your towel and get into the shower. I’ll bet if you nervously glance back over your shoulder, you will find that nobody is looking.
Try to forget about the fact that you are naked. Everyone is naked!
Concentrate on how spectacular it’s going to be, soaking in those superheated tubs like a lobster.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step five:
enjoy the different baths
Every Korean jimjilbang is different. Some have more than half a dozen different baths of various temperatures whereas some have just a few.
Others, like Siloam spa in Seoul, have baths that are infused with various different herbs, spices, and fragrances, with certain infusions, said to heal various aches and ailments. Koreans will often tell you that there is a trick to going in the different baths in a certain order.
And if you go in the baths of varying temperatures in a specific sequence, you will lose weight. Whether that is true or not is debatable, but you can try it if you like!
The temperatures in the baths often range from icy cold to sweltering hot. (Fortunately, there is usually a sign beside each one that indicates the temperature and any special properties).
Enter each bath slowly and brace yourself for the changes in temperature. You can hang out in the baths for as long as you like – whether you want to take a quick dip in each one, or want to lounge there for hours until your skin turns all pruney.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step six: enjoy a Korean body scrub
One of the most unique experiences that you can have when visiting a Korean jimjilbang is a Korean body scrub. You can think of this as the most rigorous and intensive body exfoliation treatment that you have ever had in your life!
You can opt to pay for a Korean body scrub at the jimjilbang, or you can ask another customer to assist you. (The former is arguably preferable and less awkward!) The price for a Korean body scrub is usually around 30,000 KRW. (Circa $30 USD).
It is something that you should try at least once! If you identify as female, you will be helped by a female attendant, and if you are male, you will be helped by a man.
You remain completely naked throughout the scrub, and the attendant is usually in their underwear. (Ten more points for body confidence and no weirdness surrounding nudity in South Korea!)
The process takes around 45-60 minutes. You will be asked to lie on a table and the attendant will throw water over you to get your skin wet.
Then, they will scrub your skin vigorously with an exfoliating mitt. Prepare to shed like a snake!
Even if you feel that your bathing game is pretty strong and you regularly exfoliate in the shower, you may be surprised at the amount of dead skin that falls off you. Long, grey rolls the size of Azerbaijan!
When you are done, the attendant will pour a bucket of warm water over you to rinse the dead skin away. Your skin will feel baby soft and incredible!
If you have opted to have a facial or a massage as part of a jimjilbang treatment package, this will usually be done by the same person after your scrub.
Alternative step six: DIY body scrub
If you prefer not to pay for a body scrub, or the concept of it makes you feel awkward, you can take your own exfoliating mitt to the jimjilbang and do it yourself. There are usually designated areas close to the baths where people are frantically scrubbing and exfoliating and then rinse off.
Soaking in the baths beforehand and being in the steam and heat will soften up any dead skin so that you can scrub it off more easily. Don’t be surprised if other people at the jimjilbang offer to help scrub your skin for you.
Jimjilbang Step Seven:
Treat Yourself to Massage Treatments
Seoul jimjilbangs all boast treatment menus that enable you to indulge in various different pamper packages. You may want to treat yourself to a massage and a facial after your scrub.
Like the baths and saunas, the massages vary from place to place. However, things like hot stone massages, Thai massages, and oil massages are very common.
The quality of the facials and massages can vary substantially from one jimjilbang to another. However, it is worth noting that jimjilbangs tend to have a “one size fits all” approach to facials.
They will have a set treatment mask that they use for everyone. So, if you have any skin concerns or sensitive skin, you will not be given a tailor-made treatment.
For that reason, it is a good idea to pay a little extra to visit somewhere like Shangpree Seoul if you want to have a tailor-made treatment.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step eight:
Sweat it out in the saunas
The majority of Seoul jimjilbangs will have a couple of saunas and steam rooms inside. Some also have “ice rooms”.
Saunas are fairly standard across the world. So if you have been to a sauna before, you won’t find the process any different when you go in saunas at Korean jimjibangs.
You can enter the sauna in your towel and generally, you only need to stay for around 15-20 minutes. That said, it does get very hot in the sauna rooms so take it easy.
Drink plenty of water and don’t hesitate to step outside for a few minutes if it all gets a bit too much.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step nine:
continue or Move On
It’s not uncommon for Koreans to spend a full day at the jimjilbang. If you want to go back for another soak in the baths after your massage treatments, you can.
You can also stop for lunch, a cup of herbal tea, or a light snack and then go back into the baths and saunas. However, do keep in mind that you will need to shower again before re-entering the baths after a massage or after leaving the bath area to explore the wider jimjilbang.
Visiting a Korean jimjilbang step ten:
continue relaxing at the jimjilbang
Jimjilbangs have “restrooms” where you can take a nap, or just sit and unwind. Since they are 24-hour facilities, many people often opt to sleep here.
Pull up a tatami mat, buy an iced tea and some Korean street food, and just sit and relax for a while. To continue with the self-care theme, it is nice to bring a moisturising Korean sheet mask with you and set it on your skin for 15-20 minutes.
Many jimilbangs are more like sprawling entertainment complexes than just spas. You can find restaurants, TVS, gardens and various relaxation facilities in most of them.
If you want to sleep at the jimjilbang overnight then you can do that. Keep in mind that this is not luxury accommodation.
It literally involves sleeping on a tatami mat in a crowded room and hoping those around you aren’t snorers! Still it is a unique travel experience that you will definitely remember.
Jimjilbang Step Ten:
Get Ready & Leave
When you have had your fill of lounging in the various baths at the jimjilbang and treating yourself to pamper treatments, it’s time to get ready to leave. If you want to take another shower before you head out into the world, you can do that of course.
Then, head back to the locker room. Some Korean jimjilbangs have rather luxurious dressing areas that make you feel like a Hollywood movie star!
There are hairdryers, large, illuminated mirrors, and dressing tables where you can sit and fix your hair and makeup before you leave. There are also usually plug sockets where you can plug your own appliances as needed.
(E.g. your hair straighteners or your curling irons if you have brought them with you). Take as long as you need to make yourself look presentable before heading to the reception.
There will be clearly-marked wash baskets that indicate where you need to put your used towels and bath robes.
If you opted for a treatment package, you would have paid upfront. However, if you decided to have treatments or buy food or drink within the jimjilbang, now is the time to pay.
Additional Advice for Visiting a Jimjilbang
Visiting a jimjilbang in Seoul or elsewhere in Korea is a wonderful experience, particularly if you like spa treatments. A selection of FAQs about visiting a Korean jimjilbang for the first time is answered below.
Hopefully, any outstanding queries or concerns that you may have will be addressed there. If not, feel free to reach out!
Why do Koreans go to the sauna?
Visiting a jimjilbang regularly is something that is very important to Koreans. The vast majority of locals will visit one of these traditional Korean bathhouses at least once a week or once a fortnight.
In general, personal hygiene and taking care of one’s body are very important in South Korea. The popularity of jimjilbangs may be, in part, due to the fact that apartments in Korea are very small.
People generally do not have the space for a bathtub in their homes. When your typical bathing routine involves showering over the toilet, why wouldn’t you visit a jimjilbang regularly?
How will I know when it is time for my treatment?
If you opt to book a series of treatments for your jimjilbang visit, you may or may not be given a time slot for each. In a large jimjilbang, it can be overwhelming to know where to go.
But don’t worry. More than likely, the masseuse or another jimjilbang employee will come out to look for you in the baths and call you over.
Do people sleep in Korean saunas?
People often opt to sleep in Korean saunas and most jimilbangs will have designated restrooms where you can take a nap on a futon mat. You can stay the entire night at some places if you choose, or you can just have a little midday siesta before getting back to the rest of your day.
Are Korean bathhouses sanitary?
Yes. Korean jimjilbangs take great pride in their sanitation and cleanliness. The facilities are cleaned daily, and all customers are required to shower before entering.
Koreans, in general, are very polite and considerate of other people. Respectfulness is deeply engrained in the culture so you can be assured that since people are required to shower before entering the baths, that is absolutely what they will do.
Some people may take multiple showers during their time at the jimjilbang. (E.g. before they enter, after having some treatment, before leaving, etc).
Do you wear a bathing suit to a Korean spa?
No. You are required to be naked to visit a Korean spa/bathhouse.
Try not to feel self-conscious though. Since everyone is naked, and many people come to jimjilbangs very regularly, they have seen it all a thousand times before and people will not stare.
If you wear a swimsuit you will not be allowed into the spa. If you try and go into the baths with one on anyway, chances are, you will be approached and asked to remove it.
What can you not do in a Korean spa?
Try to be polite and mindful of other people if you do decide to visit a Korean bathhouse. That means making sure that you wash thoroughly before going into the baths and saunas, you don’t leave any toiletry wrappers or other trash behind, and you do not stare at people.
What to take with you to the bathhouse
You can purchase toiletries on-site at the jimjilbangs, or take your own. Consider taking (or purchasing) the items detailed below.
- Shower gel/soap
- Hair ties (women must keep their hair tied back)
- A large towel
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Facial cleanser, makeup remover, and other necessary skin products
- A moisturising Korean face mask (use while relaxing in the rest area)
The Best Jimjilbangs in Seoul
Address: 8-22, Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Spa Lei is a women’s-only jimjilbang in Seoul’s fancy Sinsa district. The location is perfect for enjoying a soak in the herbal baths as part of a wider girly day out.
The ginkgo-lined streets of Sinsa are filled with quirky coffee shops, upscale eateries, and independent boutique stores.
Although the staff couldn’t speak a great deal of English, they were extremely friendly and accommodating. The signs within the facility, their treatment list, and their website are also in English.
Basic Price: 14,000 Won for 12 hours, 1,000 Won for each subsequent hour
Address: 131 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 3(sam)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
LK Spa is a fantastic Seoul jimjilbang. It is situated in the heart of the city’s Myeongdong district. This location makes LK Spa a perfect place to unwind after a long day shopping in Seoul at the markets of Dongdaemun, Myeongdong, and Insadong.
The spa boasts three sauna rooms and several different baths. The baths are infused with ginseng, jasmine, red wine, and various herbs. These infusions help treat a range of ailments and health complaints.
Address: B1, 19-27, Myeongdong 10-Gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Hwanggeum is a high-rated jimjilbang in Myeongdong. It provides all of the standard saunas and bath facilities. However, the treatments that make Hwanggeum stand out from the crowd are its facials.
There is a range of facial masks that you can purchase at Hwanggeum. Collagen masks can be used to treat fine lines and wrinkles. Meanwhile, masks infused with chocolate help fight against the first signs of aging.
Dragon Hill Spa
Address: 40-712 Hangangno 3(sam)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Dragon Hill has a great reputation in Seoul. Many of the staff speak English, and the spa is popular among the expat community
This is the largest jimjilbang in the city. Dragon Hill Spa features a high number of different baths and saunas, a cinema complex, a gym, and even a horseback riding simulator!
Basic Price: 14,000 Won for 12 hours, 1,000 Won for each subsequent hour
Address: 128-104 Jungnim-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
From the outside, this place doesn’t look like much but Siloam Sauna is also one of the most highly recommended jimjilbangs in Seoul. In particular, Siloam is great for its extensive selection of herbal baths.
Basic Price: 10,000 Won
Smaller Seoul Jimjilbangs
Koreans take their bathing very seriously and many people visit jimjilbangs for a soak and a scrub on a weekly basis. As a result, they can be found on virtually every other street.
Just look for the jimjilbang symbol and you will find places effortlessly. This symbol is a red, illuminated fire icon.
If you can speak a basic amount of Korean, you ought to be fine in these and you shouldn’t let being the only westerner put you off. People tend to be respectful and won’t stare or make you feel uncomfortable.
Final thoughts on visiting a Korean jimjilbang in Seoul and beyond
Paying a visit to a Korean jimjilbang is a worthwhile experience to have during your Korea travel itinerary. This may seem intimidating if you are from a country or culture where nudity is somewhat taboo.
However, the experience is likely to make you more comfortable with yourself and your own body. Do you have any questions about visiting a jimjilbang or the best jimjilbangs in Seoul?
Feel free to reach out to me below! I spent two years teaching English in Korea, living in Seoul, and trying out all of the best beauty experiences in Seoul. If you are planning your first trip to Korea, you may also enjoy reading these South Korean travel tips.
High Heels and a Backpack is in no way affiliated with any of the businesses in this article.