A visit to a jimjilbang is high on many people’s lists of things to experience whilst in Korea and you should certainly visit a jimjilbang while you are in Seoul. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a jimjilbang is a gender-segregated Korean spa and bathhouse – a little like a Turkish hammam, yet on a much, much larger scale.
- 1 What on Earth is a Jimjilbang?
- 2 Jimjilbang Etiquette
- 3 Jimjilbang Step One:
- 4 Collect Your Towels, Gown and Wristband
- 5 Jimjilbang Step Two:
- 6 Totter on Down to the Changing Room
- 7 Jimjilbang Step Three
- 8 Get Naked and Shower
- 9 Jimjilbang Step Four
- 10 Enjoy The Different Baths
- 11 Jimjilbang Step Five:
- 12 Sweat it out in the Saunas
- 13 Jimjilbang Step Six:
- 14 Try A Korean Body Scrub!
- 15 Alternative Step Six:
- 16 DIY Body Scrub!
- 17 Jimjilbang Step Seven:Treat Yourself to Massage Treatments
- 18 Jimjilbang Step Eight:Continue or Move On
- 19 Jimjilbang Step Nine:Continue Relaxing At The Jimjilbang
- 20 Jimjilbang Step Ten:Get Ready & Leave
- 21 Additional Advice for Visiting a Jimjilbang
- 22 Best Jimjilbangs in Seoul
What on Earth is a Jimjilbang?
Seoul jimjilbangs are 24-hour pampering facilities spread across multiple floors. Within these complexes, you can expect to find various baths (featuring a mix of different temperatures and herbal infusions), saunas, massage facilities, rest areas, food services and, in some of the larger jimjilbangs, even entertainment facilities such as cinemas.
I visited Korea twice as a traveler before moving here, and I am ashamed to say that it took me over three months of living in the country before I finally mustered up the courage to venture off to a jimjilbang. What’s that I hear you ask? Why did it take me so long to visit such a delightful-sounding center of pampering and relaxation?
Well, a Korean jimjilbang is a naked affair. That’s right, you have to be absolutely starkers throughout. As a Westerner, I get a lot of stares pottering about in Seoul anyway, without having my tits out for half of Korea to see. As a result, I had been absolutely terrified at the concept for the longest time. In fact, once I arrived, I sat in the adjoining coffee shop mentally preparing myself for about 45 minutes before I finally felt brave enough to go inside (at which point, a lot of my decision was mostly because of the sheer annoyance that I’d feel towards myself if I was to turn away now, having traveled halfway across the city to get here!)
This article relates to my experience at Spa Lei Women’s Jimjilbang, however, the process within a jimjilbang is pretty much the same wherever you go. This article will run through what happens at a Korean jimjilbang, and the best jimjilbangs in Seoul.
Jimjilbang Step One:
Collect Your Towels, Gown and Wristband
As with many places in Korea, you need to take your shoes off before you go inside. There will be small lockers for you to place them into as soon as you enter so place them inside, take the numbered key and hand it to the receptionist.
Jimjilbangs are extremely reasonably priced – even those that are in the most exclusive locations typically come to around 14,000 Won for the first 12 hours, and then 1,000 won for each subsequent hour after. Many also offer treatment packages that include massages, facials, manicures, and body scrubs.
If you enter the jimjilbang and then decide that you do actually want a certain treatment, you can just wander up to the relevant station and they will swipe your spa wrist band, for you to then be billed upon exiting.
You are given a towel, a gown and a wristband with your locker key attached, before being shown to your locker. You can request an extra towel if you like and they are often provided to you at no extra charge. (On this note, if you haven’t yet experienced Korean towels then you’re in for a treat. They’re the equivalent size of a western hand towel so wrapping it around you isn’t an option – you have to just pat dry the essentials and be on your merry way!)
Jimjilbang Step Two:
Totter on Down to the Changing Room
The locker room is where the nudist behavior begins – I awkwardly took off my clothes and dashed to the showers, covering as much of my modesty as possible with my teeny tiny towel.
Whichever jimjilbang you decide to visit, you will be assigned with a locker to store your things in. You will also be given a wristband with the locker key attached so be sure to keep hold of that. The number on the side of the wristband will coincide with the number of your assigned locker.
Jimjilbang Step Three
Get Naked and Shower
You have to shower before entering the baths at the jimjilbang (common courtesy, right?) You must also keep your hair tied back throughout the entirety of your time in the baths and saunas. I took my own toiletries but you can also buy them at the front desk of most jimjilbangs.
The panic and embarrassment kicked in when I dropped my towel and got into the shower. I dared myself to look around to see the dozens of peering eyes that would no doubt be staring at me since I stuck out like a sore thumb here, but as I glanced over my shoulder, I realized that no-one had even looked up from what they were doing.
I got over the self-consciousness of feeling naked and exposed pretty quickly after that – people come in all different shapes and sizes and nobody else gave a damn about how they or anyone else’s bodies looked so after that, neither did I.
Jimjilbang Step Four
Enjoy The Different Baths
I spent some time trying out the different baths and saunas. Koreans advise that using these in a certain sequence can lead to weight loss, but the jury’s still out on that one as far as I’m concerned!
The exact facilities will of course vary depending on which jimjilbang you decide to go to. Some baths are infused with various different herbs and natural fragrances, each of which possesses a different healing property. Other baths concentrate on different temperature levels – ranging from icy cold to sweltering hot.
Jimjilbang Step Five:
Sweat it out in the Saunas
The majority of jimjilbangs will at least boast a standard sauna facility. Some also have “ice rooms” which I didn’t brave. The jimjilbang saunas are fairly standard and similar to what we are used to in the western world. 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.
Jimjilbang Step Six:
Try A Korean Body Scrub!
When I was sufficiently pruney from all of the baths, I trotted off to get my Korean body scrub. In summary, this is where you lay flat on a table (still naked, of course) and a lady scrubs all of the dead skin off your body using rough exfoliating brushes that are strapped to her hands.
It sounds a little unpleasant (and I will admit, it is somewhat!), but trying this is certainly something that I would place high on my list of recommendations of things you ought to do whilst you are in Korea.
The results were shocking – prepare to shed like a snake! I think that I must have lost about six pounds just in dead skin! I’m talking long, grey, pencil-shaped rolls of dead skin with magnificent girth to them. (I’m sorry for the graphic imagery, but I just feel that I need to emphasise the sheer extent of this!).
“This is your first body scrub?” the ajumma asked me, chuckling as skin rolls the size of Azerbaijan came from my arms and legs and dropped onto the floor – what an absolute troll I felt! She was removing dead skin for over an hour, leaving no square centimeter of skin untouched. I never thought that I’d see the day that I would lay face down and naked on a table as an old lady spent ten minutes scrubbing my bottom, but I guess that life is full of surprises!
When she had finished, she abruptly stopped and threw multiple buckets of warm water over me before exclaiming “the end!” (All very relaxing, as you can imagine!)
Before this, I had considered my bath time game pretty strong anyway – I’m constantly using body scrubs and exfoliating products so I was stunned by the results, to say the least!
Alternative Step Six:
DIY Body Scrub!
If you don’t want to pay extra money to get a body scrub from one of the Spa Therapists at the jimjilbang, the alternative is to do it yourself. After soaking in the baths for a while, use an exfoliating mitt and give yourself a good scrub down!
Honestly, I just wanted the experience of having a traditional Korean scrub, and I felt like ajumma could reach places that I simply couldn’t get to myself – despite the awkwardness of having a stranger scrub away at my bottom.
If you do decide to self-scrub, don’t be alarmed if a fellow jimjilbang-goer offers to help you out with the scrubbing. Nudity is less of a taboo here which is nice, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about after all.
Jimjilbang Step Seven:
Treat Yourself to Massage Treatments
Seoul jimjilbangs all boast treatment menus that enable you to indulge in various different pamper packages. After my body scrub, I decided to have both a massage and a facial.
Like the baths and saunas, the massages vary from place to place, but things like hot stone massages, Thai massages, and oil massages are very common. I had an oil massage and, despite feeling like I was going to slide off the massage table at times, I found it very relaxing.
The facial was okay, but jimjilbangs have more of a “one size fits all” approach to facial treatments and as such, I’d probably recommend you pay a little extra to visit somewhere like Shangpree Seoul if you want to have this treatment. That way, you know that whatever goes on your face is prepared specifically with your skin in mind. This is especially important if you have problematic or sensitive skin.
Jimjilbang Step Eight:
Continue or Move On
It’s not uncommon for Koreans to spend a full day at the jimjilbang. If after your massage treatments you want to go back for another soak in the tub, it’s more than possible. Be mindful that you will need to shower again before re-entering the baths after a massage.
Jimjilbang Step Nine:
Continue Relaxing At The Jimjilbang
Jimjilbangs have “rest rooms” where you can take a nap, or just sit and unwind. Since they are 24-hour facilities, many people often opt to sleep here. I pulled up a tatami mat, bought an ice tea from the snacks counter and just sat and relaxed for a while.
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. Seoul’s Dragon Hill Spa even has a cinema inside!
If you want to sleep at the jimjilbang overnight then you can do. 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! It can be an interesting experience though, and a way to alleviate some accommodation costs if travelling through Korea.
Jimjilbang Step Ten:
Get Ready & Leave
The facilities at Spa Lei were really lovely, and there was a large dressing room that reminded me of those glamorous dressing rooms that you see models sitting in on fashion week coverage. The walls were lined with mirrors and chairs, and an array of styling tools (hairdryers, hair straighteners, and accessories) that you could use, along with complimentary cleansing products. Most jimjilbangs have a similar such room, however, I’m not sure if they are all of comparable standards.
There will be a bin where you can drop your used towels and gown on your way out. When you arrive back at the reception, hand the lady your wristband and she will return your shoe locker key. If you opted for a treatment package, you would have paid up front, but 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
You don’t need a reservation to visit a jimjilbang in Seoul or anywhere else in Korea; you can just walk in. Depending on the jimjilbang, if you opt for a treatment package, you may be given a time slot for each treatment. Weekends are generally busier, particularly at Dragon Hill Spa which is arguably the largest, and the most popular among Westerners.
Best Jimjilbangs in Seoul
Located in Seoul’s fancy Sinsa district, this jimjilbang was an obvious choice for me as a first jimjilbang experience, based on the fact that it is Women’s only and its glamorous location within the city meant that I could tie in my visit with some exploration of this neighbourhood afterwards. 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.
Address: 8-22, Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Basic Price: 14,000 Won for 12 hours, 1,000 Won for each subsequent hour
Dragon Hill Spa
Dragon Hill has a great reputation within Seoul on the basis that they are used to accommodating foreigners. It is the largest jimjilbang in the city – featuring a high number of different baths and saunas, a cinema complex, a gym, and even a horseback riding simulator! I personally preferred not to go to Dragon Hill as it is known to get very crowded, and isn’t necessarily of the highest quality.
Address: 40-712 Hangangno 3(sam)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Basic Price: 14,000 Won for 12 hours, 1,000 Won for each subsequent hour
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.
Address: 128-104 Jungnim-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Basic Price: 10,000 Won
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 (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 – I was the only westerner at Spa Lei, and no one batted an eyelid.
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 living in Seoul and trying out all of the best beauty experiences in Seoul.