A Jjimjilbang (Sauna) is a large public bathhouse segregated by gender and is furnished by sauna rooms, hot tubs, ice rooms, swimming pools and some with arcade and noraebangs or karaokes. It’s one of the unique places that you can only find in Korea. Yes saunas are not a foreign concept but a jjimjilbang is entirely different, one must definitely try it to be able to truly understand what I’m saying. And what better way to go than on a cold winter night.
Most of the posts I’ve read online suggests to spend the night at a jjimjilbang to be able to truly experience it. Maybe I will try that on my next visit. It’s interesting that this is one option for budget travelers who want to save money on accommodation, you only have to pay the standard entrance fee and you can stay as long as you want to.
There are a lot of jjimjilbangs all over Seoul, but we decided on Dragon Hill Spa located near Yongsan Subway Station (Subway Line 1). Exit through exit 1 and go down through the stairs. Once you reach the bottom, turn right till you reach an intersection. The spa is located on the opposite side of the road.
Dragon Hill Spa is 7 stories high although we only got to explore the first 3 levels of this establishment. It is one of the famous saunas for expats, foreigners and locals as well. Once we reached the reception, one guy asked us from which country we were from, then proceeded to tell us the instructions on how to go about inside. After we paid for the entrance (13,000 Won per pax weekend fee), they gave us a set of clothes to change into and a locker key. Based on what I was able to decipher from the instructions, we must first put our shoes in the designated locker downstairs, then head to the 3rd level locker rooms for ladies to put the rest of things. Then we must proceed to level 2 to shower before changing into the clothes they gave us. So we put the shoes and took the elevator (exclusive for women) to go to the 3rd level. The moment we alighted we saw a lot of ladies, in the nude. Oh yes, they know how to flaunt it. I’ve read that in Korean saunas this is the norm, but it still didn’t prepare me for what I’ve seen and experienced there. I was actually the one feeling embarrassed for not being able to pull off what they were doing. Me and my sisters were all feeling very giggly trying to stop ourselves from laughing, as well as trying to divert our eyes. Honestly, I felt that it would be rude to stare at them although they’re not actually giving us any other choice. haha. We decided to skip taking a shower and just change our clothes in the toilet. Afterwards we headed to the communal area in the first level where everyone else meet up after being separated by the gender exclusive locker rooms. This is the area most commonly shown in Korean dramas since it is probably the most wholesome area in this place. The jjimjilbang facilities are mostly located in this level, such as the famous conventional oak wood charcoal oven, ice rooms, massage chairs, sauna rooms of varying degree of temperature, an arcade, karaoke rooms, and a canteen. One can have a full meal here, but we chose the popular boiled eggs and Sikhye (Korean rice dessert drink). Everything you purchase inside such as food, drinks and even undies will be charged to the electronic (bracelet) key, which you can pay upon surrendering to the cashier. We’ve tried a few of the saunas and it felt good to sweat it out since we’ve been out and about in the cold weather for the past few days. We spent a chunk of time in the communal area, trying to watch the Korean drama being shown while eating and drinking, and afterwards was able to nap for a while on the floor (just keep out of the walkway and you’ll be fine).
Since we didn’t plan on staying overnight, we decided to try looking for possible shower options. Considering that they walked around the locker room sans clothes, we shouldn’t have been expecting any sort of private shower rooms for shy people like us. What they do have are hot tubs and showers (but without any cover). Anyways, we ended up not taking a shower (again!) since we don’t have that much confidence to flaunt it. Oh I forgot to mention that they also provided us 2 towels, although it was too small to be a bath towel. I’ve read somewhere that wearing bathing suits are not allowed in the tubs, but required in the swimming pools. I’m not sure about bringing your own bath towel but if that were possible, it would probably be okay with me as long as I can still cover my dignity with a towel. Haha. All in all, it was a nice and definitely unique experience for us. I’ll hold my thought on whether I would try it again if I could. 😀