One of the things I was really looking forward to on our Seoul trip was a visit to the Jjimjilbang! Also known as a spa / bath house / sauna. We see it all the time in Korean dramas and variety shows, and really wanted to check one out!
Only one thing was of utmost priority to me, and I researched it well beforehand.
No, not the steps on how to use a jjimjilbang. Nor in-depth research on which jjimjilbang is the best (I randomly picked one).
Rather, it was… HOW TO FOLD THE LAMB HEAD TOWEL!!!
WHAT?! It’s an essential step of jjimjilbang-ing ok! The unique shape of the towel helps protect the ears from the extreme heat and cold of the sauna rooms, and helps absorb sweat! Oh all right. The truth is, mainly it’s because it’s cute. You already knew that, didn’t you? Stop smirking. And here. I know you want to make your own too.
Anyway, let’s go back to the start.
We walked in without reservations, and upon entering the spa (which looks nothing like a spa from the outside), we were given:
- a rubber wristband with a barcode (for charging things to our account so we don’t need to carry cash around)
- a locker key
- a shoe locker key
- a set of clothes
Beyond the cashier was split into gender-restricted areas, so we made arrangements to meet up at the common area later and went on our separate ways. I kept my shoes in the shoe locker and proceeded up the stairs towards the females’ bathing area.
I located my locker, put my stuff in it, strip down to nothingness, and walked over to the door where I could hear splashing water.
I quickly locate an empty shower, sat down and prepared to wash myself.
So far, so good. It’s identical to Japan so it’s easy peasy!
Smiling to myself, I looked for the shampoo and body wash bottles, the ones that would be in every onsen I visited in Japan.
Wait a minute.
None. There were none.
I glanced over at the other showers, and I realized that it’s not only my shower that did not have them. I peeked at the ladies nearby and discovered that all of them brought their own basket of toiletries!!! It sparked off a distant memory of a drama scene with the female lead carrying a basket from her home to the jjimjilbang came to mind. Ugh. Why didn’t I remember this bit of information sooner?!
I washed up as best as I could with water and decided not to go into the pools. There was a heated room though, and I ventured in since it was empty.
Sitting in the room butt naked, enveloped by nothing by heat and silence was a most curious feeling indeed. 30 seconds in, I decided I had the full experience and quickly ducked outside. After exiting the bathing room, I saw a little table (ala makeshift shop) selling toiletries. FML.
I couldn’t be bothered to bathe again, plus Fu was waiting, so I donned the given jjimjilbang uniform and headed to our rendezvous point.
Not sure if it’s because it’s a weekday night or something, but the place was so freaking empty! What happened to the lively, bustling jjimjilbang scenes we often see on TV?
In any case, we started our sauna room hopping!
The steam rooms were actually ok when we were lying down. But when we stood up, the temperature was so different it made us gasp for breath!
After a round of sweating, it’s time to head into a cold room!
Exposing the body to alternating hot and cold temperatures is apparently good for the body…
There are many different rooms, each one of a certain temperature and property (e.g. minerals, charcoal, etc).
Then there was this super duper crazy hot room (hottest of all the rooms), with the smallest door in the entire place. It’s a room of extremes, all right!
I entered alone because this was the only room with instructions not to bring handphones into. I guess it’s telling of how hot it was! Fu stayed behind to guard our belongings while I ventured into the unknown.
The temperatures in this room averages around 100°C – yes, you read right! It’s air, not water, so nobody is being cooked alive. At first, I was sitting there struggling to extract oxygen in every breath haha, but after a while, I kinda just get used to the heat and rather enjoy it actually! The heat clings on like a second skin and I can almost feel my pores opening. Sweat started to pour and I found the whole experience pretty therapeutic and soothing!
After sweating so much, it was time to replenish the body!
Of course we went with the jjimjilbang staples – eggs and sikhye!
Sikhye is a drink made from rice (thus the “rice water” in the menu) and the floating bits in the drink are barley and other grains. We bought both the baked and smoked eggs and didn’t need to add the salt provided because they were tasty enough on their own!
Payment for everything – including the food – was made back at the cashier at the start. We changed out, headed back the way we came in, picked up our shoes and handed the cashier the wristbands. The jjimjilbang usage costs only about 8,000 won (about $10) since we visited at night. With that same price, we could also have stayed the night for that price if we wanted. Good for travellers on shoestring budgets!
There were many other facilities such as PC rooms, comics area, massages, etc. which we didn’t utilise because we came here mainly to use the steam rooms, lie on the thin mattress and stiff block of a pillow, eat the eggs, and wear the lamb head towels hahaha. Those was the definition of jjimjilbang to us, and we did all of those things, so… YAY! :D
I enjoy jjimjilbangs and will definitely visit again on my next visit to Korea! Not necessarily this one, since I want to check out others. And yes, I will remember toiletries are not free in Korea -_-
A parting shot:
Website with info about Spa Itaewon Land. Note: We didn’t make any reservations even though the website says reservations are required.
For other Seoul posts, check out the master post!