The Korean Jjimjilbang is an exciting and unique pastime of Korean culture and one that has held the world’s fascination ever since Korean media exploded onto our screens and we were exposed for the first time to the fascinating bathhouses.
The steamy spas and heated saunas within the Korean Jjimjilbang are not unlike spas and saunas around the world. So much so, that you’re probably wondering why it holds so much fascination.
The key to understanding why these jjimjilbang bathhouses are not your average bathhouses is just that: they are not just bathhouses.
They’re entertainment centers, they’re a place for relaxation, they’re a place to catch up with friends; they’re a place to do nothing at all.
Let’s deep-dive into the Korean Jjimjilbang – how and why these bathhouses are so exciting and why you should include them in your next trip to Korea.
What is Jjimjilbang?
Let’s dial it back down. What is a jjimjilbang?
A jjimjilbang is essentially a public bathhouse. It will likely comprise a mogyoktang area (bathing), heated rooms, traditional kiln saunas, and areas of relaxation and entertainment which may include spas, sleeping areas, massage rooms, and even noraebang!
People have traditionally headed to jjimjilbang with friends and families and as couples to enjoy the facilities and relax together.
Jjimjilbang vs. Mogyoktang
Due to their similarities, some people might mistake jjimjilbang for mogyoktang. The latter is a more basic public Korean bathhouse that provides showering and bathing facilities, and not much more. You might see minimal additional facilities such as steam rooms and hot tubs, but people attend mogyoktangs mainly to cleanse themselves.
Oh, and complete nudity is expected there!
Jjimjilbang bathhouses, on the other day, invite people to spend the day relaxing and enjoying themselves – all whilst wearing the outfit set provided by the bathhouse. No stripping down is required here!
Jjimjilbang bathhouses are a fantastic opportunity to unwind and relax after exploration, and still, immerse yourself in Korean culture. They usually operate for over 24 hours, and thus you will come across many visitors who spend the night there as well!
With everything at your fingertips, including restaurants, baths, entertainment facilities, and resting areas, there is no wonder why some people don’t want to leave.
Where can you find jjimjilbang?
Jjimjilbang bathhouses can be found almost everywhere in Korea. However, the more populated cities such as Seoul and Busan will have a higher concentration of jjimjilbang to visit.
There are popular ones such as Spa Lei in Seoul, where you’ll witness locals rubbing shoulders with tourists from around the world.
There are also less populated and smaller jjimjilbang facilities around most cities that you can visit if you’re not keen to visit one of the biggest ones in Korea.
How To Jjimjilbang – A Step-By-Step Guide
After you pay your entry fee, it does get a little confusing, especially if it’s your first time at a jjimjilbang. However, we’ve outlined the basic etiquette of visiting a Korean bathhouse below, so you don’t have to worry about committing a faux pas!
Step 1 – Store your shoes in the lockers
You’ll see a huge wall of lockers when you first enter the jjimjilbang. This is where you will need to place your shoes before moving onward. No outdoor shoes are allowed into the facilities to maintain hygiene and cleanliness.
Some places might request that you place your shoes in before making payment.
Step 2 – Collect your key or wristband, towel, and gown
Once you make payment, you will receive a numbered key or a wristband, two small towels, and a jjimjilbang outfit set that will comprise loose-fitting shorts and a t-shirt. Take these with you to the locker room.
Step 3 – Head to the gender-separated locker rooms
Once you enter the locker rooms, you will find a locker with the same number as your key or wristband. This is your dedicated locker where you can store your personal belongings.
If this is your first time, the next step will be the most awkward and challenging part of visiting a jjimjilbang. You will need to strip down to your birthday suit (i.e., naked!) and place your belongings into your locker.
However, don’t be embarrassed, as you’ll see many more around you doing the same without care. Korean people are grown up doing this on the regular, so it’s perfectly natural over there.
Once you’ve taken off your clothing, lock everything up but keep your wristband/key on you – this is how you’ll scan for anything you use or purchase during your stay
Step 4 – Enter the Korean bathhouse area (mogyoktang)
When you’re ready, head to the next room, which is the bathing area. Similar to a Japanese onsen experience, you will need to wash yourself off before entering the completely communal jjimjilbang area.
In this area, you’ll find shower stalls, hot and cold pools, and some steam rooms. You’ll also find an area where Korean women provide a traditional body scrub that will leave you as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
The only thing that you are required to do is have a shower to wash yourself off. Otherwise, once you’ve washed off, feel free to use any of the facilities you like!
If you’re game enough, we recommend getting the body scrub because it’s quite an experience. Give one of the scrubbing ladies your key as there is usually a bit of a wait, and head there when your number is called.
Step 5 – Head into the jjimjilbang
Once you’ve finished using the mogyoktang facilities, head back to your locker room to get changed and then head into the jjimjilbang area. You may take your phone with you. Many people choose to do this, as they spend hours just relaxing in the resting area in the jjimjilbang.
Every jjimjilbang will offer a selection of saunas, spas, and services. The larger jjimjilbang bathhouses will offer them at various levels, from basic to complete luxury.
You can read about each room on the signs outside, and if it’s something you’d like to experience, quietly enter and sweat away. A jjimjilbang experience is meant to be a rejuvenating experience so please be mindful of others.
Step 6 – Break from all the sweating
If you’re done sweating it out (for a while anyway), try some of the other amenities in the jjimjilbang.
They usually offer areas where you can get a relaxing Korean massage or take a nap and hang with friends. Most will have an area where you can purchase food if you’re feeling peckish.
The larger jjimjilbang will even offer cinemas, outdoor hot tubs, and massage chair areas equipped with individual TVs – so many experiences on offer!
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Step 7 – Settle your bill
Once you’re finished, you can head back to the gender-separated change rooms. You can also opt to take another quick rinse to get rid of all your sweat but that’s entirely up to you.
Change back into your clothes, drop your used towels and gowns into the provided baskets, and take all your belongings with you to the cashier. They will scan your key/wristband and you can pay for any additional services before you leave.
Jjimjilbang Etiquette – 3 Things Not To Do
1. Leave Your Hair Out
One of the biggest rules of entering a jjimjilbang is making sure you have your hair tied back. Before you enter the mogyoktang facilities, ensure you tie your hair all up, and keep it that way for the duration of your stay at the jjimjilbang.
If you’re a fan of Korean drama or variety shows, you will sometimes see celebrities go into jjimjilbang bathhouses and wrap their towels around their heads like a lamb. They are literally called lamb head towels (yangmeori), and you can learn how to do it in the video above.
2. Wear Bathing Suits Into The Mogyoktang
It is common etiquette to completely strip down to wash. In some instances, when women are on their cycle, they prefer to wear nude underwear to blend in, but otherwise, wearing a bathing suit to cover up will earn you more stares than if you go buck naked.
3. Forget To Rinse Before Entering The Jjimjilbang
It is essential that you rinse off before entering the jjimjilbang. As a common courtesy for everyone else, and to maintain the high hygiene standards of the bathhouse, everyone must rinse off before entering.
If you are not familiar with Korean Etiquette, make sure you also read our post about the 15 things not to do in South Korea!
How much does a Jjimjilbang visit cost?
The cost of entering a jjimjilbang varies – it depends on which one you decide to visit.
However, you can expect to pay anywhere from 10,000KRW (~$7-$8USD) to 30,000KRW (~$22-$23USD). This is just the entrance fee.
Should you decide to try additional services such as massages, or make any purchases such as food and drinks, this will be extra and paid for as you leave.
Are Jjimjilbang bathhouses foreigner friendly?
Yes! Jjimjilbang welcome people from all walks of life. So long as you follow the rules, maintain a calm and relaxing atmosphere, and avoid disruptive behaviour, you will be welcome at a jjimjilbang.
Although not as taboo as in Japan, tattoos may earn you a few looks (with historical linkage to gang-related activity); however, tattooed individuals will not be exempted from entering most facilities.
Where you may run into some resistance would be the very traditional jjimjilbang bathhouses. If you are worried, we’d advise you to contact the specific bathhouse you’re interested in and inquire about their tattoo policy.
The Best Jjimjilbang In Seoul
There are many, many jjimjilbang bathhouses to choose from in Seoul. However, the most popular and the most foreigner-friendly would be Aquafield Sauna & Spa.
Located on the outskirts of Seoul, this huge luxury jjimjilbang bathhouse is a great option for families with children, catching up with friends, and having late-night relaxation.
Along with the plentiful spas and sauna, it offers a huge variety of amenities such as an outdoor foot bath, a roof deck, a rooftop pool, and even a Media Art room!
Some standout sauna room options include the Cypress Room and a Cloud Room. Which ones you decide on using will depend on what temperature your body can take!
Many people opt to go to Aqualand as their first experience because of how well-equipped it is and thus it would be easy to get a memorable experience. Its convenient location within the Starfield Mall also contributes to its popularity as you can pop into the shops before or after as well.
- Address: Aquafield Sauna & Spa
- Hours: 10:00 am-8:00 pm
- Price: Adult: 21,000KRW, Children: 17,000KRW
The Best Jjimjilbang In South Korea
Cimer Spa, a luxury jjimjilbang located in Incheon, is considered one of the best jjimjilbang bathhouses in Korea.
Boasting pools, spas, saunas, steam rooms, massage rooms, and much more, Cimer Spa offers everything you need for a relaxing, rejuvenating bathhouse experience right at your fingertips.
From the moment you enter the main lobby, you’ll witness the sheer exquisiteness of Cimer Spa. Beautiful led lit displays will lead you to the front desk, and then straight to your locker where you can get started.
The most popular attraction of Cimer Spa would be the jaw-dropping main water plaza area. You can enjoy the huge pool here, complete with swimming areas, day beds, and lounges.
Cimer also offers an Aqua Club, which is where you can participate in yoga classes and use their spas. There is an infinity pool up on the rooftop, water slides, a Cave Pool with a waterfall feature, a sports bar, and even a food plaza!
And this isn’t even half of the facilities options there.
Cimer Spa is an all-in-one jjimjilbang experience, and with it being so close to Incheon Airport, why not head there early and relax before your flight?
- Address: Cimer Spa
- Hours: Mon-Fri: 10:00am-7:00pm, Sat-Sun: 10:00am-9:00pm
- Price: Adults: 46,000KRW, Children: 36,000KRW
We hope we’ve thoroughly covered what you need to know for your first or next visit to a jjimjilbang. We understand that certain aspects might be a little scary (!), but remember, it’s perfectly normal and natural over there, so try not to worry and just enjoy your experience.
A jjimjilbang is always a must-try if it’s your first time in South Korea, and we guarantee that wherever you decide to go, it will be one heck of a memorable experience!
Let us know if you’ve braved the experience before in the comments section below. We’d love to hear about it!