Spas, jjimjilbang, public baths, steam baths… Whatever you call them, they’re wonderful. Frequented by Koreans and increasingly by expats, a spa can be a place to rest and relax, connect with friends, wash up, enjoy delicious foods, or even spend the night. You don’t speak Korean? With just a few tips, it’s easy enough to figure these places out.
Upon arrival, you’ll be given a key, towels, and sometimes an outfit. You can leave your shoes in a small locker and your other things in a larger one inside. The first place you enter will be the sauna or bathing area; it is gender-segregated and nude, so be ready to strip down. The sauna will usually contain standing showers in addition to the traditional seated-style ones, bath tubs of different temperatures, massage whirlpools and steam rooms. You should bring your own set of toiletries, but there will be some packets of stuff for sale if you forget something. (Insider tip: Bring your Kerasys bottles in a cute case, preferably pink or with a character on it.)
There are a couple of sauna rules in place to maintain cleanliness: be sure to shower off before getting into any of the bathtubs. Also, no scrubbing your skin or using soaps in the tubs; only in the shower areas. Just do what everyone else does and you’ll be fine! In addition to hot, warm, cool, and cold water, you may also find hot-spring-fed baths rich in minerals, green tea baths, salt water tubs, or various herbal options.
Some hot-spring spas feature outdoor bathing as well. After soaking, you could lie down under a restorative infrared light, sweat it out in a steam room, or get an aromatherapy massage or scrub. I personally recommend a scrub, unless you have particularly sensitive skin. Typically around 15,000-20,000 Won, most include an icy fresh cucumber mask (the best part!) and post-scrub oil treatment. Just be prepared to say something if the scrubber gets a little over zealous; they can be very thorough!
Now that you’re all clean, if the place is just a sauna you’re free to go. If you’ve come to a larger spa or “jjimjilbang” this is just the beginning. You should have received a set of clothes for the co-ed areas found in the jjimjilbang. They will look funny and may be ill-fitting – in the words of Tim Gunn, “Make it work.” Pass through into the jjimjilbang and you’ll find many people resting on the floor, snacking, talking and watching TV.
Along the sides of this space, you’ll find some smaller rooms with temperatures posted outside. There are hot as well as cold rooms and each has a particular draw such as its material, aroma, or health benefit. Some are made from traditional yellow soil blocks, others feature air-purifying charcoal, and some have walls covered by natural wood or beautiful stones. You may find an O2 room, herbal aromatherapy, and varying levels of humidity. Still others invite you to lie on salt rocks or sink your feet in warm clay balls. My favorite place to take a nap is in the ondol-heated, individual caves often found near the women’s or men’s sleeping rooms.
Of course, you can do much more here than rest. There is almost always a snack bar and restaurant, sports massage, kiddies’ play area, and a movie room and PC rooms for entertainment. Sometimes you can even find a fitness center, swimming pool, screen golf, nail shop, “Doctor Fish” foot spa, or outdoor patio. With all the various features offered, you can surely find one that suits your style of relaxation. Listed below are the sites for a few of my favorite places around Busan. I hope you enjoy your next visit to the spa!
You can check out Sonja’s spa blog at www.saunasinkorea.blogspot.com