The baths or ‘jjimjibangs’ are a staple of Korean culture and have none of the seedy overtones that the word bath house carries in America. Whole families and all ages go- it’s considered very healthy.
There is typically a mild bath or hot bath, a very very hot bath and an ice-cold bath as well as a dry sauna and wet sauna. Jjimjibangs are open 24 hours and are also cheap places to spend the night- 10,000-12,000 won, which is about $10-12. The baths are $4-$7 and you pay a bit extra to get shorts and t-shirt to sleep in. There are no beds, just sleeping mats and some form of a pillow that you lay down on the floor.
The men and women’s baths are separate areas then there is a women’s sleeping room and a men’s sleeping room- but there is often a common area for men and women and some people sleep there.
Last Friday six of us teachers headed out to spend the night at a jjimjibang because we were getting up very early Saturday and wanted to wake-up closer to our destination. We went to the end of the Guri line, about an hour on the Subway and got off at the last stop, Yongsan.
One of the teachers told us about a jjimjibang right by the station- we headed over and as soon as you walked in you could see it was very nice. It was $12 to spend the night, we got our outfits and headed to the baths.
I had been to a small jjimjibang in the neighborhood, but this place was Huge- there were at least 10 different hot baths- mineral, massage, one that was pleasantly scented, ‘dragon’s breath’ hot, and more. A lot of people don’t dare go in the ice-cold bath but I really like it. It’s a shock at first but when you dunk in it’s amazingly refreshing and part of the whole health aspect. Going from hot to cold, hot to cold is supposed to be good for your circulation and I have seen Korean women swim laps in there- I can barely stay in for a minute.
There were three girls and three boys in our group. We met up in the common area where all the saunas were. There were many types of these too- a ‘jade room’, two large pyramid shaped rooms, multiple cave-like ‘traditional’ charcoal ones, an ice room- the place was so big we couldn’t see it all.
The saunas were on the outer part of the large common area, that had a big cafeteria and at 1am- was still very active. At the same time people were sleeping on the floor in the middle of all the hub-bub.
We also found out the place was 6 floors, included a ‘garden cinema’, a Korean restaurant, a bar, and a large workout room. We wanted to look around more but had to sleep and went off to our separate men’s and women’s quarters.
Floors are heated with water here and the jjimjibang was no different- it was quite hot to lay on. We got up early- in time for rice and Korean side dishes before getting on the bus- where we went to help clean up a bad oil spill that hit the west coast in December.