How Not to Be Awkward Inside a Jjimjilbang or Korean Spa

Too shy to jjimjilbang? Perhaps you’ll find this Korean day spa in Myeongdong or this massage place near Hongdae more preferable!

jjimjilbang-etiquette
Credit: AHLN

Highlights

  • At a jjimjilbang, you will experience a complete wellness activity like no other.
  • Korean spa admission rates are usually set at ₩9,000-15,000 or around $7-12.
  • If you plan to purchase a Discover Seoul Pass, you can get automatic access to SeaLaLa Water Park & Jjimjilbang. See how much the pass costs here.
  • If you’d like to spend your weekend at a massage place or day spa in Seoul, download WAUG here to browse the best options and sign up for an account. You’ll get a welcome discount coupon that you can apply on your first booking!

Explore more: Foreigners in Korea Will Love This Restaurant & Activity Booking App

What Makes a Korean Spa Special?

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Credit: VietNamMoi

Your South Korea trip wouldn’t be complete without spending time at a local spa or jjimjilbang. This is a wellness hub that Koreans love to visit for some R&R and a place that’s almost unique to the culture.

What makes a jjimjilbang so interesting is its layout. Many locations have designated sections for the services that you’d normally look for, such as a massage, sauna, and body scrub. However, no traditional Korean spa is complete without the public baths and a huge common space for eating, sleeping, watching movies, and even singing. The concept is so interesting that it’d actually make for a decent place to live, if not at all great.

That is if you don’t mind being in the nude, among other things.

When you visit a jjimjilbang, the expectation is that you’re ready to strip all your clothes off in the communal shower and public baths. You can’t have a single piece of clothing since it’ll give the idea that you’re bringing outside dirt in or you have a communicable disease. Obviously, Koreans don’t have a problem being naked in this setting, but tourists may just find this tradition a deal-breaker.

If you’re somewhat okay without a stitch on, then read on; the following are the things that you should do on your jjimjilbang visit. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of being undressed in front of others, I still encourage you to read through the end of this blog post. It might just change your mind.

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Jin Gyu from ‘Strongest Delivery Man’. Credit: Dramabeans

Yes, the photo above was an attempt to get drama fans inside a Korean spa. Still no? Well, at least I tried.

Korean Spa Etiquette: 10-Step Guide to Jjimjilbang

Here are the things that you should observe to have an enjoyable time in a jjimjilbang. Trust me, if you do it right, you’d soon look forward to your next visit!

1. Pay up

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Some Korean spas charge solely based on the time of your visit. Here’s how most service menus would look:

  • Day (when you visit some time around 5am-8pm): ₩8,000-12,000 for adults (around $7.5-11)
  • Night (8pm-5am): ₩10,000-15,000 for adults (around $10-14)
  • Weekends/Holidays (5am-8pm): ₩10,000-15,000 for adults (around $10-14)

Some establishments also charge depending on the services you would like to avail, i.e. bath only or bath + jjimjilbang (sauna and access to the common area):

  • Bath only (day): average ₩8,000 (around ₱400 or $7.5)
  • Bath only (night): average ₩9,000 (around ₱445 or $8.3)
  • Bath + jjimjilbang (day): average ₩9,000 (around ₱445 or $8.3)
  • Bath + jjimjilbang (night): average ₩11,500 (around ₱565 or $10.8)

If the establishment offers an indoor water park or outdoor pool, then you may opt to get the entire package, which costs around ₩25,000 (₱1,230 or $23).

Once you’ve settled the admission fee via cash or card, you will then be given an electronic key for your shoe locker and changing room. You’ll also be handed a set of cotton shirt and shorts (PJ’s!) for the jjimjilbang area.

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Visit a Jjimjilbang with a Discover Seoul Pass

With just one card, you will get access to the best attractions in Seoul. Learn more about the mobile Discover Seoul Pass here.

2. Store your footwear

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Shoe lockers. Credit: Green Walled Tower

Your key number corresponds to the shoe locker assigned to you. Find your locker, keep your footwear, and then take the key with you to the changing room. 

  • If you were given a receipt, it will still show the number of your shoe locker. This is where you will find your key to the changing room.
  • In other Korean spas, the first thing you might see are the shoe lockers instead of the front desk. If this is the case, then choose any locker where you want to store your footwear. Take the shoe locker key with you and bring it to the reception. You’ll be handed another key for the changing room.
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Electronic locker key. Credit: Garycyles Far East Asia

Once you’ve completed these two steps, head your way down to the gender-segregated locker areas for a surprise.

3. Get naked

Yes, it’s time to be in your birthday suit. Leave everything behind, including your phone and cameras. Do it quickly.

If you have a personal bath kit, bring it with you. Otherwise, use the complimentary items in the shower area.

4. Get squeaky clean

Shower up. This is a rule you must not break. Other bathers want you to be clean when you get inside the hot or cold baths.

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Credit: Journalist on the Run

You can choose an open shower cubicle or sit at a stool with a handy faucet for a different style of bathing. Scrub well.

5. Hit the Korean Baths

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Is this scene familiar? Yes, it’s from ‘Boys Over Flowers’! Credit: Dramabeans

This is where it really begins.

After showering, have a look around the area and find the bath that’s hot enough for you (I always go for the 42°C first). You can stay in one bath for 15-20 minutes before moving on to the next one. The idea is to work your way down to the coolest tub. Whatever you do, don’t splash your way in.

Some baths are infused with charcoal, which gets rid of your body’s impurities, ginseng, to enhance your metabolism, and jade, for relaxation.

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Credit: Pardon My Audacity

If you’re visiting Korea during the winter, your body will be thankful for the hot baths. Of course, if you’re in town during summer, the cooler ones will be most enjoyable.

Oh, if you’re looking to get a massage and/or body scrub (seshin or 세신), this is the time to do so! Simply walk up to the corner where the therapists are and ask for the service that you want. They’ll either get your key (it functions as your tab) or take note of your locker number if the establishment’s still following manual procedure.

6. Shower up and groom

Once you’ve tried the public baths, have a quick shower and wear your cotton pajamas. Head on over to the common area (clothed!) to continue the fun alone or with your special someone, friends, or family. At this point, feel free to bring your gadgets, playing cards, or what have you.

Note that the next steps don’t have to be followed religiously, so do as you and your company pleases.

7. Enter the Fomentation Rooms

…or more commonly known as the dry sauna rooms or hanjeungmak (한증막).

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Clay sauna. Credit: Riviera Health Spa

Like the baths, the fomentation rooms also vary in temperature, so you can try entering the hot ones first (50-90°C), the cold ones second, then back to the hot. This will help you extract all of your bodies’ impurities and calm your tired muscles.

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Jin in his sheep head towel. Credit: Amino

Before entering, you might also want to try making your own Korean sheep or lamb head towel. (You know you want to.) There’s a video way below to guide you!

8. Cool down with a Jjimjilbang Sikhye

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Credit: Goingo

After undergoing all these body treatments, you’ll most likely feel some thirst or mild hunger. I’d recommend getting the more popular jjimjilbang menu items such as the following:

  • Iced Sikhye. A sweet and malty rice beverage that’s meant to be consumed slowly. One order’s usually good for two people and costs ₩3,000 (around $3), give or take.
  • Boiled or baked eggs. These were slow-cooked in the sauna, too. I kid you not.

Jjimjilbangs may also offer cup ramyeon, coffee, bibimbap, fried chicken, seaweed soup, and other treats for your satisfaction.  Hand over your key for the payment.

9. Enjoy your time

In some jjimjilbang, you may find some leisure rooms, such as the DVD-bang (DVD방 or movie room), PC-bang (PC방 or computer rentals), kids’ room, mini-arcade area, massage chairs, and a fitness center. Check ’em out and take your time to unwind!

10. Sleep… and repeat!

Yes, you can spend the night in a jjimjilbang. Some people, locals and tourists alike, skip numbers 3-8 in this list just to doze off. This usually happens when they miss the train or bus late at night.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to be in a jjimjilbang just to sleep, even during the day. It’s a decent enough place to recharge. So if you’re feeling tired after days of walking and touring, simply grab a sleeping mat and a head block, find your comfy spot (just don’t block any entrances or walkways!), and doze off.

Oh, some Korean spas have separate rooms for snorers and non-snorers too. Thank heavens.

To make the most out of your visit, feel free to enter the baths and fomentation rooms again (for as many times as you please)!

When you’re ready to go, proceed to the front desk and check out. Simply hand over your key and pay for the additional charges, if any. You’ll then be able to unlock your shoe locker to get your footwear back.

Is jjimjilbang not for you? Visit a day spa in Seoul instead!

Looking for a spa in Myeongdong or Gangnam? Check out these recommendations:

day-spa-seoul-massage
Get a massage in Seoul.
  1. Oriental Healing Cafe in Myeongdong
  2. Oxy Zen Capsule at Ramada Encore Hotel in Dongdaemun
  3. Bone Healing Massage in Mapo-gu
  4. CheongGwanJang Spa 1899 in Gangnam
  5. Adele Healing Thai Massage in Songpa-gu

More Tips!

  • If you’re looking for a super low-cost accommodation, spend a night at a jjimjilbang. Just make sure that the location you choose operates 24/7! You may want to rent a subway locker to store your luggage.
  • When talking to the front desk, simply say jjimjilbang and they’ll know the service that you’re referring to.
  • Don’t be surprised if people are asking each other for a full-body scrub. It’s completely normal for friends and families to do it with each other.
  • You will most likely have 10-12 hours to enjoy the jjimjilbang before you’re charged the next set of rates.
  • Don’t doze off inside the sauna or fomentation room. You’ll get dehydrated.
  • Keep it down. People are sleeping.

Here’s a video guide on how to make your own jjimjilbang sheep towel head:

Here’s another video for you Steven Yeun and Conan fans!

Share your jjimjilbang experience!

After visiting a Korean spa, do give us some update so you can inspire other readers as well. Enjoy!

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