Jjimjibang Bathhouse Secrets: How to Enjoy a Korean Spa

Fah Lanna Spa shower gels

What is a jjimjilbang?

One thing I’ll really miss from South Korea is the jjimjibang. There I was, completely naked and totally embracing it, strutting around as if I owned the place. My friends Charise, Chi, and I decided to dive into the local scene at a Korean bathhouse. At first, we felt a bit intimidated, but then we figured they were going to stare anyway, so we might as well enjoy it. Just picture three black women turning heads and loving every second of the attention we got that day. This is my beginner’s guide and etiquette for foreigners visiting a Jjimjibang Korean Spa.

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  1. Bathe Like a Local
  2. Paradise Hanjungmak in Suseong Lake
  3. My First Korean Bath
  4. Hot and Cold Pools
  5. Honey Pot Steaming
  6. Scrubbing
  7. Help

Social Benefits of Jjimjilbangs

Bathe Like a Local in a Jjimjibang Korean Spa

It has been an integral part of their society for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A Korean bathhouse is more than a place to take a bath. It is where Koreans go to rest, relax and socialize after work and on the weekends. And I highly recommend you visit one and bathe like the locals if you can.

Paradise Hanjungmak Jjimjibang

We went to Paradise Hanjungmak Jjimjibang in Suseong Lake, a very unassuming blue building behind the indoor driving range. Still, most jjimjibangs offer the same services: hot and cold pools, Korean traditional kiln sauna, scrubbing and massage tables, rest and relaxation rooms, nail salons, a gift shop, and honey pot (or poom poom) steaming.

We paid 47,000 ₩on each for a 3+ hour experience that I’ll never forget. There was a 7,000 ₩on entrance, 15,000 ₩on for scrubbing and bath, and 25,000 Won for the steaming of the nether regions. That’s about USD 41 right now and well worth it. The entrance fee gives you access to the pools, relaxing room, sauna, and showers.

We were handed a locker key and a hand towel, just large enough to wrap our heads in the traditional sheep hat.

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The jjimjibang is located at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. Notice the blue shorts set?

Can Tourists Visit Jjimjilbangs in Korea?

First off, I want to say the staff were really friendly and helpful, which made this jjimjibang visit much more comfortable than my first one (I’ll re-post about that experience soon). Unfortunately, given the nature of the place, I don’t have many pictures to share, which I know is a bummer.

The bathhouse we visited was small, which was actually perfect. It wasn’t crowded with too many people, just a few dozen ladies at the busiest time, and we didn’t get too many stares. However, this place didn’t have extras like heated salt rooms, fancy beauty treatments, overnight stays, or snack areas with big TVs. And there was no karaoke or gaming unless you count the one lady playing Angry Birds in the hot pool.

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Bathing like the locals at the Suseong Jjimjibang in Daegu South Korea

Tips for Visiting a Jjimjibang Korean Spa

What to Bring to the Jjimjibang?

After fully disrobing, we made what seemed like “the long walk off the plank” to the pools covered in the large towels we brought from home. Most jjimjibangs will have everything you need, including outfits, sandals, and body gel. Once through the door, you notice there are also substantial plastic buckets, stools, and a combination of seated and standing showerheads. There are three massage tables covered in plastic in the corner to your right.

Directly across from the showers, there are two pools in the Jjimjibang. The hot pool is 42 degrees Celsius (or 108 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s hot. I don’t know what the temperature of the cold pool was, but it was cold. It was so cold I didn’t sit in it, but I waded around it a couple of times when the hot pool got too hot. After 20-30 minutes, we were summoned back to the front of the spa for our honey pot cleaning appointment.

Health Benefits of Jjimjilbangs

Honey Pot Steaming

GIRL… you sit on a bench with a hole in it. The seat is low to the ground and has an opening in the front. The attendant places a crockpot full of bubbling, fragrant herbs underneath, which smells like delicious mint tea. This herb-infused steam session in the Jjimjibang Korean Spa, or Korean public bathhouse, was a unique blend of comfort and culture.

I loved it, but I especially cherished the time spent in that little room, talking to my girls who have become, very, VERY good friends. Lol. We laughed and sipped on iced tea for 40 minutes.

Why? It’s supposed to cleanse and tighten. Should I go on?

Something changed when we finished stewing. We left that room, with outward confidence, swinging our towels OVER our shoulders instead of wearing them. The “long walk” turned into “the catwalk” as Chi and I followed Charise’s lead. “Hey, if they’re going to look, give them something to look at,” she said. So we did.

We sat in the hot pool again until they called us for our scrubbing. We realized no one was paying us any mind. They were butt-naked too. And some of them didn’t seem to be completely comfortable in their nakedness either.

Jjimjilbang Etiquette: What should I know?

The scrubbing in the jjimjibang brought me back to my childhood and my grandma Mabel who used to scrub us raw in the tub– minus the tears and brown lye soap.

I laid down, face-up on a table covered with plastic. The scrubbers, the only ones with any clothes on besides the lady at the front desk, splashed me with warm water and then covered me with a wet towel before applying a thick layer of chilled crushed cucumber on my face.

We were surprised our scrub came with a cucumber mask, which Chi says is usually an extra charge. My senses are hyperactive. It’s crisp, refreshing, and quite heavy. It almost forces me to close my eyes, which is great because the next 45 minutes, the scrubber contorts my body is some of the most awkward poses imaginable. And I don’t even want to see what that looks like. Not even for a second.

She began by vigorously scrubbing my right leg with her loofah-glove covered hands. Then she leaned in and put her elbows into scraping away the layers of old skin. She shows Chi how “dirty” I am, showing her the dead black skin she just forcibly removed from my living body.

She goes from the bottom of my feet to my ankles and knees, to the belly, breast, arms, neck, and back down the other side of my body. It’s a jarring experience initially, a combination of being tickled or tortured to death. But I soon block out the imagery of what I look like, replacing it with the sound it makes against my body, the warm water, the anticipation of where she’ll go next. Yup, she went there too.

It Hurts So Good

It was relaxing for me. But Charise later asked me if she was bleeding? She wasn’t, of course, but she did seem a shade or two lighter if that’s possible. Lol.

The jjimjibang scrubbers laugh at one point, and I feel an extra set of hands-on my backside. I peak to see Charise’s girl, in bra and panties, scrubbing my butt. And I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. My girl needed some help, and Charise’s girl came to the rescue.

Forty-five minutes later, no crevice, nook, or cranny is left untouched– if you get my drift. I can see the remnants of dead skin all over my body and the massage table. The scrubbing ends with a soapy bath and rinses off, which Chi says is also usually an extra charge. 

I head back to the hot pool to wait for everyone to finish. Freshly scrubbed, the hot water seems a tad warmer. I reach down and caress the bottom of my feet. They feel like silk.

We sit in that hot pool an extra 15 minutes talking about the experience and how we can squeeze in one more visit before I leave, then strut our sexy selves back to the lockers to get dressed for lunch.

For Foreigners– Cultural tips for jjimjilbang visits.

Situations like this, where you can’t hide behind your clothes and are fully exposed, heighten your awareness. As a foreigner who doesn’t understand the culture or the language, and who looks visibly different, the exposure in a Jjimjibang Korean Spa can be quite intense. Yet, it’s exactly these moments that push you to notice the nuances of local behavior and customs more keenly, allowing you to get a few steps closer to truly immersing yourself in the Korean culture. And perhaps, just maybe, your presence might be the catalyst that changes their perspective and stops the intense staring.

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Comments

  1. Sandra crespo

    Well I have never heard of something like this! I am not sure if I would be able to go through with it Though I can’t even do a topless beach here in Florida LOL

  2. katriza | Mommy Engineering

    WOW this would be a very difficult experience for me! I don’t know if I could do this!

  3. Amanda Love

    I have never experienced this before and it would be so nice to do so. I thought it’s just a place to bathe but I’m damn wrong! You’ll feel refreshed and relaxed after you go through this.

  4. Elizabeth O.

    I wouldn’t mind going into one of these spas. I think it’s an awesome experience and one that I would treat myself to.

  5. angela milnes

    This is the first time that I heard about this place and It really sounds Interesting for me, I would love to go there

  6. Missy

    All that for $41?! So wish they had places like that here. We need a soothing bath house and fewer expensive spas! And if Gwenyth honey pots herself, well I’m all for it:)

  7. Pooja K

    Always love your ‘off the beaten track’ posts. Different cultures have varying spa techniques which are so worth trying – south India’s hot oil spa and healing clinics get visitors from the world over.

  8. natalie z

    My mom and I did a bathhouse experience in Hot Springs, AR. I am sure they have some cultural differences but it looks like there are some similarities. It is great to pamper ourselves!

  9. Lisa Wonderling

    I had literally never heard of this. Almost like Roman baths. It looks like a lovely experience to share with friends.

  10. David Elliott

    It does sound like an interesting experience. Then again a friend of mine said that they had a Korean bath house like that out here in L.A. So maybe you won’t have to miss it forever if they have it in other places.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Ashlea, the scrubbing wasn’t so bad, it turned out to be my favorite part of the whole thing. They scrubbed 51 years of dead skin that hadn’t come off by itself and I felt totally rejuvenated. My skin is skin butter soft almost a week later.

  11. Lexie

    This was such an interesting read! I would not have ever considered going to a bath house, but it sounds like a rougher and more cleansing trip to the spa.
    I always like to hear about things that are traditional in other cultures that Americans don’t experience.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes you are completely correct. When the Koreans talk about spa, they invasion something completely different than Americans do.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      The relaxing part takes some work as an American we are anxoious being naked until we’re not. But the jjimjibang is a way to connect and understand how the Koreans relax.

  12. Megan

    The whole experience sounds intriguing. I’m not sure if given the opportunity I would run away or jump right in! lol

    1. duffelbagspouse

      So true. And I was anxious right up to the part where I had to take off my underwear. But by the end I realized its just butts and boobs and we all had them. Lol

  13. Deanna

    I would love to go to a bathhouse. My daughter and I were just reading about them. I would love to try the scrub.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      When we first arrived there was a toddler, a boy, he didn’t pay anybody, us included, any attention. I was reminded of my own boys and that I took them to a German spa and they were quite a few years older. They were good and respectful but were in awe of all the butts and boobs.

  14. Elizabeth O

    Girl, you lot are glowing from the experience! I am bookmarking this post for my future visit as I want that scrub down. Awesome!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I want to go back before we leave. It was a therapeutic experience and honestly my feet never felt so good.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yup awkward sums it up. But I got over it and I highly recommend the jjimjibang experience if you get a chance.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Amber talk about giggles… this very pale girl comes into the shower area. She has midnight collored hair and one of the hugest bushes down there I ever saw. I was expecting most women to be clean shaven… some were but many had just about as much hair above and below.

  15. Ashvin Nankoo

    This is so awesome and for $41 this is definitely worth the experience. However I am not a fan of the scrubbing table, sounds a bit weird too! Plus the honey pot is a definitely intruiging!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Ikr. I am going to miss the price of beauty services here. Its pennies on the dollar compared to the United States.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It was Amy. I am glad I got a chance to do it before we left Korea. I hope I get a chance to do it again.

  16. Krysten

    What a cool experience! I have never been in a bathhouse before, I think I would be scared because I’m so self-conscious. But I would try it out at least once.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I wouldn’t call it luxuries, but its definitely a cool things everyone should experience once at least.

  17. Sandie Curney

    I really want to try a bath house, but I’m nervous because I’m plus size. But like always great article.

    1. Duffelbagspouse

      Don’t let your size stop you. There were lafies of all shapes and sizes there. I am so glad I jumped on. It was definitely a.must do here, but I’d like to do it again… regularly.

  18. Elle Saunders

    I absolutely love these places and have gone to them in Hawaii, but not had the opportunity in Korea. I am super curious about the Honey Pot experience. I need to go to this place so I can try it. ?

  19. Tracey

    I love this spot and I loved to hate the scrub. After my first one was like I have been dirty all of my life ????. Miss this place and the moments of reflections. Thank you for blog, it brought back some great memories ppl

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Its a great gateway experience, lol. I am glad I had a chance to experience the real thing. Thanks for your support, keep the comments coming.

  20. Michelle

    Thanks for the blog post. I’ll admit, I’m super intimidated, yet oh so wanting, to experience the jimjilbang. This sounds like just the right one! Thanks for leading the way here in Daegu and blessings for your next adventure.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thank you Michelle, I hope you get a chance to visit one soon. It was a lot of fun and very empowering.

  21. C Ivory

    Great times. Excited I was able to convince you to try it again! Hopefully other women will come out their shell and walk the “catwalk” like we did!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks Chi. It was fun and YES I hope everyone reading this steps out their comfort zone and experiences everything the Korean culture has to offer.

  22. Tiffany

    Okay, so you brought bigger towels from home sonyou didnt do a completely nude walk of shame into the pool area first?! I’ve been to self conscience to go and especially with any friends I’ve made here ? Once you see friends nude that’s a whole new level! This being a small place, maybe it’s where I need to try first! Thanks for the review! ❤️

    1. duffelbagspouse

      That’s why you go with friends you can bare it all to, lol. None of of us are completely confident with our bodies, no matter what. It took awhile, but we did find our strut and walked around that place like we owned it. We are trying to go again and yes, I said we were good friends, but now we are GREAT friends. I am so glad I went.

  23. Charise

    That was a awesome blog!!! Too bad we couldnt video tape it, because you know here in Korea the goods would’ve been censored anyways. It was a totally awesome experience and I’m truly glad we went for it, even with all of our insecurities about our bodies. It’s definitely a MUST DO before leaving Korea!!!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      We did, didn’t we? I did a search for one in Austin, and there are two in the area, but probably not authentic. I’ll let you know once I get there. Thank you for being such a great friend.

  24. LaSheryl

    Stacy, this is hilarious! I need to ‘put on my big girl panties’ and ‘just do it’. They aren’t ready for all this ‘junk’, lol.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      No LaSheryl you have to take your big girl panties OFF. lol, if they could handle me, you’re good girl. It was definitely a great way to get “out of” your body insecurities.

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