Americans have begun to discover the joys of Korean baths, and mega-complexes in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other big cities are luring new customers with their selection of saunas, steam rooms, and pools in a range of temperatures. If your first visit to Korea will also include your first visit to a Korean spa (jjimjilbang, in Korean), here are some dos and don’ts to remember.
Do Make a Day of It. The point isn’t to rush in, scrub down, and head on your way. Instead you’ll want to spend time relaxing in a Jacuzzi, try several hot rooms—steam or sauna—and cool off in a pool. Ordering a cold drink and a traditional Korean dish—like baked eggs or seawood soup—is part of the entire experience. A minimum of two to three hours is recommended.
Don’t Be Shy. This isn’t a public swimming pool, and the dress code is easy to remember in the bathing areas: You’ll wear nothing at all. If you put on a bathing suit you’ll stand out, that is if you are even allowed in at all. In case this is all making you nervous, the bathing areas of Korean spas are segregated by gender. (The communal areas, however, which often include some hot rooms, are co-ed. In those parts of the spa, you’ll wear the t-shirt and shorts provided when you check in.)
Do Shower First. Before you enter any of the baths, which can include salt, mud, and baths at various temperatures, you’ll need to shower first. Soap and shampoo are usually for sale, though you’re also welcome to bring your own. Once you are all cleaned up, you can head into the communal areas where you’ll find snack bars and restaurants, ping-pong tables, and more, often including karaoke rooms.
Don’t Worry. All these suggestions, as well as the language barrier, should not scare you away from visiting a Korean spa. You may stand out and you may commit an inadvertent faux pas, but most Koreans will respect your interest in experiencing this central ritual of Korean life. Remember you are also meeting them at their most relaxed, as they are there to de-stress, just like you.
Photo of the entrance to Seoul’s popular Dragon Hill Spa by shippou/Flickr.