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Today’s topic will be on Korean saunas or jjimjilbang (찜질방). Korean saunas are quite enjoyable. I always recommend my students to try it at least once, especially if they’re ever stopping by in Korea. Jjimjilbang’s(찜질방) vary in size and quality. Usually the most basic jjimjilbang’s (찜질방) charge about 10 U.S. dollars or less, while the more luxurious ones tend to cost around $30 and up per visit.
The most well known type of Korean sauna is called the hanjeunmak (한정막). This sauna is cave-like with a heating system like that of a pottery kiln. All you have to do is sit and relax. This is paricularly good for people with poor blood circulation, back/joint pain, or stiff muscles. I’ve tried it myself, and it felt like all my stiff muscles were loosened; so much so that I felt that I could have joined an acrobatic circus!
One thing foreigners should note is that you are required to take a shower before you enter the jjimjilbang (찜질방). This means that you have to be naked; no bathing suits are allowed. Showers are communal and separated by gender. The first time I went to a jjimjilbang (찜질방) I felt so vulnerable. Naturally you may initially feel very self conscious, but trust me no one is looking at you. Everyone is preoccupied with the business of scrubbing and washing, so no need to feel scared. What you should worry about is what hallway you enter. Remember that the rooms are separated by gender, and in some rural places the jjimjilbangs (찜질방) are not always labeled in English!
Since you’re going to be naked, you might worry about where you will put your clothes. The answer to that is a locker. Everyone is given a locker to put your belongings in, but you also have the option of letting them wash and dry your clothes for you, so it’s a full service! Don’t bother bringing any towels, they are provided without any additional fee, but you might want to bring your own soap. In many ways, Korean saunas have rooms that are much like public washrooms. You may get a lady or gentlemen to scrub your back for you, but you have to pay an additional fee, which may cost around $10-30 per scrub.
Depending on how luxurious the jjimjilbang (찜질방) is, you can also get a facial, a pedicure, a manicure, a massage, as well as some acupuncture work. I’ve tried acupuncture and it’s not that bad. I felt a little tingling at first, but once I got used to the pressure it was fine. After all the needles were removed I could feel the relaxing effects of the acupuncture almost immediately. After the acupuncture, I soaked myself in a green tea bath, which felt even more relaxing.
Want to know more about the jjimjilbang (찜질방), read the next post!