This weeks TL;DR Thursday (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is a topic that Martina is very excited about! Ausoul from Sydney asked us if we have every been to a jjimjilbang, which is a public bath house.

To be more specific a jjimjilbang (찜질방) is actually not a bathhouse for cleaning your body. A mokgyoktang (목욕탕) is a bathhouse, but if you go to a big jjimjilbang or a 24 hour one, you will have access to both. Also, you can pay entrance for one or the other, or for both.

So a jjimjilbang is kind of a well-being center where any gender can hang out fully dressed in the comfy shorts and t-shirts provided, and chill in various rooms. There are dry heat rooms of all degrees, cold rooms, rooms for extra oxygen, rooms to pay for a foot massage or back massage, and areas for sleeping overnight. Many people will crash there at nighttime when the subway and buses are not running. For around $6.00-10.00 a night, who can complain? Well, be aware that you do have to sleep on the floor and with a pillow that is so hard it could kill someone if you threw it at them, but still…at least you can sleep! You can eat ramen, eat a delicious baked egg, and drink some seriously refreshing shikhye (which is an ice cold sweet rice drink). Some of the more elaborate jjimjilbangs even offer PC rooms and/or even singing rooms.

Blowdry Crotch

You thought we were joking?

Simon has never been to either of these places after having some frequent and uncomfortable experiences when he went to a gym in Korea. It wasn’t anything serious, but whenever he was about to take a shower there he’d notice swarms of guys blowdrying their crotches and spraying perfume on said crotches. No joke. Not that there is anything wrong with that, he just suffered some serious culture shock at seeing that so out in the open…and surrounding him. Every since then, Simon kind of lost all interest in going to a jjimjilbang, but also, (what Martina thinks is the real reason) Simon really hates when the air is hot and steamy.

Martina actually loves hanging out at a mokgyoktangs with her closest Korean friend. She prefers to go late at night, as in after 11:00pm because they can be really reallllly crowded with families on the weekends or right after school. She is usually gone for hours, seriously, HOURS just chatting buck naked with her friend, putting on face masks and deep hair treatments, soaking in hot tubs, and scrubbing off dead skin. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but how can anyone bathe for HOURS! Anyways, she absolutely loves it. The concept of chilling with your friend in a bathhouse and scrubbing your backs is looked at as really a bonding experience that only family and the closest of friends can experience. It’s like going to a spa with your friend to unwind, but you don’t pay a stranger to take care of you. You take care of each other! Yay!

Some people are worried that as a foreigner it might be uncomfortable if you’re totally naked and being stared at, but honestly, after a couple of surprised glances, no one cares. The surprised look is from the Korean mindset that most foreigners are uncomfortable being naked in front of their friends/family, and we think that this stereotype is actually pretty true for majority of North Americans. Somehow we feel like some European countries might be more comfortable with this concept of naked bathing, but we’re not totally sure why. Anyone? If you’ve been to a jjimjilbang or mokgyoktang in Korea, we’d love to hear about your experiences. How about everyone else around the world? Would you be comfy getting naked with your (same gender) friends and scrubbing dead skin off each others backs? Let us know!

  1. Hello Simon and Martina, always love all of your video and finally I already decide to go to Korea next autum and I really wanna try jjiljimbang.
    But now I’m worried, I already know that korea is famous with one size concept, so for me who are a plus size woman, is that okay to go to jjimjilbang, do they provide bigger size sauna clothes?? I’m a size 16 btw.
    What happen if their clothes do not fit in me? :(
    I really need your help… Looking forward for your reply :D

  2. Yay, first comment being a member! I feel so involved. :) Anyway! When I was a junior/senior in high school, I went on a two-week travel abroad to Japan. I think my biggest regret of the trip was that I let my body insecurities keep me from going to one of their bath houses–we stayed over night at an onsen/hot spring, but I didn’t want people seeing me naked. Totally kicking myself for that now! I’m planning to teach in Korea, and will DEFINITELY be partaking of the Jjimjilbangs and public baths. As I am older and wiser now, I realize that nobody really cares what I look like. xD And I want to get out there and have all kinds of cool experiences!

  3. Hello! I’m from America, currently staying in Pyeongtaek, and my first jjimjilbong experience was at Dragonhill Spa outside of Yongsan station.(Exit 4, and then it’s across the street on your right) Nakedness with strangers isn’t common in the states, but because I’ve always been a bit more liberal and open-minded I didn’t have any problem stripping down. (My coven performs out Samhain ritual skyclad, you kinda have to get over some of those body issues!)

    I was alone during this trip, and while I initially got a few looks (which I was told later might have been because I keep clean-shaven downstairs :P) nobody really stared or anything, and I didn’t get bothered by anyone. It was a relaxing and fun experience! I think anyone who comes to Korea should visit a bathhouse at some point. I promise, so long as you wash yourself well before getting into any of the communal tubs no one will care about your body, cept you.

  4. whats the little mitten thing “death star” really called? And can you get it in Toronto?

    • Sorry for the late comment! In korean it’s called a 때수권 (ddesugwon), and I’m pretty sure you can find it in any major Korean supermarket. I don’t know what it’s like in Toronto, but in Seattle or LA you can find them in pretty much any Korean supermarket. Hope this helps!

  5. I’d love to know which ones you recommend visiting!

  6. Did anyone catch the Trogdor ref? Simon and Martina you two are brilliant!!

  7. I laughed when Martina mentioned BOF! It was so funny ~ however that may be what I would be like since I’ve never been..
    I have a question..if you go to public bathhouse/mokgyoktangs with your friends, do they just help you scrub your back and you do the same? Or is it only the case for Martina?

  8. Excellent video especially because many people confuse a bathhouse and jimjjilbang. I’ve been going to bathhouse, several times a week since 2000 and so far have been to about 30 different establishments. I agree, most foreigners don’t like them. However, they provide a really good insight into Korean culture, especially ‘skinship.’ Indeed, for Koreans, attending a bathhouse with a friend adds a deeper bond to the friendship.

    From a western perspective, bathhouse are probably one of the most  unexplored destinations and  few foreigners take to plunge – indeed I’ve only seen 10-15 westerners in all my visits. Forget the Boring Boryeong mud festival, if you want a unique, bizarre and totally Korean experience, you should visit one. I also have a blog dedicated to them, Bathhouse Ballads. (elwood5566.net)

  9. I know it’s an stupid question, but are woman or maybe girls shavedyou know down there ?
    so embarrassing ^^° 

  10. When visiting Korea last october, i went to a jjimjilbang in the Sinsa area after clubbing. I basically got there at 2:30 am and experienced sleeping on the (warm) floor. You’re right about the pillows, they’re super hard ^^ But it was definitely one of the best things i got to do there and when i go back to Seoul for Christmas, i’ll go get my scrub and hot water bath. 
    I’m French by the way, and the whole “being naked around strangers” thing felt really weird to me so the first minutes were awkward. But as you said, nobody paid attention so it felt easier after some time. I think most Europeans, or French at least, would feel awkward too, as there are not many occasions here to get naked together with your friends/family/anybody. That would rather be considered totally inappropriate.

  11. The thing I’ve been wondering is not “Have you ever been to a jjimjilbang” but “Have you ever been denied access to a jjimjilbang for being foreign?”

    A fellow teacher (from New Jersey) spent the weekend in Busan with her Korean friend, expecting to spend the night in a jjimjilbang. She was forced to scramble for a Plan B, however, when the man behind the desk basically told her friend, “We’ll let you in, but we don’t serve their kind here…” with a nod in her direction and no explanation as to why! She’s been to several across SK in the past few years without encountering anything like this.

    For my part, I’ve only been once, and it was with complete strangers. (A male student took my husband and myself – after having warned us several times, “I tell you again: ‘all clothes off.’ This ok?” – to the sa-u-na. So that I wouldn’t be alone on the girls’ side, he decided to rendezvous with his sister and her bff.) I was actually way more comfortable than I expected, and perhaps even more comfortable than I would have been with friends! Not sure why that is.

  12. now when simon says that … all i can think of is Teen Top “Don’t Spray Perfume”

  13. What’s the real name for the death star? And can you get it in America?

  14. Hair dryers for hair on head only. LOL :))

  15. You know I’m American and I think im pretty open to the idea of visiting a jjimjilbang or mokgyoktang…I’ll try it! Also im goin to use the word nakers for now on…i think its cute lol

  16. Hey Martina

    my friend and I are here in Seoul and we were looking for a good jimjibangs to go to.  We are staying in the Jongrogu area of Seoul.  

    Thanks a bunch

  17. i’ve never actually been in a bathhouse, but i can probably help explain your feeling about how some Europeans would handle it. they have nude beaches in Europe, remember? it’s not the same as a bathhouse, but it’s still being naked around other people in a way that’s not supposed to be sexual.  also, when we went to a pool in Italy, we went to a shower room after.  we were there with our friends who were living there, and they had lived there for 5 years by that time.  it was a big room with a bunch of shower heads, no privacy from the other women whatsoever. we didn’t get strange looks for not removing our bathing suits to shower, but the other women there had absolutely no shame about removing the tops, and i would be willing to bet that there are plenty of women who’d be perfectly ok with being totally naked in there.

    I also remember seeing some old public baths–it’s not real common in modern Italy, but way back when (especially in Roman times) they used public baths. it’s not quite as foreign a concept to them as it is to us North Americans.

    my biggest culture shock in Italy, i think, was the unisex bathrooms.  they aren’t everywhere, but they aren’t uncommon either.  also, some bathrooms charge for you to use them.

  18. I have a question for Martina.
    Are you addicted to Korean dramas??

  19. I apologize if this has been asked already, but what’s the real name of that Death Star scrubber?

  20. LOL…as i got that i don’t really like Jimjilbang, it’s okay for the dry heat rooms, but not for the Shower…
    is it different with Onsen in Japan?

  21. I am an American in Taiwan for the summer. Went to the hot springs here which are really relaxing but FREAKED OUT about having to be naked in front of people I had just met that day, strangers, etc. I am not comfortable being naked in any situation, even alone! To make things worse I am African American so I already get stared at, it was nice but I don’t think I could do it again.

  22. LMAO. Seeing that Mr. Ausoul is from Sydney, I think he meant AU-Soul. AU meaning Australia and SOUL. XDDDD

  23. Wouldn’t be an issue for those of us who come from Iceland - http://blog.icelandexpress.com/iceland/2006/11/24/reykjavik-swimming-pools-the-naked-truth/ and I think this is true for all of the Nordics (Norway, Sweden, Finland & Denmark) – even though you might have to look long and hard to find anyone willing to scrub the dead skin of your back :D

  24. Went to korea for a month, and a korean friend insisted that I go to the hot baths in our neighbourhood. I loved it! It was pretty cheap and really really nice, the only problem (as you put it ) is the nakers bit. I am from Canada aswell and people really do not get naked in any situation (even in changing rooms you would hide behind a towel). So everyone was naked and I was like ahh self concious-ness! After a while I was like w/e, look at my white bum I don’t care! You can wear a towel, or something of the sort but pretty much everyone is full blown naked washing there hair and bathing. I actually paid a woman to give me a full scrub down. I layed on a table  and she scrubbed me raw. I had taken a shower that day so I was pretty sure I was clean, But the skin and dirt they scrubbed off me was gross. I bought a scrubbing thing like you guys too, it helps alot :P
    I would recommend anyone to go, It is relaxing and nice. The salt rooms can be hot tho if you are not used to it.  I would recommend the oxygen rooms, I fell asleep for 5 hours, and I felt awsome after. Also I did go in the really hot sauna thing, It looks like a giant clay kiln, or cooking stove they give you a timer and you go inside. It was super hot; although apparently really good for you. I did NOT enjoy it and unless you are going with someone who knows about how it works or has done it before I don’t think I would recommend it at all.
    I am only upset we do not have these in canada, or the states ( cheap ones I mean) I would do all the time, it is so good for you and I think it helps with your self esteem, you learn that people are just people, you see what a woman actually looks like and that being naked is not a bad thing it is natural.

  25. Nakers, ha ha ha! I’m going to use that term from now on XD As an American, I would feel really uncomfortable being nakers in front of my friends and family; I even feel uncomfortable changing clothes in the locker rooms after practice O.O But hopefully, when I do go to Korea, I’ll overcome that uncomfortableness, and be able to dance around nakers in the public baths! :D The back scrubbing deal sounds really… scary! Black skin coming off…? O.O But I’m super curious now! :O When you mentioned Jun Pyo from BOF, I flipped out majorly *cough cough fangirl cough cough* 

  26. i got a big issue with saunas and places with hot air…i don’t think i can stay in a public bath for a min at all lol

  27. wait wait wait!!!! like naked NAKED…not naked with a wrapped towel around??!! because i’m from the US (grew up in VEGAS .< i would feel completely awkward. but i LOVE lonnngg baths and this experience would be hard to turn away from but i'd feel like there are just somethings you need just for yourself like it's just a reallly intimate thing and it'd be a privilege to be naked together with someone like a significant other. i can't imagine just nonchalantly sharing with the rest of the world (or at least the bath house). i don't think there is anything wrong with it. but it just feels wrong for me.

    please please please tell me you can run around in a towel and jump in the spring or pool naked and then rush out in a towel again LOL..because i'd be SOO down haha!

  28. Im american and yes it was uncomfortable the first time I went to a jimjilbang.  However, I have gone 4 more times since then and I really do love it and feel more and more comfortable each time I go.  I especially love the mineral waters on the east coast near Sokcho and Gangneung.  I had some digestion issues and within 15 min of being in the water, my stomach started moving and gurgling.  That bath said it was good for that and it really was!  Maybe Im a bit slow, but someone showed me that if i go into the cold bath and then the sauna, i can stay in there so much longer.  or you could do steam room, cold bath, steam room and wow is it refreshing!  Ideally its not crowded and no one is dying their hair next to you leaving the packets and chemicals on the ground.  Oh and once there was a little girl with a nose bleed next to me and i was downstream from her so i was a bit irritated.  

  29. I’m from a small european county – Lithuania.(I’m currently studying in the capital-city Vilnius and there live Lots of Polish people. dunno why i’m mentioning this XD)  and yeah… being naked in front of Anyone but your lover is seen as a weird/akward thing.

  30. I think I would feel fat between those really skinny korean girls ._.

  31. I’m from a small town outside of Boston in the U.S. and even though I’m open to new things this is still a bit of a culture shock.  There aren’t a lot of saunas around unless you go to some expensive country club and even then people usually go in after they’ve been swimming with their bathing suits on.

  32. lol I’m korean living in canada but funny thing is that in my high school law class there was a case where there was a public bath house in canada but it was being used as a gay hook up joint haha and I thought that was so funny since its such a normal thing in korea

  33. I’m an American (currently studying in Seoul) and I have to say, back home, I never would have thought to go to a bath house. People in the USA are super sensitive about their bodies and that’s in general something kept private. But when I first came to Korea, a friend said that I really needed to go to the baths and saunas.
    That being said, I went to a 목욕탕/찜질방 about two weeks ago and loved it. I’m dying to go back (which shocked my host mom. She tells everyone who will listen that her host student loves 찜질방!). I have no idea why, but after about a minute, the idea of being naked in front of people stopped bothering me. It was all really refreshing and I got to learn a lot about Korean culture!
    One thing I found really interesting is that I was actually stared at less in the bath than I am on the streets or on the subways. I am very very much a foreigner and tend to stick out, but in 찜질방 there seems to be an understanding that you come as you are and people accept it.

  34. Simon really hates when the air is hot and steamy.  <————— HOT and STEAMY right XD

  35. I’m from the Netherlands (though I lived in Canada for awhile) and it’d take some getting used to, since hanging out nekkid is noooot really a big thing here. But I think in the end it’d be fine, we’re pretty open-minded people over here.

  36. I live in the netherlands and Well at gym class in elementary school they shower in one big shower (girls and boys apart ofcourse) and at pools/at the sea you can see women with their tops of or little children naked ._. But probably 90% will feel awkward at a bath house o-o i will …

  37. Hey! so in Germany where I live they have bath houses, they even have a whole city that is known for their bath houses called Baden Baden. (sounds like bath bath to me!!!) But in all honesty people go to the pool naked in Germany (at least where I live) especially little kids. I’ve never seen an american do that though…

    • I think in Germany there are those who go to the sauna naked and those who wear bathing suits (such as my mother). It really depends on where you live. Small children usually are the only one’s naked where I always go to. Where I have been people wear their swim stuff (I have been in the northern regions and live in the South of Germany)

  38. I used to go to overnight camp in Muskoka, Ontario, and everyone had to shower in shower houses (one for girls and one for boys) which until a few years ago did not have curtains.  Anyway, it pretty much forced me to be comfortable being naked in front of other girls.  No one really stares at you and you talk to your friends while your shaving, rinsing, or washing your hair.  I don’t think a Korean bath house would bother me, but then again they are bigger than camp shower houses, so it might be a little awkward at first.  Not sure if I could deal with the back-scrubbing, though… a little too personal, I guess.

  39. I’m Swedish and currently visiting Seoul for summer college (which is great btw, I totally recommend it), which includes a lot of hanging out with Americans, especially Korean Americans. When I told one of them that I wanted to visit a sauna, she warned me: “Yes, but there is one thing you should know… you have to be naked in there” and I was like “…yes?”
    In Sweden, any regular bathing house (for swimming, not getting clean) and any gym will have a sauna where the rule is pretty strict: you can’t wear any clothes, but you have to sit on your towel. I seriously don’t get how North Americans use a sauna. Do you go to the sauna with clothes on even if it’s gender divided? Why? You would still see each other naked in the shower OR DO YOU ACTUALLY SHOWER WITH YOUR CLOTHES TOO? (just kidding)

    • Do you have any idea how warm is it in “their” sauna?

      Hello from Finland :)

    • In North America the showers are usually curtained off so you cannot see each other while cleaning, and so no, even though we don’t wear clothes in the shower, we also don’t see each other naked in the shower. And in saunas, usually North Americans go to them after swimming and keep their swimsuit on so that they are not naked in front of everyone else. In fact many places ban you from becoming naked as they feel it can be a privacy and hygienic issue. I live in the U.S. and pretty much the only places you see other people naked are 1) in your bedroom with your lover, 2) at a hot springs with some hippies, or 3) the occasional school locker room that doesn’t have curtains. I’m not sure why we are so private, it might just be that we are a bit shy and self-conscious about our bodies. I am glad your country feels open enough to have people that are not afraid to try such cultural things as going to public baths naked, I wish we had more people like that so we could be less prudish lol.

    • well also Italians feel unconfortable about being naked so when I´m in Italy I am the one feeling awkward cause I´m used to Germans and for Germans is completely normal to be naked in a sauna!

      sorry if I bother you but I will go to Seoul and I´m actually looking for some summer colleges so I was wondering if you could ge me some advices…
      if you want you can write to me on facebbok

  40. I live in the Washington DC and we have a Korean bathhouse called Spa World in nearby Centerville.  My husband and I love it.  It has both the jjimjilbang (찜질방) and mokgyoktang (목욕탕).  My favorite hot room is the “clay ball room.”  It is very hot and the floor is covered with little hard balls, which feel really good when you lay on them.  if anyone is in the DC are I highly recommend Spa World.

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