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How to Use a Korean Spa

July 22, 2015

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Hey everyone! We’re writing this from San Francisco as we’re currently on the road and almost half-way done our Meet Your Kimchi tour. We’ve been a bit behind our publishing schedule because we’ve spent so many hours on the road. SO MANY HOURS. And we’re just about to drive another 7 hours tomorrow. And as I add to this blog post, we have already left gorgeous San Francisco and I (Martina) am currently sitting in the backseaaaaat of the EYKmobile while it is driving through glorious farmland on our way to Los Angeles! We did film some videos in advance to prepare for our absence from Korea. This video is from back when we were on our first big road trip of the year around Jeju and Busan.

SpaLand 스파랜드 is a famous giant spa located in Busan in the Shinsegae Centum City shopping mall in the Haeundae area. It is on the more pricey side at around ₩15,000 a person but you can catch cheaper deals by going early or during the week. To begin with, the concept of a spa is different in Korea so if you expect soft music with outrageous prices and full body seaweed wraps you’ll be disappointed. There are those kinds of spas in Korea but they are mostly located in hotels and attached to their chain. We’re talking about the good old fashion Korean style spa. It has many names, jjimjilbang/bathhouse/sauna…so let’s get started on explaining this important part of Korea culture.

To begin with, it can be very intimidating to visit a Korean bathhouse because not only are you buck naked, you now have a bunch of unspoken cultural rules that you have to follow. I’m hoping this blogpost will give you the confidence to visit a bathhouse because they’re totally awesome.

Every single city and town in Korea has at least one bathhouse. You can look for the symbol which looks like a red tea cup with three waves of steam coming out of it. Now not all bathhouse are equal. Some of them are 24hours, some of them are only a bathhouses, some have swaggy stuff in them like noraebangs or pool tables, some of them have just basic stuff. If it’s your first time visiting a bathhouse, I recommend going during the week because the weekend tends to be very busy.

The Bathhouse 목욕탕 VS The Jjimjilbang 찜질방

The basic fee you have to pay is for just the bathhouse also know as the mokyeok-tahng 목욕탕. The 목욕탕 is the bathing area. If you tell someone you’re going to the 목욕탕 it is implied you’re going just for washing. You can’t sleep there, you don’t wear t-shirts, it’s just a bathhouse. You can pay for just that, deep soak in the various hot tubs, enjoy the steam rooms, wash your hair, shave, etc and head home. The bathhouse part is NOT unisex! It is separated by male and female.

Almost all of these bathhouses have the public unisex meeting area known as the jjimjilbang 찜질방 attached to them where you can enjoy dry hot sauna rooms, ice rooms, entertainment, eating, and sleeping on the hot floors. If you want to hang out with your mixed girl/guy friends and wear those matching t-shirt and pants and eat eggs, you’re going to want to pay for the jjimjilbang at the entrance. You’ll know you’ve paid for it if they hand you your tshirt uniform! That is where all those funky heat rooms are located. Depending on the swag level, entrance for both will cost between ₩6.00-₩20.00

You can skip the bathhouse and hang out in the 찜질방 if you are uncomfortable with getting naked but honestly, once you get naked you’ll quickly get over it as you see all shapes and sizes of people that just don’t care. I’ve had some great naked conversations about my tattoos or hair colour with some adorable Korean grandmas but no one is rude or judgemental.

Your Shower Station

Once you get naked, you want to leave your bigger towel in your locker because the bathhouse area is very moist. I usually bring a small towel in with me so I can wrap up my hair after. Bring all your shampoos and soaps with you and look for a big plastic bowl and giant shower stool. Those are free to use so grab a stool and dump all your products in the bowl. You might see some shower stations with the plastic stool all set up with a bowl on top of it. That usually means someone is using that area and is currently soaking in a tub, so look for a station without any products or shower scrubbing towels in front of them. Plop your stool down and give it a quick scrub with the public soap and rinse it off. You are ready to begin! You can leave all your stuff there and go back and forth to the hot tubs, steam rooms etc and no one will take your stuff.

The Hot Tubs

This is very important: you must shower and soap up before getting in the hot tubs! It is considered very gross for you to just take your sweaty dirty body and get into a hot tub. Those tubs are for clean bodies! It’s also considered polite to pull long hair up onto your head so you don’t get tons of hair in the water. Also I personally recommend soaking in a hot tub before beginning your exfoliating scrub routine since it will loosen your skin.

Scrubbing

Those little Italy Towels I showed you at the beginning are available for purchase at the bathhouse, but you can also pay a bathhouse ahjumma to intense scrub you. You can book a time, pre-soak yourself in a hot tub, and wait. They scrub ladies are easily recognizable because they’re the only people walking around in a bra and underwear on the bathhouse side. If you’re visiting the male side, he should be walking around in underwear. Yup. Tighty whities.

The scrubbing station is like a plastic wrapped massage table and yes, you’ll be totally naked. You can pay between $20-45 depending on if you want a full body scrub or just your back. You can pay for add ons like a death massage beating (those ahjummas be strong), face mask, oils, and so on. It can be very painful if you have sensitive skin but you’ll come out being baby butt smooth. If you don’t want to pay anyone, you should know that this is really the most important part of going to a Korean bathhouse, in my opinion. This intensive scrubbing off of the skin is not part of Japanese bathhouse culture. It’s very Korean. It’s also done dry, which means you don’t add soap or anything slippery to your skin.

I learned the secret art of Korean scrubbing via my good friend Seokbok who taught me the correct way to scrub. After waiting for my skin to become super pink and soft in the hot tub, I’m ready to scrub! You don’t want to violently rub the area over and over again, it’s more a thought out pattern. I go for a down stroke method so that I don’t re-rub the same area again or you’ll burn your skin. As you scrub you’ll see little rolled up balls of dead skin sloughing off your body. It’s both gross and fantastic!

So I hope that gives you some basic tips about visiting a bathhouse in Korea. It is intimidating at first but I assure you it becomes very addictive especially in the winter time!

So we have more footage that didn’t make it in so make sure you check out the bloopers on our bonus channel, simonandmartinabonus or you can check them out below. Also, we’re putting up the how to make a sheep hat towel tutorial on our app so make sure you check it out!

So have any of you visited a bathhouse in Korea or Japan? I’d love to hear about your experience. Do other parts of the world have similar bath houses? Let us know!

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How to Use a Korean Spa

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  1. Been away from EYK for a couple months. Sorry, dudes. BUT, I am back and WOW everything has changed O_o! This will take some getting used to…was there a video about the website overhaul? Also —> SEE YOU IN CHI-TOWN!! :D …yea..this had nothing to do with spas.

    2 years ago
  2. Ooh. This is my first time commenting on the new site!
    I like it!

    I really love the idea of Korean Spas and this is very interesting to see and read about. I feel like it is one of those things that you can make an all day experience, sleeping, eating, chilling and generally getting very very refreshed.

    Thanks for suffering such challenging relaxation for us!

    2 years ago
  3. hey guys, i just went to my gym (Bally fitness Jeongja) that also has a spa and jimjilbang attached. I was horrified to see a big sign before the check-in station stating (in Korean) “for the comfort of others people with excessive tattoos are not allowed entry”. WTF? It went on a bit in Korean about mutual respect being very important, but nothing about why mutual respect should necessitate this kind of prejudice. Instead of standing up for understanding and brokering some bridges, Bally stood firmly on the side of building walls. Shame on them. I wonder if you guys ever experienced a hard time due to your lovely tattoos. Peace out.

    2 years ago
  4. I screamed. That chair needs to go sit down. Lol.

    2 years ago
  5. Yay for this video! We have two in Dallas, my favorite is King Spa which is a little less swanky and more laid back. They have swimming pools with massage jets and even a pool/bar. They also have an ice room and two very moderately temperatures rooms that might be more Simon friendly. :P In addition to Martina’s kit of necessities I always bring deodorant, a clean pair of panties and clean bra for when I leave, and a book. For blind people, I always wear contacts so I don’t have to deal with the constant fogging and other hassles, but I do bring moisturizing eye drops for after those super hot and dry saunas when my contacts start feeling a little… Crispy? You can walk barefoot but some also allow socks or little feetie things with grips on the bottom, King Spa sells them too. I never used to wear anything and had happy feet, then I developed psoriasis on one foot which looks kinda scary so I started wearing the feetie things to keep people from freaking out. I wish more cities in America had these places, I don’t know about other places in the world but we can all be so incredibly body conscious and have such unrealistic ideas about what bodies should look like. When you routinely spend time in these bath houses you learn pretty quickly how unique and flawed everyone is and possibly because of this, beautiful. There are no perfect airbrushed supermodels there, you see real women of all colors, shapes and sizes and begin to appreciate your body for what it is, real. So for me these places aren’t just an amazing place to relax for the day and spoil yourself physically, but emotionally as well.

    2 years ago
  6. What Simon needs are the type of spa’s they have out in Colorado where in the winter you can sit in either or both the Sauna or the hot tub and then jump right into a deep snowbank. Shock therapy … its awesome … especially when you add alcohol to the hot tub part.

    Suzi is really rocking the Park Sandara look in this vid.

    2 years ago
  7. I’ve been watching Late Night Restaurant, the Korean adaptation of a Japanese manga about a restaurant that is open from midnight to 7 a.m. I’m loving the show, I worked third shift in a 24 hour restaurant many years ago and I loved discovering the alien world of night workers. Since then I’ve worked in my share of restaurants and bars and there is a whole other after hours world that the nighthawks inhabit.

    I’m curious, what do the nighthawks do in Korea? Where do you go after work if your job keeps you out until 3 a.m.? What about the early morning workers? If you have to be at a market at 3 a.m. where do you go for lunch? How does Korea help the night owls function?

    2 years ago
  8. OMG the magician & you part, I laughed so hard :P

    2 years ago
  9. Ok, real question here. When you’re in the uniform t-shirt do you put your underwear/bra back on? I’m quite conflicted. On one hand, sweating it out in a steam room with a normal bra on would be hell, yet walking around without one in just the uniform t-shirt wouldn’t be great either. Do you bring a specific sports bra with you? What’s a skinny, petite girl with big boobs to do?

    2 years ago
    • Here in Dallas we have two Korean spas, one I frequent as much as I can afford. As a busty lady I can relate. What I do is bring two bras and two pairs of undies. One set I wear under my little uniform and I keep one fresh pair in my locker for when I am ready to leave. It makes me more comfortable all around. Hope that helps! Also, on top of what Martina brought, I always bring deodorant too.

      2 years ago
  10. Martina and Simon, I’ve tried to fold my towel… with very limited success. Who do you think wears it better? Me or the cute Korean baby?
    https://www.facebook.com/Koreanfactoftheday/posts/803698213080123

    2 years ago
  11. As a Finn it’s funny that Simon thinks under 40c is too hot. haha In Finland we have saunas everywhere and most houses have their own sauna. Like we have one too and I go there three times a week! The temperature is usually from 80c to 100c which is very nice~ Since you guys are coming to Finland, I hope you can try sauna (it’s not hard to find one but I actually live in Tampere if you wanna visit haha)! ;D
    Also being naked isn’t a problem for most Finns because of our sauna culture. You are naked in the sauna and it’s weird if you have clothes on. That’s why Korean saunas are interesting since you have to wear clothes… Though I would like to visit one someday! Last time I went to Seoul I didn’t have the time.

    2 years ago
    • High five, bro (or sis :)!
      We had big public “banyas” till the middle of the last century, because people either didn’t have running water, or generally bathing facilities at home. The Russian humid banya is only 60 c, but, darn, it’s so hot! There used to be “male” and “female” days. And I went to a public banya with my grandma as a child. Nowadays, most Russians prefer dry saunas. But if a person buys a piece of land, the old-school banya is the second thing that they build there :)
      Btw, concerning nakedness, Koreans only wear clothes in the shared “lounge” area, and they are naked in the bath area.

      2 years ago
  12. Thank you. That was very interesting. And I’m so glad to know that I am NOT missing out on the eggs AT ALL…LOL I never knew they were BAKED!!! That explains so much. You guys really looked relaxed afterward. That’s a good thing…right? Love & Peace. Linda.

    2 years ago
  13. Poor Simon ;D in Lithuanian’s water park there is ice sauna ;D i think that’s would be perfect for him ;D
    Personally i don’t like dry sauna, i more like steam

    2 years ago
  14. I really want to go to one of these spas. I should also make a note to buy my mom and I those Italy towels. She’s heard from a co-worker how effective it is removing all the dead skin, and she wants to experience it.

    I used to be somewhat like you Simon in that I couldn’t stand being in saunas. It was too hot. However, I went into a steam room for the first time at the community centre pool and slowly made my way to the sauna level of heat. I think I’ve convinced myself that the heat in the sauna prepares me for whenever I decide to go to HK again during the summer…. but I’m not sure…

    2 years ago
  15. How weird is this? I was just telling my friend that we needed to go to one of these on our permanently delayed Japanese-Korean adventure trip! But I think I would love this because I’m the anti-Simon. Seriously, I can’t stand being cold. My dad keeps his house at 18.3-21.1 C and always complains that I wear socks and long pants when I come to visit. But I get cold really easy and I get miserable! Oh, and Simon? Prepare to be highly displeased with the weather in Atlanta; August in the South is like 37.8 C minimum every day but it feels more like 40.6- 43.3 because of humidity!

    2 years ago
  16. Went to Siloam in Seoul. And I’m just like Simon, kept going “nope, nope, nope” at most of the rooms, cause they were too hot! xD My mom and sis loved the hot rooms though (they’re weird =P ) The cold rooms were so nice to sleep in, and it was quite fun trying the different baths and rooms.

    I really enjoyed my jjimjilbang experience~! Had fun cracking eggs on each other’s heads. ^^

    2 years ago
  17. OMGG!! The blog post is so important. I went to Japan last december by myself, I’m 17. I had some connections with a Japanese family so I stayed in their house. It was the best time of my life, first time I was flying overseas (I’m Mexican). The family that was taking care of me took me to an “Onsen”, that is the equivalent to a korean bathhouse. At first I was soooo scared, like, come on, I didn’t want to be naked around other japanese girls. I felt like so insecure about my body and stuff, but then this girl that is like my Japanese cousin told me: don’t worry! It’s totally normal! nobody cares about your body, they will all be minding their own business. And I gathered courage and did it. I felt so much better with myself after that experience, besides, IT’S FUCKING AWESOME! I was so relaxed afterwards and my body felt so good!
    The only thing that I should have known before was the thing about the showers being taken. Like, when I got in like to shower I was so nervious because I was naked that I just wanted to sit down and cover myself in soap (I just had to wash my face tho.(Ishowered before entering)), so I took one spot that was already taken, it had the bowl full of water with a tiny towel inside, but I didn’t knew that meant it was taken, so I started washing my face and then this girl comes and starts to speak with the girl sitting next to me. I don’t speak 100% japanese but I swear I could understand what they were saying, it was like: -She’s sitting in my chair! -Didn’t you left your stuff here?- -Yeah, I left the towel!-. They didn’t talked to me tho. So when I finished washing my face I just ran to a hot pool and never looked back. It was an amazing experience, I loved it. Just one tip, don’t stay in the hot pool for too long because it can hurt you.

    Sorry for the bible comment haha.

    2 years ago
  18. I didn’t finish reading the blog post but Martina, IMMA PUT YOU ON MA BACKSEAAAAAAT, PUT YOU ON MA BAEKSEAAAAAT

    2 years ago
  19. I like how Martina had to write the blog because Simon looks like he left a part of his soul back at the spa and doesn’t want to go back and get it.

    2 years ago
  20. Liz

    That sounds like a really cool experience! Are there any spas with English speaking staff or translations? I’d be really worried about going to one and not speaking any Korean… :(

    2 years ago
  21. Spa Land is in New York (Queens specifically. Or was it called Spa Castle?). I’ve wanted to go for so long and I’ve had to explain to my friends it’s totally legit. I think there’s a groupon for it.

    2 years ago
    • It’s probably Spa Castle since they are in Texas too. It is AWESOME! Read reviews though because one of them in New York had really bad stuff going on in the complaints. In Korean spas in the US, people get really annoyed if you go in and out of the saunas like Simon did.

      2 years ago
  22. There are a lot of times that Simon reminds me of my husband. He’s got Polish blood, too, so it’s looks and personality. Snuggling was weird at the end. XD

    I love you guys so much and I’m sad that I will miss you in Atlanta. I was going to go, but then we got a dog who needed medical treatment. Ah well. He’s a sweetie.

    2 years ago
    • Aw! I’m sorry we’re not going to be able to see you this time around. Hopefully next time we do a tour?

      2 years ago
  23. Finally!! I’ve been waiting for this post for ages. I’ll watch it once I get back from uni :D

    2 years ago
    • Yay!

      2 years ago
      • Oh Simon you’re such a wuss. That spa land looks AH. MA.ZING. xD

        I think I’ve been to a similar one in Japan – Sendai or something. Korean-style bath houses are all the rage in Japan as well; although the Japanese-style places still predominate. I think Korean-style ones are more designed for big cities…? With all the fancy sauna rooms and whatnot. I remember telling the difference but I can’t quite remember now. Been to too many places. But those italy towel scrubby things are uniquely Korean, and they’re sold in Japan under the name of ‘akasuri’ – but they’re all made in Korea. Another Korean product that has taken the Japanese bathhouse market by storm is the face-peeling gel. Sounds scary but I love that stuff. All my blackheads GONNEEEEE. I also like the stuff for your feet – the sole-scrubbing gel or brushes – because my feet are really rough and callused.

        Yes I am a bathhouse addict. I like everything HOOTTTTTT 35 degrees is my comfortable temperature, anything above that is heaven xD

        2 years ago
        • You darn right I’m a wuss! I can’t handle heat like this. I need cold air always. ALWAYS. Though, I’m ok with hot air outdoors. It’s only when it’s hot air in closed rooms that I start to panic.

          2 years ago