July 22, 2015
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.
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!