Jjimjilbang (찜질방) / by Tyler Wood

I knew I would see this at some point in my trip but I didn't expect to get used to it so fast.

The jjimjilbang is the Korean version of Turkish baths. I have never been to a Turkish bath, but I understood the idea. I was about to walk into a room full of naked Korean men and attempt to walk while staring at the ceiling. I was expecting to get into the place, get undressed and get in the showers and then put on the outfits they give us and go into the baths in the coed place. That is what I was expecting.

Right off the elevator to the men's floor my first sight was naked Korean man just chillin' at the desk chatting up the guy at the counter. "I guess it starts now."

We went to Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan. It had a reputation for being kind to Westerners (some places won't let you in, especially if you have tattoos). It was huge. The men's floor was on the fifth floor. After the immediate naked man to the eye sockets we entered the floor, sort of a locker room, and walked to our lockers. There were old and young in there. And by young I mean kids sitting next to their dad all naked and normal. There was a place to buy drinks and men's toiletries. They had a barbershop and massage place with cupping (where they suction cups to your back - get your head out of the gutter), and the showers. We got our lockers and changed into the outfits they gave us, and we felt like we joined a cult. We walked around and checked the place out and realized we couldn't delay the inevitable any longer - we had to get naked.

After the initial concern, and the long walk through the locker area, I was already used to it. It felt quite freeing actually. We entered the shower area and took a shower. We were informed that it is frowned upon to not scrub the hell out of yourself because of the sharing of the baths later. It made sense, we'll get to that.

After the shower we walked down a bit to the baths (same room) and saw the temps. There were three different baths - 40 degrees Celsius,  44 degrees, and 16 degrees. We got in the 40 degree tub and relaxed a bit. We saw the sauna near the back of the place and a guy getting a man on man scrub-down (no women allowed of course) in the corner. It was all very odd, but it became normal faster than we both thought it would. The only thing that kept surprising me was the little boys wrestling in one of the other tubs and sometimes a teenager at that very awkward age of growth walking around naked. Perhaps it helps with the self-esteem to get used to being naked and then not having to worry about it? Anyway, after the 40 degree tub we sat our naked asses on the bench in the sauna (hence the scrub in the shower I mentioned). It was nice, it even had a cold pool to put your feet in if you wanted. After sweating in the sauna we made a break for the freezing cold 16 degree pool. It really wakes you up jumping in to your neck in that thing. Once our bodies got used to it we got into the hottest 44 degree pool so our feet felt like fire. It is not recommended if you have heart problems or anything else that extremes would exacerbate.

By this point the nudity became a non-issue. We had done our rounds and wanted to see what else was here. We weren't meeting the girls we came with until later, but we went to the coed section to check it out anyway. We got in our cult gear, no shoes or sandals though, and went down to the first floor. There were a few restaurants (always is in Korea) and a huge heated floor (hard) where people were laying down, couples were cuddling, and others were asleep. They had a nail salon, more massage places, saunas, an ice box, a gaming room (PC), a stage where a magician was doing an act, massage chairs, and TV rooms. There were many families, some holding board games, hanging out together. It appeared to be the indoor place for picnicking. We sat in the hot sauna first. It felt very Holocaust to me, but we made our way in to a huge oven and roasted. Then we went into the ice box where the ice was all over the walls and the roof was crystal. It wasn't that cold at the time, after the oven it felt great, but it was pretty cold. Other saunas were milder and people were hanging out in them or even watching TV.

We met the girls and got the report from them what was going on in their baths. They had more baths than we did. They had ginseng, salt water, and green tea baths. 

We ended up eating lunch there. We thought they had Indian food, but they meant Native American food, not Indian food. It said Indian, however, and had ribs and sausages - nothing I recognized from my days on the res. They even had the dude dressed in his regalia holding a plate of 'authentic Indian' food. We ate at the Korean restaurant instead. We had overpriced Korean staples.

After that we needed to digest before another round of the baths and saunas. We grabbed some head pillows and took a quick nap on the floor. Checked out the massage chair (a buck for 15 minutes) and then made our way back into the locker to get naked again. We were pros at this point, showered and got in the 40 degree tub. We made our circuit a second time and showered up. After you exit they have enough towels waiting for you to dry a hundred elephants, so I used one towel for each limb. They also have q-tips and hair dryers for your use. We got our clothes back on and got our view of the bill. Total cost for 5 hours at the spa, (overpriced) lunch, water, and a massage chair was 24,000 원 (about 20 bucks)!