If there is one thing that Korea is famous for other than kimchee, I would say it is the "jjimjilbang."
Jjjimjilbangs are difficult to describe because 'bath house' doesn't really bring a picture to your head, especially if you are from America. The main part of any good jjimjilbang is the sauna which usually has a variety of hot and cold tubs at different temperatures that say they are 'energy' or 'medicine'. But there is so much more to it than just sweating out all the bad stuff.
After you pay the entrance fee you'll get a key attached to a wristband with a number for your locker and a change of clothes (loose-fitting shirt and shorts) to change into after you bathe and to wear in the co-ed areas. Once you're clean, then it's time to explore or find the perfect place to sleep for the night.
One of the most popular jjimjilbangs in Korea amongst foreigners is Dragon Hill Spa located in Yongsan. Don't be fooled by the appearance of the entrance. It's way bigger than it seems.
The walkway into the spa is really serene as you enter through a narrow passageway surrounded by bamboo trees and green Christmas lights.
Here is the floor plan of the spa. As you can see, each floor is filled with different features including screen golf, arcade, fitness club, rooftop terrace, cinema, PC room, and restaurant.
Here is the open space where you can sleep. The floors are heated so if you get hot easily, I suggest going down to the cinema when there's no movie on. It's cooler and no one really goes in there!
On a weekend, these places get so packed it can be difficult to find a place to sleep as Koreans make it a family event, or kids use it as a way to escape the home. So if you don't like crowds, try to explore during the week, but if you want to see one in full effect then make your stay on a Friday or Saturday!
Although I was appalled by the thought of being naked in front of other women, it was an experience that made me feel closer to the culture. If anything, no one really looks at you as they don't want to be looked at either. I hope you try out different saunas and jjimjilbangs in Korea. It's cheaper than a hotel and you get a free luxury bath out of it!
Aeri Park has had a multicultural history taking her from Seoul to Buenos Aires to Atlanta and back again. She graduated Emory University in 2008 and wanted to experience the culture of the place she was born. Aeri arrived in Suwon in 2010 and is now enjoying her second year teaching for Chungdahm in Pyeongchon. So far she has most enjoyed the food, fashion, and never ending list of places to explore. Follow Aeri to see where she goes!