Jimjilbang (찜질방) is a place that is open for 24 hours where you can sleep, shower, rest, and relax for about 5000-10000 won ($5-10). If you watch Korean dramas or tv shows then you probably recognize these places.
For example: In the Korean drama Dream High they went to a jimjilbang.
There is gender separated public bathing areas (YIKES!) and unisex areas with snack bars, games, PC room, tvs, different temperature rooms, karaoke rooms, and large open areas to sit on mats and sleep or relax. It’s common for people to go for an overnight stay to Jimjilbang. Which is what I did…so here is my adventure….
I went with two of my friends (both men) which means I had to experience the whole public bathing area on my own! After being given my key for my locker and the change of clothes to wear (everyone wears the same outfit after leaving the shower area, a shirt and pair of shorts), I went into the shower area alone. I immediately came face to face with a bunch of naked Korean women, which doesn’t bother me too much. What bothered me was the fact that they were staring intently at me.
I immediately felt embarrassed so I ran over to the locker area and sent a message to my two friends and asked them what I am supposed to do. They told me to go shower, change my clothes, and meet them upstairs in the unisex area. So I decided to put on a brave face and just do it. This was my first time ever being naked in public, and it lasted for about a minute. I stuck out like a sore thumb in the jimjilbang. I was the ONLY foreigner, and I have blond hair which makes it even worse. As soon as I started taking off my clothes ALL the women were looking at me!!!!! It was so weird! My friends warned me before that if I go to a public bath house, then it would probably happen. I know to Koreans it’s no problem being naked and showering, but for me it’s crazy! My own mother hasn’t seen me naked since I was young, how can I let a bunch of strangers see me naked?!
So naturally, I panicked, and returned to the locker area and changed into the outfit they gave us. Which at this jimjilbang was a light brown shirt, and dark brown shorts, which were super comfortable by the way. Then I went upstairs and waited for my two friends.
Here is our oh-so-stylish brown outfits. They might not look good, but they were comfortable.
This is where I actually enjoyed my experience. We went to a hot room, which was maybe 70 degrees, and stayed there for a bit, then we went to a cold room to help get rid of our sweat. It was actually really relaxing.
Then we went to a large open area with families sitting and lying down on mats. Everyone was sleeping, eating, talking, playing games, or those types of things. This is what it looks like.
My friends and I sat there and talked for a bit, we got a popular rice drink called Sikhye and baked eggs (맥반석). These are common and popular things to eat and drink. Then we played some games in the game area, and just relaxed.
Sikhye (rice drink) Baked egg
Eventually we found some mats to lie on and went to sleep. If you are a light sleeper, then it may be hard for you. The snores of Korean men echo EVERYWHERE. So good luck falling asleep if that bothers you.
Also people fall asleep EVERYWHERE! As long as people can walk past you, you can sleep anywhere. You can sleep in the temperature controlled rooms, gender separated rooms (which are more quiet), in little areas cut into the walls, in the large open area, basically anywhere. Some people were just passed out in the hallway without a pillow or mat, and it was no problem. But if you’re going to sleep there, I would suggest trying to find a mat and pillow early. Around midnight it was hard to find mats and pillows for me and my friends. After walking around in a circle for about 15 minutes we eventually found mats and a place to sleep.
Jimjilbang’s are definitely not for everyone. You have to go in with a brave mind and a sense of adventure. I enjoyed it , but I don’t think it’s something I would do a lot. Only occasionally. But it’s definitely something I would recommend experiencing at least once!