After an entire day hiking the Namhansanseong Fortress, our tired body needs some pampering and what better way to do so than a Korean Jimjilbang / jjimjilbang?
Jjimjilbang is a gender segregated public Korean bath house, furnished with an array of hot tubs, shower, saunas and massage table. After watching so many scenes involving a jjimjilbang from the many Korean dramas, I had to see and experience for myself.
There are plenty of reviews about the famous Dragon Hill Spa but I felt that it may be overrated as it caters mostly for tourists and I am not keen to visit a jimjilbang that is too local either, for fear that we may accidentally walk into a Love Motel, as there is one just like that next to the AirBNB apartment that we were staying at. Eventually, we decided on Siloam Sauna.
Checking Into a Korean bath house – Siloam Sauna
Silloam Sauna was our refuge for the next 4 hours. Upon entering, we were greeted by a lady at the counter who asked if we will be spending the night in the sauna. If yes, we will need to pay KRW13,000 and if not, we’ll only need to pay KRW10,000. We opted for the latter and were given a set of mustard colored pajamas each and our shoe locker keys.
“Ladies section is on the left,” she said.
Upon entering the female area, we kept our shoes at the designated lockers and came to another counter where we’ll need to hand over the shoe locker keys. We are then given two small towels and have an option to purchase shampoo, body gel and scrubbing mits which we did. We were given another locker key that comes attached to a rubber band which we conveniently slip over our wrist to ensure we do not lose them.
Once at our lockers, it was time to get naked and prance around.
I’m not kidding – we had to walk around in our birthday suit. Wearing clothes is not even an option.
The initial idea of heading to a Korean Jimjilbang was daunting to say the least BUT being naked in public is a whole new different story! Talk about being awkward! Then I remembered a friend’s advice prior to my trip to Seoul (Thank you Jen Nee!) – Do not make any eye contact and you will feel less awkward. So that was what I did and after a while, I realised that she was right.
Two things came to my mind:
1. No one cares
2. I don’t know anyone in this room.
With that new found revelation, I pranced around like a boss… well.. not really. I tried to discreetly cover myself with the two small towels that was given at the second counter.
Lather, Rinse, Scrub, Repeat
Prior to jumping into any of the hot (or cold) tubs, it is important that you shower first. Jumping into one of the tubs without showering is frowned upon as Koreans do take their cleanliness and sanitization very seriously.
There are standing and sitting shower stations available and we opted for a sitting shower station towards a corner as there are no people around the area, except for a halmoni.
After shower, we walked towards the scrubbing station for an Korean body scrub treatment with an ahjumma. The scrub-a-thon began by us lying on a wet, plastic massage table and having lacy underwear-clad ahjummas splashing water furiously on us. The exfoliation began and I swear, it felt like I was being sandpapered.
I winced as it was a little painful and I muttered – “cheoncheonhi” which means slowly but I guess they fell on deaf ears as the ahjumma show no signs of slowing down at all. Even the most delicate of areas was not spared from the wrath of the ahjumma’s exfoliating mits. After about 15 minutes, ahjumma splashed another round of water on me, slathered some oil, and sent me off to shower. As much as the Korean body scrub was painful, I felt renewed and super clean, cleared of all the dead skin.
*Halmoni is a respectful Korean word for a grandmother.
*Ahjumma is a respectful Korean word for a married, or marriage aged woman.
Time to soak
Once my cousin and I are done with the second round of shower, we walked over to the variety of tubs available and tried out all of them.
- Jade bath – Jade stones are apparently submerged underground to collect its energy and this bath is meant to induce peace and tranquility.
- Loess bath – Made up of living soil that contains medicinal properties to re-energize the body.
- Mugworth bath – aid in women menstrual issues, irregular menstrual cycle and aid in menstrual cramps.
Needless to say, the mugworth bath was the most popular amongst others and we spent a good 15 minutes being soaked in 42 Degrees Celcius. In between switching the choice of tubs, we had to rinse off in icy cold water. The hot and cold temperature switch definitely gave a shock to my system, but the bath tubs was my absolute favourite experience of being in the Jjimjilbang!
After more soaking, we were famished. We rinsed one final time, hurried back to the locker, put on our pyjamas (finally!) and walked up a couple of floors to the restaurant for our dinner.
Note: Sorry – no pictures of the shower area (for obvious reasons!).
Of Seaweed soup, chilled buckwheat noodle, Elven plate roasted egg and sikhye
In every jjimjilbang scene from a Korean drama, roasted eggs and sikhye are staple food. Needless to say, it was a definite must try for me and since we had released all the toxins and sweat bucket loads in the tubs, we ordered chilled buckwheat noodle and seawood soup to balance the electrolytes in our system.
I’ve got to say that sikhye was one of the best beverage I have ever tasted! The sweetness and taste of barley malt and rice was absolutely delicious! Top that off with roasted egg.. mmmm… foodgasm at its best.
The seaweed soup was simple and reminds me of home as I grew up with my mom cooking seaweed soup for dinner every now and then. The chilled buckwheat noodles though, was a little shocking to my taste buds. It tastes great but probably not my top choice of food as I am not used to having ice cold soup, only hot ones.
After a fulfilling dinner, it’s time to hit the sauna rooms.
Sauna rooms and napping under bright red infrared rays
There is a variety of sauna rooms available in Siloam Sauna and out of the many, we selected a few options to try and even managed to nap a little in one of them. Some of the sauna rooms we tried includes:
- Hard charcoal cold room – This sauna room is covered with charcoal from wall to ceiling and is said to have many purifying properties that helps increase blood flow and enhance your metabolism which is perfect after our heavy meal!
- Loess sauna room – Another round of Loess treatment for us! After the 3 hours hike in the morning, I’m certain our bodies do need to be reenergised and my cousin was most comfortable in this sauna room and managed to nap a little.
- Grotto room – A combination of loess as brick walls and ground made of jade stone, the grotto room was my favourite. There are infrared lights installed and you are supposed to sleep under them (which we did!) to receive the energy of loess, jade and infrared light that helps with joint pain and stiff shoulder. I napped a little and for the first time in my life, I experienced the feeling of sleeping in a pod, or a tunnel.
- Ice room – This was our final sauna room and I lasted all but five seconds. It’s way too cold, like we’re out and about in snow wearing only a thin piece of pyjamas.
After the sauna rooms, we head back to our lockers, changed into our proper attires, and checked out of Siloam after spending more than 4 hours inside the jjimjilbang. It was late and we had to commute back to our AirBNB apartment using the Subway.
Tips for first time jjimjilbang-ers
1. Do not make eye contact – that’s the one golden rule I’d advice. It worked for me, making it less awkward about being naked in a room full of other ladies.
2. Be comfortable in your own skin – you’re naked among your own sex and really, people are less judgemental as you will be surrounded by naked bodies of all shapes, sizes and age.
3. Visit during weekday – Weekends are sure to be crowded and if it is your first time at a Korean jimjilbang, visit on a weekday for less crowd and lesser pair of eyes! We visited on a Wednesday night and we managed to find a quiet corner to shower in.
4. Get an ahjumma to give you a Korean body scrub – If you made it all the way to a jjimjilbang, braved through being naked in public, you NEED to get an ahjumma to scrub you too! It’s really an experience worth to try. Although I felt a little pain, I thoroughly enjoyed the scrub-a-thon and came out with amazing and clear skin!
5. Save a night on accommodation and sleep in a Jjimjilbang – If only we did not book a 5 nights stay at our AirBNB apartment, I would have made an easy decision to spend the night at a jimjilbang. Plus, it is cheap and offers a thoroughly Korean experience!
6. It is safe for a woman – I would advice that you look for a bigger scale jimjilbang to be safe. Although Silloam is not as touristy as Dragon Hill Spa, it is still a large Korean Jimjilbang in nature and do have tourists visiting them more compared to the really local smaller scale jjimjilbangs. Also, the bath houses are separated by gender and although sleeping arrangements happen in the communal area, which means co-ed, sexual impropriety is the last thing you’ll find yourself up against.
Getting to Silloam Sauna
Address: 128-104 Jungnim-dong, Jung-gu
Line 1, Line 4, Seoul Station, Exit 1, 5 minutes walk
Line 2, Line 5, Chungjeongro Station, Exit 5, 5 minutes walk
When in doubt, ask around! We were lost and a kind hearted young Korean guy walked with us all the way to ensure we do not get lost.
Have you been to a Korean bath house? Would you like to experience a Korean bath house? My first Jjimjilbang experience was a really good one and I will surely return for a second time on my next trip!