My First Time at a Korean Jjimjilbang: Spa Land Busan

by Natalie

Disclaimer: I know that this is too much writing, too few pictures. I didn’t take any. I apologize.

Here is a picture I did take of a Busan sunset instead.

Pros

  • Get naked: It’s a lesson in body confidence
  • Free eggs?
  • Very relaxing

Cons

  • Feel incredibly uncomfortable until you’ve learned the lesson of body confidence
  • Can be awkward if you don’t want eggs


I got to South Korea. Googled ‘top things to do in South Korea’. Because. Well. I have no imagination or knowledge of my own. And was flooded with the reams of advice on the interweb telling me to spend the night at a jjimjilbang.

I googled it and was disappointed to find that a jjimjilbang is, in fact, a Korean spa and not a sex thing. But I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

After all, most of them are open 24 hours a day and are cheaper than even the shittiest of hostels. And then I was offered the following advice by a guy I met who was living there. ‘Yea it’s definitely a must-do while you’re here. Just make sure you pick a spot by the security cameras in case anyone tries to rape you in the night’…Right. Great. Yea….

…I decided to just go in the day instead.

Spa day

At first, I was a little apprehensive. Because I’ll be honest. I’m not even a fan of wearing short sleeves in public because it means that my upper arms will be on show. A big part of the Korean spa experience is enforced public nudity.

I was also worried about being able to correctly follow the reportedly, very specific, rules about where to be naked, and where you absolutely should not be naked.

But, fuck it. I was only going to be in South Korea once (probably). What’s the worst that can happen?

I chose Spa Land in Shinsegae Department Store, Busan. Partly because of great reviews, like this one. Partly because some of the reviews promised signage in English and I was still worried about taking a wrong turn and ending up completely naked in the middle of the world’s largest department store. And partly because, well, I was in Busan.

We arrived and paid about 15000 won per person for 4 hours. Praise the lord, the staff spoke English, told us where to go, how to use the lockers, and gave us some towels and what looked like an oversized prison outfit.

The baths

Let me tell you, the baths were a very liberating experience. For a girl who exclusively wears outfits consisting of several layers of ‘too big’ clothing, when it comes down to it, I’m quite the natural at being publicly naked. Either that or my habit of pretending I know what I’m doing and am aware of what’s expected of me at all times is unbreakable, even in the face of extreme discomfort.

And it turns out the answer to the question ‘should I be naked now?’ is easy. Because the answer is yes.

There are baths of varying temperatures both indoors and out. The warm ones were very relaxing. The cold ones were terrible (what can I say, hypothermia just isn’t my favourite health condition).

I even got comfortable enough to brave an exfoliating treatment. I felt like a new woman! And not because I literally was one after all of my skin layers had been scrubbed away. But because you don’t know what body confidence is until you’ve laid down naked in a room full of people while an ageing Asian woman dressed in lingerie spreads your legs and violently scrubs all of your body parts (even the ones dangerously close to your actual vagina) to within an inch of their lives.

The jjimjilbang

Then it was onto the communal rooms. This is the bit where you get to put on your prison clothes. Here, they have a variety of therapeutic rooms of different temperatures and healing properties. Ranging from the ‘ice room’ which is just basically a room with air con. To a blisteringly awful room of around 70 degrees.

Most of the rooms under 50 degrees were so relaxing I almost slipped into a coma. Then there was the sauna. Now, I personally don’t find saunas relaxing. I find the suffocating heat and ability to hear my heart beating in my brain to be panic inducing. But maybe that’s just me.

But once I stepped inside, I accidentally sat next to a woman who was so entertained by pointing at the many beads of sweat dripping from every pore in my body (who even knew knees could sweat?!) that I felt I had to stay. About 10 minutes into the sweating an elderly Korean man entered the sauna, sat down, and offered me an egg.

I remember that I read something about eggs and saunas in my bathhouse research, so I didn’t know if it was just a thing to sit, drenched in sweat, in a confined space with 10s of strangers and eat, possibly the most offensive smelling food of all time. Or whether it was just because Korean people are crazy about eggs in general. But I really really didn’t want an egg.

If you would like to experience what an uncomfortable social situation feels like, try to politely decline a boiled egg through mime (due to the language barrier) at the same time as dripping in sweat and fighting for consciousness in a 70-degree room.

Before I knew it I had come to the end of my four hours. And thus concludes my first (and only) trip to a Korean jjimjilbang.

Conclusion

Not for you if you have some sort of contagious skin infection.

However, if you enjoy sitting naked in communal pools of water, eating eggs in hot weather, and wearing comfortable yet unflattering pyjamas in public, then the jjimjilbang is right up your street. If you don’t like any of those things then try it out anyway, it’s good to do things that are out of your comfort zone right?

And if you’re as socially inept as I am, read this. It’s what bought me out of my ‘I’m going to do everything wrong and everyone will point and laugh at me while I’m naked’ anxiety attack.

Overall, it was a thoroughly relaxing way to spend an afternoon (after coming to terms with the public nudity). Four hours didn’t seem long enough somehow, and I would definitely go again, probably everyday if I could.

So if anyone knows of any Korean style spas in Canada then please let me know, so that when I move there I can make plans to live next door to one. I may never wear clothes again!

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