Foreigners from countries with four seasons or cold climates might find the Korean autumn and winter mild or tolerable. However, for people from tropical climates (like me) and for people who just prefer sunshines over snow, the low temperatures can be a bitch.
There are plenty of ways to escape the cold—from fishcake skewers and soju to boutique or cafe hopping. But one of the most satisfactory experiences would be the jjimjilbang or the famous Korean bathhouses.
Here are six things to love about a jjimjilbang during winter:
1. The Relaxing Baths
A bath and a good scrub is prerequisite to any of jjimjilbang facilities. You can pamper yourself in warm soaking pools after a hot or cold shower.
You can also go for warm medicinal baths for additional benefits, such as wormwood baths to help ease menstrual pains or charcoal baths can help improve blood circulation.
Jjimjilbang literally means ‘heated room’ in Korean, so the saunas are the main attraction in these bathhouses or mini-resorts.
There are various versions of the steam rooms that will simply soothe your chills, such as stone or clay thermal chambers with salt-pebbled floors or hemp mats.
3. The Special Saunas
Some unique saunas use materials that offer healing properties. For instance, some saunas may have crystals, loess balls, or even infrared chambers, which claims to help soothe arthritis and aching backs.
You can also lie on jade resting beds. Of course, they can also help soothe those stiff joints and cramps you might get from walking all around the chilly, hilly streets of Seoul. (Why not also get a massage? You can get a 50-minute session in some jjimjilbangs for additional fees.)
4. The Sleep Rooms
Missed that last subway or bus trip home? Had a few too many shots of soju? Want to escape your goshiwon or messy apartment for a night? Sleepover at a jjimjilbang!
The bathhouses have different (slightly more expensive) night rates, which you can take advantage of when you want to spend the night there.
Usually, you can stay up to 12 hours or until noon the next day—which is perfect, considering most subway lines and bus types start operating around 4:30 to 5:30a.m.
5. The Hot Meals
You don’t have to worry about what and where to eat when you come to a jjimjilbang during winter. They often have a Korean restaurant in-house, where you can get the usual hearty meals and hot snacks, such as miyeok guk (seaweed soup), kimchi jeongol (kimchi stew), odeng guk (fishcake soup), and ddeokboki (spicy rice cake). You can even slurp on some hangover soup.
6. The Fun Activities
Some luxury spas also have gym facilities, heated outdoor pools where you can swim laps, sports facilities, and other similar amenities that are available during the daytime.
Some would likewise have noraebangs (karaoke rooms), arcades, TV rooms or cinemas, and special fitness centers for yoga, horse-riding (you read that right!), and group exercises (aerobics, belly dancing, the works!) to get your blood pumping. You’ll never run out of dynamic things to do!
Fair warning: Some much-hyped jjimjilbangs can be pretty crowded, especially on weekends when both tourists and locals flock to the saunas.
You’ll see groups of friends, work colleagues (you’ll notice how juniors address their bosses formally—naked selves aside), families, and intertwined couples cuddling all night.
Of course, that shouldn’t discourage you from the unique experience! It might just save you, especially when you can’t stand the biting cold anymore.
Here, we also rounded up a few of the top-rated jjimjilbangs, so you can experience one yourself:
How to get there: Take the Exit No.1 from Seoul Station (Line No.1 or 4) and walk for about 400 meters, or take the Exit No.5 from Chungjeongno Station (Line No.2 or 5) and walk for about 450 meters. Have a map handy, so you don’t get lost. Otherwise, ask a tourist information center staff to give you the exact walking directions. You can also get off at Seobu Station by bus (Green bus – 06, 0015, 0016, 7013, 7024; Blue bus – 104, 163, 261, 262, 503) and walk 200-400 meters.
How to get there: Take the Exit No.1 from Yongsan Subway Station (Line No.1) and walk for about 200 meters (when you turn right after exiting the station at Gate No.1, it’s pretty hard to miss with its big sign and all its bright lights), or take the Exit No.3 Sinyongsan Station (Line No.4) and walk for about 350 meters. You can also head straight here if you’re coming from the airport since it’s accessible via the airport limousine bus no. 6001.
ADMISSION FEES FOR ADULTS: Day Rate (5:00 AM-8:00PM) 12,000 won; Weekends and Holidays Day Rate (5:00 AM-8:00PM) 14,000 won; Night Rate (8:00PM-5:00AM) 15,000 won
How to get there: Take the Exit No.4 from Jangji Station (Line No.8), and walk for about 700 meters. You can also take the blue bus no. 402 (Gwanghwamun-Jangji-dong) and get off at the Garden 5 stop.
ADMISSION FEES FOR ADULTS: Day Rate (5:00 AM-9:00PM) 10,000 won for boolgama sauna and 7,000 won for men’s/women’s sauna; Night Rate (9:00PM-5:00AM) 12,000 won for boolgama sauna and 9,000 won for men’s/women’s sauna; Weekends and Holidays Rate (12 hours between Sat. 5:00 AM to Mon. 5:00 AM) 12,000 won for boolgama sauna and 9,000 won for men’s/women’s sauna