On surviving the jjimjilbang or how to get naked

1 Dec


The symbol for a Jjimjilbang in South Korea


Being a foreigner in South Korea gets you gawked at quite a bit, even when doing something as simple as walking down the street. So maybe the proposition to get naked and jump in a steaming hot bath with some of those same gawkers is not exactly how you’d like to spend your weekend. Perfectly understandable.

But allow me to offer you this simple piece advice, when considering public nudity in a bathhouse filled with Koreans – GET OVER IT! The Korean bathhouse or jjimjilbang (찜질방) could very well be one of the most relaxing and pleasurable experiences you have while in Korea whether you will be here for the year or are just passing through. The bathhouse is not just about the pool area, but with winter inching closer and closer  you’ll be happy to have some place to warm your bones for a while. Besides, what is life for, if not to experience new things? Go ahead and step outside of your comfort zone for an hour or two – you might surprise yourself at how painless it can be.

That said, getting from the lockers to the water can seem like a million miles so here are my 7 tips for surviving and enjoying the jjimjilbang.

1. Get clean - Even if you just took a shower this morning, no one wants to share a hot tub with someone they think might be dirty. So get  in the sauna shower and give yourself a quick scrub.

2. Bring a friend - Strength in numbers ladies and gents, that’s the name of the game! There is absolutely no reason you need to go this alone. Find someone you feel comfortable with, preferably someone with a little more guts than you, to give you that extra push you might need when it comes time to drop your drawers.

3. Embrace your inner ajumma - If you’ve been in Korea for more than a minute, you know exactly who I’m talking about. These ladies wear what they want, do what they want, and rarely take any crap. They wake up everyday and say, “If I wanna pick fruit by the sidewalk while wearing floral paints and a glitter visor – I’m gonna do it!” They don’t give a fuck and neither should you.

4. Take a look around - Now you don’t need to stare but take a quick look around and you’ll notice that everyone else is naked, too.  Despite what you think you know about Korean women they do actually have some  variation in their body types, so don’t sweat your own.

5. Get naked - This one seems obvious, but I know some of you will have the temptation to cover your body with your hands or use that little hand towel they give you. This is a mistake! By covering up you are drawing more attention to yourself and causing people to wonder why you are acting so strangely. So do yourself a favor and leave the towel behind.

6. Enjoy - Ok you did it! You made it in. 아싸! Perhaps you chose the hottest pool available or the one with the giant teabag inside. It doesn’t matter, now is your chance to finally sit back, and let your muscles relax themselves. It’s all about you.

7. Get roughed up- Alright,so maybe you won’t be partaking in this next one on your first go, but if you’ve got the guts go get your wallet, and for a few thousand won (usually no more than 5 or 6 USD) get the scrub down of your life! I’m not sure what goes on in the men’s section, but on the ladies’ side you’ll get every part of you taken care of by an ajumma in her undies. She won’t exactly be polite about it and  I’m not gonna lie they get up in there. Depending where you go they may add other services, like facials or washing your hair. Finish it up by being covered in oil, and rinse after about 5-10 minutes. Oh yeah and those mushy gray things on the table – that’s from you!


Have an interesting jjimjilbang experience to share? Good or bad – tell me about it in the comments below.

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6 Responses to “On surviving the jjimjilbang or how to get naked”

  1. Joe December 1, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Dying laughing from “Embrace your inner ajumma” omg that is too funny lol.

    • admin December 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      They are true badasses – no joke!

  2. Drew December 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Korean version of the Turkish bath, here we come, dead skin and all!!!

  3. leek December 2, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    3. hehe
    Gosh it just reminds me I’m wayyy over due for a visit to scrubby lady

  4. Rhonda December 2, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Sounds very interesting! You’re braver than I am when it comes to this though,lol. I never went into one of the “women only” hot tubs in Taiwan because I was too embarrassed to get naked with them. Funny post!

    • admin December 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      Yeah I avoided the hot springs in Taiwan for the same reason but being with a friend the first time really helped and it was so completely worth it.

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