At the start of my exchange journey last year, I decided to to stay in one of Korea’s public bath and sauna houses (a.k.a. jjimjilbang) for a night. Most people visit a jjimjilbang for an authentic Korean spa experience, but few would consider staying there overnight.
Some may also think that staying in a public jjimjilbang seems shady, but read on and you will find that it is actually a budget-friendly option that is both safe and fun!
Seoul, from the more well-known ones like Dragon Hill Spa and Siloam Fire Pot Sauna to the unheard of ones located in various neighbourhoods. Since I was staying alone, I chose to stay at Siloam, the only jiimjilbang that offers gender segregated bunk beds. For only 15,000 KRW, I got myself a place to stay AND sessions of special Korean skin treatment – it’s the best deal that any of you girls can treat yourselves to!
Here are some tips for your overnight jjimjilbang stay, based on my personal experience:
1. Go to your choice of jjimjilbang only after the night rate kicks in
Prices for day-time entrance and overnight stays are often differentiated in jjimjilbangs that stay open round the clock, ranging from 8,000 KRW for the former and 15,000 KRW for the latter. I arrived before the night rate at Siloam started, and as soon as the night entrance time came, I registered myself to get the most of my money!
2. Collect your jjimjilbang apparel set
Regardless of which jjimjilbang you go to, when you purchase a ticket to “check-in”, you will be given a pair of t-shirt and shorts and a small towel. The counter staff gave them to me once I checked in, and told me that I should wear these throughout my stay.
3. Exchange your ticket for a set of locker keys
After you get your ticket, you are now ready to go into the gender-specific locker rooms. I entered the room and some ahjummas (Korean for ‘aunties’), took my ticket and gave me some locker keys. One key was for my shoe locker and the other was for my other belongings and clothes. Taking off your shoes is the first step to…
4. Embracing your NAKEDNESS
Honestly, this was the very reason why I chose to go to a jjimjilbang alone. The NUDITY. When I entered the locker room, I was greeted not only by the ahjummas working in the jjimjilbang but also by other guests who were completely… naked. If you want to soak in the bath zones (which something you should definitely try) in the jjimjilbang, this is something you would need to do to. Simply put, staying in a jjimjilbang, basically, is synonymous with the ability to be comfortable in your own skin.
If you are thinking that the towels they provide can save you from baring it all, I’m afraid that you’ll be disappointed. The towels are simply too small to cover anything and even if you have your own towel to cover yourself, you will only invite more stares from the locals. My advice? Just embrace your nakedness and blend with the people there.
5. Enjoy the night by soaking in various baths…
As with other jjimjilbangs, Siloam provides various types of medicinal baths and sauna rooms. All baths are located in the basement, which is connected directly to the locker rooms within the “no clothes” zone.
I recommend that you start by soaking in the medicinal bath that is lowest in temperature before slowly moving onto the hotter ones. The recommended soaking duration is indicated in each of the pools’ description. Remember to soak in the cold pool after soaking in each medicinal bath to get the maximum health benefit from each soak (or so they say!)
You can also opt to have your skin scrubbed by an ahjumma (for a fee) after your soak to obtain the soft and smooth skin that most Koreans have! However, there are rumours that this might hurt so I decided to give it a miss. Instead, I dried myself off, changes into my sauna attire and headed to the sauna area on levels two and four.
6. … and sweating away in sauna rooms
In most jjimjilbangs, the only gender separated areas are the locker rooms and bath zones. Sauna rooms are open to both genders, and you should wear the shirt and pants that they provided when using the sauna.
In case you are wondering, no, the towel was not given in the cute “lamb head towel” shape, you have to fold it yourselves if you want to! There are many guides on Google and I simply referred to one of them to make mine. I think only tourists actually do this because, when I was staying there, I saw no locals using this!
After buying my cup of cold Sikhye, a Korean traditional sweet rice drink that is often consumed in jjimjilbangs, I started trying the various sauna rooms available. I particularly remembered enjoying the salt sauna room, the oxygen room, the charcoal room and the cold room! The oxygen room was particularly tranquil and I almost, almost fell asleep there. All these rooms have their own health benefits, so you can check all of them out when you visit.
7. Enjoy the other facilities, or shower and head to bed
The large jjimjilbangs often provide other facilities apart from the sauna rooms and baths, such as a fitness center, mini-arcade, massage chairs and karaoke room (noraebang). You can make full use of these facilities while you are there! However, I felt lethargic after all the spa treatments and decided to head to bed after a nice warm shower.
Siloam’s sleeping facilities are why I would strongly recommend staying in Siloam Fire Pot Sauna instead of other establishments. Normally, in other jjimjilbangs, you would have to sleep in the hall with everyone else on a simple mat – just like what you see in many Korean dramas. However, here at Siloam, there are gender segregated sleeping bunk beds provided on the fifth floor. There is even a separate snorers room where snorers can go to. How great is that, huh! Each bunk bed is nice and private, with curtains that ensure the privacy and safety of the sleeping occupant. They even provide small lockers right outside the sleeping rooms, where you can place all your valuables before you sleep.
Remember that I only paid 15,000 KRW for all this – isn’t an overnight stay in a jjimjilbang just the perfect accommodation option for budget travellers? The night rates in Siloam also allows you to stay there until 12 noon the next day, so you can choose to try out the other facilities and go for another round of soaking or sauna before checking out.
Overall, I really enjoyed my self-pampering treatment and good night’s rest in Siloam Fire Pot Sauna. If you are travelling on a budget, do consider this option to save your precious money on accommodation and spend it buying all the other cosmetics you want! And if you’re travelling by yourself, this makes for a really cost-effective (and interesting way!) to spend the night as well. That being said, you should always be cautious when staying alone in jjimjilbangs and go to the bigger ones like Siloam for a safer place to stay.