If there’s one quintessential experience every traveller needs to have in Seoul, it’s visiting a jjimjilbang…or so I am told.
This is something that I had somehow managed to avoid the whole time I lived in Korea and I was totally fine with that, but since Sam is a big fan of jjimjilbangs and we happened to be staying right down the street from Siloam Jjimjilbang, it was only a matter of time before I ended up there.
But before we go any further I should answer the question:
What is a jjimjilbang?
A jjimjilbang is a Korean public bathhouse filled with showers, hot tubs, and saunas, but it is much more than that. It is also a communal space where you can watch Korean dramas on TV, work out in the exercise rooms, cool down in the ice rooms, sweat it out in the kiln saunas, play computer games, spend coins at the arcades, sing your heart out at a noraebang, catch up on sleep in one of the napping caves, relax in a massage chair, and so much more. Yes, you can come and have a bath here, or you could skip that awkward part altogether and spend the day wearing a Princess Leia towel bun on your head, but more on that later.
How does going to a jjimjilbang work?
Once you walk in through the main doors you will find a desk where you pay for admission. There are 4 different rates depending on whether you are going there during the day (5:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.) or at night (8:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.), and whether you are entering the bathhouse or also wanting to access the other floors of the jjimjilbang. If you want the full experience, you’ll want to pay for both the bathhouse and the jjimjilbang, and you can save a few dollars by visiting during daytime hours.
Once you’ve paid, you will be given a set of clothes to change into. At the Siloam Jjimjilbang women are given orange t-shirts with red shorts, and the men are giving beige t-shirts with brown shorts. You will then bring these clothes with you into the change room. The change rooms are segregated; the women’s change room is to the right and it has a red sign, and the men’s change room is to the left and it has a blue sign.
Once you set foot inside the change room, the first thing you will do is remove your shoes. Once your shoes are off, you will step up onto the floors, walk over to the shoe lockers, store your shoes, and hand the locker key in at the desk. The person behind the desk will in turn give you two small towels, as well as another key which gives you access to a bigger locker where you can store the rest of your belongings.
If you’re heading down to the bathhouse and sauna, this is the part where you strip bare and walk your naked self down into the basement where things are also kept segregated. The towels are the size of small hand towels, so there’s little use in trying to cover yourself up. And if you’re a bit shy and not quite ready to experience the naked bathhouse, this is the part where you put on the clothes they gave you, and follow the steps up to the ‘fomentation area’ where you can start exploring the jjimjilbang.
Inside a Korean jjimjilbang
What better way to show you than video?! If you’re interested in getting the full tour then you can watch the vlog we filmed on our visit, and if not keep reading for a quick layout of the place floor by floor.
The basement level is where all the soaking, scrubbing, and washing happens. Here you’ll find all the pools, steam rooms, mud tubs, hot tubs, and showers. You must shower before you even think of setting foot anywhere else – cardinal rule!
You can also pay an additional 15,000 won to have your whole body scrubbed down by a professional. My husband was brave enough to try this and he tells me they take a lot of skin off. It sounds like a pretty painful experience to me, but you’ll no doubt leave squeaky clean!
This is the main floor and it’s where you enter the jjimjilbang. This is also where the change rooms are located, and as you make your way out the change rooms, you’ll find a hair dresser and a threading lady.
The second floor has a restaurant with a pretty complete menu. This was our very first stop inside the jjimjilbang and I can confirm that they make some great food in there. We had dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥), which is a mixed vegetable rice cooked in a stone pot, as well as sundubu jiggae (순두부찌개), which is a spicy tofu soup served with rice. This also came with miyeokguk (미역국), which is a seaweed soup, and an assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬).
If you want to have some typical jjimjilbang fare, order the baked eggs (맥반석 계란) which are slow cooked in the hottest sauna, as well as a glass of sikhye (식혜), a sweet rice beverage.
Aside from the restaurant, in this floor you’ll also find a massage centre, a nail salon where you can get a gel manicure, there’s an area where you can tuck your feet into hot jade pebbles, and there’s also a quiet communal space where you can have a nap or enjoy some quiet reading.
The third floor is all about entertainment and I would say it’s the most active of all the floors. Here you have a main area where they play Korean dramas on TV and people just lounge around on hard mats on the floor. They also have a table tennis room, a reading room, a PC bang (computer game room), a workout room, a group room in case you’re having a special event with friends, and a movie room where they screen films twice a day. They also have massage chairs, where you can pop in a few coins and get a full body massage.
The fourth floor has different rooms that vary in terms of lighting, minerals, and therapeutic effects. There are rooms where the ceiling is covered in jade or salt, rooms that feel like ovens and others that feel like igloos, rooms with heated floors and rooms where you lay down on salt crystals, and the list goes on and on! I also found it interesting that all of these rooms kind of looked like little caves and some of the doors are so small you literally have to hunch over to walk in.
My favourite out of all of these was the charcoal room where the temperature was kept at 22 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t tell you what sort of effect this charcoal room is meant to have on the body, but I enjoyed the cool temperature and the fact that it was a dark room where you could catch some sleep.
Aside from all this, the fourth floor also has a cafe where you can order light snacks like sandwiches, smoothies, and patbingsu.
This fifth floor is known as the sleeping floor, and while you can technically nap on mats in any of the floors, this space is very quiet and dedicated to sleep. Here you’ll find a communal sleeping area where families are napping on mats with pillows and blankets. There’s another sleeping area that’s strictly divided into men and women only, and you’ll also find bunkbeds and rows of cubby holes that you can crawl into for some quiet and restful sleep (these are a great idea if you’re trying to get away from the snorers!)
What to expect inside the jjimjilbang?
Visiting a jjimjilbang is all about relaxing and you’ll find that a lot of Korean families go to spend the day there as a fun weekend activity. Once I was inside, it kind of reminded me of being inside a hotel or a spa for the weekend, with lots of different areas and activities to keep you entertained without having to leave the premises.
One of the funnest parts for me was wearing the Princess Leia towel on my head and forcing Sam to do the same. To achieve this look you have to fold your towel lengthwise into thirds, and then take each end and roll it outwards twice like you would a sleeve. You’ll then be left with a funny looking towel hat that people wear around whether they’re eating lunch or hanging out in one of the hot rooms.
Getting to Siloam Jjimjilbang
Siloam is one of the best jjimjilbangs in Seoul, so it’s worth seeking out even if you’re staying in a different part of the city. To get there take Line 1 or 4 to Seoul Station and then take exit 1, go past the overpass and walk across the street at the intersection. Siloam will then be on your right hand side.
Alternatively, you can take Line 2 or 5 to Chungjeongno Station and take exit 5. From there you’ll have to walk down the hill and you’ll eventually spot Siloam on the left hand side. It looks like a 5-story hotel, so it’s hard to miss!
Address: 49 Jungnim-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
Have you ever been to a Korean jjimjilbang?
Or have you been to sauna / bath house in a culture different from your own?