Jjimjilbang (찜질방)

“jjimjilbang” by peace ken is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Slowly roasting yourself alive has never really appealed to me but having heard good things about the highly popular family saunas (Jjimjilbang) in South Korea I decided to give it a try on Wednesday evening.

Korean Sauna
N.b. All the photos in this post were found on Google

Upon arrival you are given light cloth uniforms (blue for boys, pink for girls) which you get changed into then head for the general relaxation area where you’ll see both young and old lounging around on the wooden floor watching TV, playing games and some just having a nap. Off the main area, there are various hot and cold rooms of varying temperatures, from the mild to the extreme, as I was soon to be made painfully aware.

Korean Sauna
Unwanted attention!

Starting off in a 30-degree room lined with reflective foil tiles it seemed fairly pleasant, just like a hot summers day, but this was just the warm-up. After about 10 minutes I moved into a 60-degree brick-built room shaped like a conical furnace and was immediately hit by the intense heat. Now I could see why they give you a small towel to mop your forehead with! The people around me seemed to be far more accustomed to this; some were lying down seemingly asleep while others were sitting around having a chat with their friends and families. After about 15 minutes I decided it was time to get out (before I passed out) and headed for the marble-lined cool room. When I was feeling back to normal I had a wander around and explored some of the other rooms, one full of salt, another lined with sweet-smelling pine tree logs and an “oxygen” room which I assume had higher O2 levels. It was then that I noticed a small door in the corner of the main area…

Sauna caves
Photo by jasonunbound

Looking more like a dungeon than a sauna this room was dimly lit and I was well informed that it was kept somewhere between 80 to 90 deg C!! Figuring that I had to try it at least once I ventured cautiously inside. To say it was hot would be an understatement, it was suffocatingly burning hot. I instantly felt my heart rate increase and the beads of sweat began forming like some sort of strange unavoidable osmosis. The natives were clearly finding my feeble presence amusing, especially when I turned my towel into a sheep head. I’m rather glad I couldn’t understand what they were saying in this instance! 5 minutes of this torture was enough so I swiftly headed for the ice room which was a welcome relief!

After all this I felt surprisingly relaxed and refreshed which I’m sure is why many Koreans visit them frequently, some even treating them like a second home (they are open 247). Read more about them here which includes details of the best in Seoul.

David avatar

5 responses

  1. Margaret avatar

    The “sheeps head” picture of you on flickr will be a highlight 🙂

  2. Luckily no pictures were taken!!

  3. No (short question, short answer!)

  4. Do you have to be nude in this facility?

  5. Pasi avatar

    I just came a week ago from South Korea and I visited a sauna in Seoul near Central Station.
    We have saunas here in Finland too, but the culture is different. In Finland a sauna is mostly family property, In Korea it is a public site.
    It is funny that the first question from a foreigner is about nudity. Of course you have to be nude in the sauna, if you want to sweat and wash yourself. The code is such that the women and girls go together, men and boys go together. Of cource wife can go with his husband and small children up to 5-6 years with parents.

    Another thing is the temperature:80 degC or even 130 degC is not HOT, if you do not try to be there too long and be carefull with the owen (kiuas) and other metal particles.
    (I’m jus coing from our own sauna, where we had 80 degC, which is a rather normal temperature in a Finnish family sauna)

    In Finnish sauna you can get more feeling of heath by throwing water on the owen. You better check how an native makes this. A sauna with 130 degC and a large cup of water will burn your skin and lungs.

    In Korea the Sauna is a place for quiet peace. In Finland the peace is there, within the people, even if they drink beer and discuss noisily.


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