Jjimjilbang 101: Beginner’s Guide to Visiting the Korean Bathhouse
Brave a little public nudity at a jjimjilbang, and you’ll get access to an unforgettable cultural experience… one you definitely shouldn’t miss. These huge Korean saunas and bathhouses are as much a way of life for locals as kimchi!
Everyone from couples to families to work associates visit them together to relax and socialize. But… I admit they can be more than a little intimidating at first. Worry not. In this article, I’ll fill you in on all the specific jjimjilbang etiquette you need to know, so you can fully enjoy the experience without embarrassment.
Jump to what you want.
- 1 What is a Jjimjilbang? It’s not just a Korean Bathhouse.
- 2 Jjimjilbang Etiquette | A Step by Step Guide
- 2.1 Store your outdoor shoes in the dedicated lockers
- 2.2 Pay & receive a key, wristband, towels, and jjimjilbang outfit
- 2.3 Find your locker in the gender-segregated locker room
- 2.4 Strip down to your birthday suit!
- 2.5 Enter the mogyoktang or Korean bathhouse area
- 2.6 Get squeaky clean in the Korean Bathhouse / Mogyoktang
- 2.7 Enjoy the mogyoktang facilities or head straight into the jjimjilbang
- 2.8 Get your sweat on in the jjimjilbang
- 2.9 Eat, relax, sleep, or play
- 2.10 Settle your bill
- 2.11 Jjimjilbang 101: Essential Info and FAQs
What is a Jjimjilbang? It’s not just a Korean Bathhouse.
You’ll often find the words jjimjilbang and mogyoktang used interchangeably, but there are some pretty big differences between them. You’ll also sometimes hear these facilities referred to as the Korean bathhouse, Korean sauna or Korean spa.
The most important thing to note here is that all jjimjilbang will contain a mogyoktang, but not all mogyoktangs will have a jjimjilbang.
Mogyoktang | Korean bathhouse | 목욕탕
Mogyoktang are public Korean bathhouses. These are usually basic facilities, with an area for bathing or showering. There may be a few hot tubs, steam rooms, and an area for body scrubbing. It’s gender-segregated and this is where COMPLETE NUDITY is the expectation.
For me, these places are associated with a less developed Korea. My first visits to the mogyoktang were back in the 80s when I was a kid, long before the country became the slick tech powerhouse it is today.
People would head to these (commonly) basement level facilities to literally take a shower or bath, because modern amenities like hot water were in short supply in the past. There are still some houses that don’t have heated bathrooms or on-demand hot running water in modern day Korea, so neighbourhood Korean bathhouses are still a very common sight.
Jjimjilbang | 찜질방
Jjimjilbangs are comprised of heated rooms and traditional kiln saunas of varying temperatures and properties. These are enjoyed by all genders together, wearing uniforms provided by the facility. Commonly, people shower in the mogyoktang area first, then head to the jjimjilbang to relax, sweat, eat, and socialize.
It’s better to think of it as a cultural complex and entertainment facility, since many families, friends, and couples make a full day out of visiting the jjimjilbang.
Besides the mogyoktang and Korean saunas, you’ll also find restaurants, tv / movie rooms, nail salons, spas, massage chairs, PC rooms, noraebang, exercise rooms, sleeping areas, and much more in a jjimjilbang.
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Jjimjilbang Etiquette | A Step by Step Guide
Confusion. That was my overriding emotion the first time I visited a jjimjilbang in Korea.
You’d think it’d be as simple as entering a spa, but the truth is there’s a definite etiquette that begins from the moment you enter the Korean sauna facility. Don’t worry – I’ll break this down for you step by step, so you don’t have to endure the same confusion and awkwardness I did.
Store your outdoor shoes in the dedicated lockers
When you enter the jjimjilbang, you’ll likely be faced with a huge wall of small lockers. These are for your outdoor shoes, which cannot be worn into the facility.
Sometimes you pay first and are given a certain locker number and key. Sometimes, you just put your shoes in any locker, but note that they are usually segregated by gender, so make sure you’re on the right side.
Pay & receive a key, wristband, towels, and jjimjilbang outfit
After paying the admission fee, you’ll receive a numbered key / wristband, 2 small towels and a jjimjilbang outfit that’s comprised of shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt. Take all of these items into the locker room with you.
Find your locker in the gender-segregated locker room
If you didn’t find the shoe lockers at the entrance to the facility, they might be next to the locker rooms. If so, store your shoes before entering the change rooms. Once inside, look for the locker associated with the number on your key / wristband.
Strip down to your birthday suit!
If it’s your first time visiting a jjimjilbang, this might be the most challenging step for you – but trust me, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Most Koreans have been going to the mogyoktang since they were small children, and it’s as natural to us as breathing. In fact, you’ll draw more attention to yourself by trying to hide, so just get out there and strut your stuff.
Enter the mogyoktang or Korean bathhouse area
This is the wet area of the facility and it should be your first stop BEFORE entering the jjimjilbang and other facilities. If you wish, you can use one of the towels to sit on in the steam room. Better yet – wrap your hair into yang meori.
Bring your key / wristband into the mogyoktang with you, and nothing else. It’s used to keep track of anything you buy in the mogyoktang or jjimjilbang, so there’s no need to carry any cash with you. Also, don’t lose it!
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Get squeaky clean in the Korean Bathhouse / Mogyoktang
In the Korean bathhouse, you’ll usually find shower stalls, hot and cold pools, a few steam rooms, and an area to get a traditional body scrub (sesin) by strong Korean women, usually only wearing lingerie, so don’t be shocked. If you’re brave enough, it’s totally worth doing. You’ll come out with skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
BEFORE entering any of the pools, be sure to shower yourself clean. If you want to get a scrub, give your key / wristband to the scrubbing ladies right away because there’s usually a bit of a wait. They’ll call your key number when it’s your turn.
Enjoy the mogyoktang facilities or head straight into the jjimjilbang
After you’ve showered, you can enjoy the hot tubs, steam rooms, and any other facilities in the mogyoktang. If you’d like to avoid as much public nudity as possible, you can also opt to head straight into the jjimjilbang. Be sure to change into the outfit you received at the entrance before entering, otherwise you’ll really get a lot of strange stares.
Get your sweat on in the jjimjilbang
Every jjimjilbang offers varying levels of services and saunas, ranging from basic to luxury. Each sauna usually has a sign outside with details about what’s inside, as well as the temperature of the room. Don’t be shy about entering any of the rooms and getting your sweat on.
Keep in mind though, that Koreans want the jjimjilbang to be a rejuvenating and cleansing experience, so don’t ruin the peaceful vibes with loud conversation and endless selfies.
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Eat, relax, sleep, or play
If you need a break from all that sweating, you can take advantage of all the other amenities in the jjimjilbang, whether it’s a massage, movie, meal, or nap. Usually, your key fob is used to keep track of your purchases, and tallied up at the cash when you leave.
Settle your bill
When you’re all sauna-ed out, head back into the change rooms. You might want to take another quick shower to rinse off all your sweat – but this is up to you. Drop your used towels into the bins, gather up all your belongings, and make sure you take your locker room key / wristband with you to the cash. You’ll pay for any extra services or purchases as you exit the jjimjilbang.
Jjimjilbang 101: Essential Info and FAQs
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Now you know everything you need to know to visit a jjimjilbang and Korean bathhouse without fear! Will you brave some public nudity and participate in one of Korea’s most enduring cultural institutions?