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.
In this guide
- 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.
Korea Travel Essentials
Travel requirements, visas, and passport photos for a trip to South Korea
Hotels and Other Accommodation
Booking | Agoda | Klook | HotelsCombined
Travel Insurance for South Korea
Malaysian Residents | Singapore Residents | Thai Residents
Wifi, SIM Cards, and Portable Wifi
4G unlimited data SIM card | Portable and Pocket 4G WiFi
Airport Transfers and Luggage Delivery
AREX Incheon Airport Express Train
K Airport Limousine Bus from Incheon Airport
Incheon Airport to Seoul Private and Shared Transfers
Gimhae Airport to Busan Private Airport Transfers
Luggage Delivery To/From Hotel or Airport
Money-Saving Transit and Transport Passes
Discover Seoul Pass (doubles as a T-Money Card) with FREE admission to 66 tourist attractions
Korea Tour Card (T-Money) Transit Card
Korea Rail Pass: unlimited rides via high-speed rail and travel to over 600 stations on 80 different routes (2,3,4, or 5 days)
Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours
Seoul City Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus Day | Seoul Night View Course
Daegu Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus Tour
Day Tours and Discounted Admission Tickets
Get Your Guide | Klook | Trazy | Viator
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.
AQUAFIELD SPA | There are 3 gorgeous Aquafield Spas located in various malls across Korea. With multiple saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms, play areas, and more, it’s a perfect place to relax for the day. Aquafield Hanam and Goyang are closest to Seoul. Check details here.
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.
HEADED TO BUSAN? | Spa Land Centum City in Busan has 18 different hot springs, and 13 theme saunas to relax in. It’s the ultimate jjimjilbang experience, with high-quality water pulled up from 1000 metres underground! Check details here.
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!
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.
WHOO SPA in MYEONGDONG | Whoo SPA is a favourite of Korean celebrities who flock there for facials, massage and treatments utilizing luxurious cosmetic brands like OHUI, Whoo, and SU:M. Be sure to reserve this one at least 2-3 days in advance, as it does get fully booked. Check services at WHOO Spa here.
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.
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.
CIMER SPA NEAR INCHEON AIRPORT | Perfect for a long layover, or before getting on a long flight, Cimer Spa is located inside Paradise City near Incheon Airport. It’s one of the newest jjimjilbangs in Korea, and it has everyone raving with its European style spa, and over the top Korean saunas. Check details here.
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.
Did this article help you? Writers (and moms especially) need caffeine!
Help support my small business with a cup of coffee.
Jjimjilbang 101: Essential Info and FAQs
Will you brave a visit to a Korean bathhouse or jjimjilbang?
Thank you so much for all your insights. I’ll defenititely go to jjijmjilbang 🙂
What are Korean usages regarding waxing, especially bikini hair removal? Is doing it or not doing it might be shocking ?
I’ll be in Korea end of this month and I’ll drink a toast to you and your precious blog!
Hmm… there’s tons of bikini waxing and laser available in Korea, so people must do it! Tbh, unless you go to a jjimjilbang where a lot of tourists go, people are gonna stare at you no matter what – just because you’re not Korean haha. I’d just do whatever makes you feel comfortable. I need to get back there myself for a strong scrub!
thanks for sharing seems to be similar yet different to an onsen experience
Yes – that’s a good way of thinking of it… jjijmjilbang has a lot more going on than onsen I think – there are even some with driving ranges and karoake rooms!
Are tattoos ok?
There’s no rule saying you can’t enter with them – and friends with huge tattoos have visited no problem. People at more local places will probably stare though just fyi – maybe check out Dragon Hill or one of the other jjimjilbangs used to tourists if you want to avoid that.