Friday 23 June 2017

Jjimjilbang! The Traditional Baths of South Korea

I travelled to South Korea courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organisation.

There's nothing like getting naked and in hot water as a way of, er, immersing yourself in another culture.

So when I visited South Korea in 2014, I couldn't wait to try out a jjimjilbang, the traditional local bathhouse.

As I expected, these places are amazing. Firstly men and women bathe in separate areas, in baths of differing temperatures and compositions.

The compulsory nudity in the bath areas deters some overseas visitors, which is partly why it's remained an authentically Korean experience.

It's accessible to foreigners but still very much dominated by locals, who see these places as a leisure hangout.

In the bath area of a multi-storey jjimjilbang I visited in central Seoul, an attendant gave me the world's most efficient, energetic and somewhat brutal body scrub, removing what seemed kilos of excess skin.

The baths are relaxing, but it's the communal areas visited afterward which are the most fun.

There are people of all ages hanging about there in the pyjama-like tops and shorts we're all issued with.

Patrons can enjoy a range of facilities - snack bars, pools, ice-cold rooms, kiln-heated rooms, computer gaming rooms.

The cost for the additional services you use or food you purchase is recorded on your electronic wristband, and you settle the bill on the way out.

And there's always a sleeping room with simple beds, and big heated floor area where people can sleep - all night if they want to.

It was great fun to experience these baths on my first Seoul visit, joining locals in an activity which turned out to be both memorable and relaxing.

If I lived in Seoul I'd be tempted to visit one of these facilities every Sunday (especially in winter).

After a soothing bath, I could imagine spending hours relaxing, reading a book and, um, chilling out.

Recommended: Dragon Hill Spa, 40-712, Hangangno 3-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. Adult entry $14-$18, depending on time of day.

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