Korean spas are the second best thing to do without your clothes on (the first being yoga of course).
You get digital detox, me-time and glowing skin all in one neat package.
It’s no surprise that Korean spa culture is a big hit around the world. There are ones in Irvine, California that look exactly like jjimjilbang you’ll find in Seoul.
They’re simply the place for full relaxation no matter where you live. Best of all, you’ll overcome your fear of being nude in front of strangers!
I love Korean spas!
Imagine a palace of relaxation with every type of sauna, steam room and hot/cold bath under the sun. Korean spas are that and more.
Growing up, I went at least once a week to soak in hot spring water, get a full body scrub then have a Banana Milk at the end (not what you’re thinking at all!).
This ritual always worked to relieve the high levels of stress from school and work.
Some say Korean spas have health benefits like:
- improving circulation
- clearing pores
- relieving joint pain
- lowering blood pressure
- weight loss
One things for sure, they’ll give you the most relaxing experience of your life. You won’t even think about your phone for hours.
Spas are such a big part of life in Korea that they even have bathhouse webtoons: God of Bath (목욕의 신) by Ha Il-kwon and Women’s Sauna Report (여탕보고서) by Milo.
Talking about it makes me want to go to the nearest spa now. ヽ(✿ﾟ▽ﾟ)ノ
What is a Korean spa?
Korean spa usually refers to a “jjimjilbang (찜질방)“. Jjimjil (찜질) can mean anything to reduce inflammation and cure sickness by using a hot/ice pack or sweating in hot sand, or soaking in a hot bath; and bang (방) means room or place.
Jjimjilbang is a combination of “mogyoktang (목욕탕)“, “dry sauna (사우나)“, recreational facilities, food court, sleeping room and more. They even have a barbershop inside the men’s bathhouse/jjimjilbang.
[I’ll explain what each means below!]
Feel free to go solo, or with your friends, family and loved ones (or all of the above). You can spend a few hours or all night long!
What are the types of Korean spas?
While the general consensus would be a jjimjilbang, there are many types of Korean spas: Korean Mogyoktang, Oncheon, Sauna, Jjimjilbang.
- Mogyoktang (목욕탕) is a Korean public bathhouse. It’s separated by gender, and you go in without clothes. It has locker rooms, showers, huge bathtubs with different temperature settings (온탕 or ontang), cold bath (냉탕 or naengtang), steam sauna and scrub/massage area.
- Oncheon (온천) is hot spring in Korean, similar to Japanese Onsen. The configuration is almost the same as mogyoktang, except it uses hot spring/thermal water. Famous oncheon regions in Korea are: Mageumsan in my hometown Changwon, Busan, Daejeon, Suanbo in Chungju, Sanbangsan carbonate hot springs on Jeju.
- Sauna (사우나) can be either wet sauna (steam room) or dry sauna (heating air) in Korean. It can be found inside mogyoktang, oncheon, jjimjilbang and even water parks (sometimes there’s a swimming pool or sports center).
- Jjimjilbang (찜질방) has it all! It comes with mogyoktang, sauna and fun facilities like PC bang, coin noraebang, arcade games, cinemas and even a Korean food court/cafeteria. Jjimjilbang also has a large communal (non gender-separated) area, so you can hang out with your friends and family. It even has a sleeping room, making it the perfect accommodation when you’re on a low budget trip.
|Gender Separation||O||O||O/X||O then X|
|Drinks (Coffee, etc.)||O||O||O||O|
Why do Koreans go to jjimjilbang?
Koreans go to jjimjilbang for many reasons.
I, for one, go for relaxation and a bit of nostalgia.
My aunt or emo is an avid sauna-goer, at least once or twice a week to relieve stress. As a regular, she even parks her mogyok basket (목욕 바구니) in the locker room. You can tell if someone’s serious by their sauna basket.
Young Korean couples sometimes go on a date to jjimjilbang to hang out all night. Isn’t that cute? ヾ(≧▽≦*)o
I used to stay at jjimjilbangs to save some money, while visiting another city with my friends. Also, my family used to go together for fun.
TL;DR, Koreans go to jjimjilbang for any reason, and so can you!
What should I bring to a Korean spa?
You can bring everything or nothing!
I always bring a clean pair of underwear and socks to change after the bath.
When I go to a spa or bathhouse near home, I bring a little bath basket (목욕 바구니) containing shampoo, conditioner, body wash, foam cleanser, toothbrush, toothpaste, scrubbing towel, lotion and clean towel.
(Read on to find out why I bring a towel.)
When I happen to go to a Korean spa without a plan, I still enjoy it because they sell all types of disposable amenities. So, don’t worry about it and just go enjoy! ヾ(^▽^*)
If you’re a light sleeper, bring some ear plugs and a sleep mask if you want to catch some Zs.
Step-by-step guide for Korean spas?
Since each spa may have different settings or steps, feel free to ask the staff and they’ll be happy to guide you. Many places like Spa Land in Centum City, Busan have English speaking staff.
If you’re an introvert like me, don’t worry! The general guide is:
Step 1. Pay the admission fee and take electronic key from the spa front desk.
You may choose to use only mogyoktang or jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbang price is a bit higher (normally 2,000-3,000 won or 1.5-2.2 dollar add-on). The key has a number that opens a locker with the corresponding number.
Step 2. Take off your shoes and put them in a shoe locker (if there is one, before entering the locker room) or enter the locker room holding your shoes (to put them in your locker).
⚠ Locker rooms are separated by gender.
Step 3. Take off all your clothes and put them in your locker. Put on the electronic key around your wrist or ankle.
Step 4. Bring your amenities or bath basket and enter the mogyoktang area.
Step 5. Make sure to take a shower, either at the shower booths or sit-down shower area. Make up isn’t your friend here, so it’s better not to wear any at all.
You can leave your stuff at a sit-down shower. If you see a bath basket on a seat, that means it’s occupied/reserved by someone.
Step 6. Enjoy the hot bath!
Pick the one with the right temperature or theme you like. Feel free to check out cold baths in between. Spending 10 minutes in each tub is the rule of thumb. Listen to your body and get some air outside the mogyoktang area if you have low blood pressure. (I heard that I fainted once when I was a kid.)
⚠ You cannot bring a towel into the tub and don’t even think about wearing underwear, no matter how thin. You’ll get a surprise visit from a stern ajumma.
Step 7. Finish up showering with shampoo, body wash, foam cleanser, etc. if you’re only using the bath area.
Step 8. Towel dry and put on the provided clothes if you’re using the jjimjilbang. Bring the towel with you too.
You’ve probably received the official jjimjilbang uniform at the spa front upon entry. If not, ask a staff member to give you one. It’s always baggy T-shirts and shorts.
You don’t need to wear socks in the communal area as the floor will be nice and heated. It’s great because everyone is wearing matching outfits, so you’ll feel like part of the group!
Step 9. Enjoy the sauna!
Check out every sauna room including Himalayan salt, jewelry, red clay and iced (igloo) rooms. They each have their own cool theme and feeling.
Step 10. Have fun using the facilities and eat/drink something too.
⚠ You can pay for everything here with your electronic key!
Step 11. Go to a sleeping room when you get tired from all this relaxation.
⚠ It’s separated by gender.
Use mats, pillow and blanket found in the sleeping room. If wooden pillows (목침 or mokchim) are too hard, use your towel instead! You might hear some snores, but it’s part of the experience.
Step 12. Enjoy the bath and shower one more time before you leave the next morning.
Step 13. Get ready to leave using the powder room. Self-explanatory, but feel free to get made up now.
Step 14. Place all the towels and provided clothes you used in the big basket in the locker room. Sometimes it can be confused with a trashcan so use some noonchi here.
Step 15. Return the electronic key at the spa front and pay for anything you used at the facilities or food court.
How do you enjoy Korean spa to the fullest?
You can enjoy a Korean spa however you like, but if I may suggest something…
0. Confidence is key. You will stand out a little but act like you’ve been there. Remember how you should picture people in their underwear when giving a speech, no need to imagine here. I’ve been going since I was a child so it’s normal for me to tune everyone out and focus on the relaxation.
1. Order iced coffee from a staff member (usually an ajumma) in the locker room at mogyoktang (bathhouse).
It’s THE BEST and only about 2,000 won (1.5 dollars). Prices may be higher in the states.
The rule is that you order and go enjoy the bath inside. Once your coffee is ready, she’ll let you know to pick it up or she’ll bring it to you. (I’d recommend picking it up, because she might be a bit annoyed when she brings it to you lol)
Drink that perfect jug of iced coffee inside the steam room! You’ll feel like you’re in paradise.
2. Wear a lamb towel bun (양머리 수건) on your head inside the jjimjilbang 🐑.
It’s super easy to make and looks cute like Princess Leia buns. This is why I recommended bringing a towel with you in Step 8 above. ^_~
It’s an oldie but goodie (it started becoming trendy when I was in a high school). It’s not a proper jjimjilbang visit without one!
3. Try baked eggs and Sikhye (식혜) at jjimjilbang.
Jjimjilbang eggs are usually stone-plate cooked or roasted/baked. They look like a boiled egg but are brown. It’s a super delicious and nutritional snack. (I sometimes order these online when dieting!)
Sikhye is traditional Korean rice punch that tastes sweet and is a perfectly refreshing drink after all that heat.
Baked egg and sikhye combination is the must-try (national rule or 국룰) at jjimjilbang!
4. Stay hydrated at one of the many water coolers throughout the dry and wet rooms.
5. Get a full body scrub after the final bath!
I must say, “there may be someone who’s never done it, but there’s no one who’s only done it once. (한 번도 안 해본 사람은 있어도, 한 번만 해본 사람은 없다.)”
Once you get over the initial awkwardness, you’d probably never stop getting one.
I’ll explain more later.
Insider Tip: Korean Body Scrub
When you don’t feel like getting the full scrubdown (they get intense), it’s totally fine. I always bring a small scrub towel and do it myself. You can use the buddy system by asking a person next to you to scrub your back and you do the same. Or you can use a back scrub machine. I found out later, but this machine exists only in Southern regions of South Korea (Gyeongsang-do area). Or, you can bring a long scrub towel for your back.
Korean spas are the definition of “me-time”, so do whatever you like!
6. Use everything, including all the rooms, tubs and even the massage chairs!
7. Take your time and enjoy to the fullest. Korean spas are one of the few places where people aren’t in a hurry. It’s your chance to completely untangle yourself from modern life.
What should I know before going to a Korean spa?
I’ll share some of the unspoken rules that no one tells you about.
First one you must know is to take a shower before entering the tub. It can be a quick one, but make sure to wash. If you want to skip shampooing at this stage, you can simply put your hair up, so it doesn’t touch the water in the tub. You still need to remove all your makeup. Nothing worse than mascara running while you’re trying to unwind.
When you see someone’s belongings like bath baskets on the table/seat in mogyoktang, it means it’s occupied and reserved. Find another empty seat. If you choose a sit-down shower spot, bring a mini chair from the stack. Don’t forget to wash it with soap and rinse before sitting for hygiene.
While you don’t need to cover your body with a towel inside mogyoktang, you still can if you prefer to. Just remember not to bring a towel into the tub.
It’s kind of obvious, but don’t wash your clothes/underwear or dye your hair in mogyoktang. ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)
It’s a quiet place, so keep things at a low volume. Think library rules.
Is it worth getting a body scrub at a Korean spa?
Oh my gosh! A thousand times YES! It’s called “seshin (세신)” in Korean.
You can approach the body scrub bed area and tell the staff that you’d like one.
You need to pay in cash before the scrub (if you’re new), or after (if you’re a regular). The average price is about 20,000 won (15 dollars) and it takes about 30 minutes.
Tipping❓ If you’re in Korea, no need to tip. If you’re in the States however, follow the local tipping rules. ^_^
When there’s a waiting list, she’ll either tell you your number or she’ll find you when it’s your turn. In the meantime, you can soak in a hot tub or go inside the sauna to soften your skin.
Simply lie down on the scrubbing bed, either face down or up depending on their instructions. Then, let the magic happen. She’ll fully scrub your body, and you can just close your eyes and relax. If it feels too strong, you can ask her to be gentler. When she gently taps your body, that means it’s time to flip over.
After the scrub, they’ll wash your body with soap, give you a bit of a massage and sometimes put yogurt on your face as a mask pack.
Your skin will be silky smooth, glowing and of course sparkling clean!
Insider Tip: Towels
When you go to a Korean spa, you’ll usually get two towels. One for initial towel drying and jjimjilbang area, and the other for final towel drying at the end.
In Korea, mogyoktang will give one towel to men, but none to women. So, I need to bring a clean towel. Before you jump to conclusions, they have their reasons.
Koreans ran a little experiment, and results were that the number of towels decreased from women’s bathhouses, whereas they increased on the men’s side. The theory is women took them home, while men even left/forgot the towels they brought from home.
So… I guess it’s kinda fair.
What to eat/drink at a Korean spa?
I’d definitely get an iced coffee at mogyoktang (Korean public bathhouse), and baked eggs/rice punch at jjimjilbang as snacks.
When you’re craving something naughty at night (야식 or yasik/late-night meal), try Korean fast food (분식 or bunsik) like tteokbokki, ramyun and gimbap at their food court. Green tea is a great way to detox after sweating in the heat.
To start the morning with a full belly, miyeokguk is a great choice. It’s super healthy and delicious!
When you’re done bathing/showering and ready to leave, complete your full Korean experience with Banana Milk (바나나우유), which is nicknamed “Ttoong-bah (뚱바)” meaning chubby banana to describe its shape.
What else can I do in K-town after going to a spa?
Here are a few ideas:
- Sing noraebang
- Get your hair done at a Korean salon
- Eat KBBQ
- Play drinking games
- Explore the town
- Learn more about Korea
- Brush up on your hallyu history
- Watch a Korean movie or TV show
- Listen to Korean music
- Get involved in a Korean American Association
Where can I find Korean spas in the United States?
You can enjoy Korean spas in your own backyard! (～￣▽￣)～Here are the best ones in the states approved by Koreans.
2700 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057, United States
2332 Barranca Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92606, United States
929 Westgreen Blvd, Katy, TX 77450, United States
321 Commercial Ave, Palisades Park, NJ 07650, United States
660 River Rd, Edgewater, NJ 07020, United States
2645 N Berkeley Lake Rd NW Building C, Duluth, GA 30096, United States
3555 Gwinnett Pl Dr NW, Duluth, GA 30096, United States
8615 S Tacoma Way, Tacoma, WA 98499, United States
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