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Friday, October 24, 2008

Stripping down in Suyu

Like a lot people, I'm terrified of public nudity. Not that I give it a lot of thought -- it doesn't exactly keep me awake at night -- but just the idea of getting naked in front of people makes me a little ill. It's hard enough wearing a bikini at the pool.

That all changed tonight at the jjimjilbang.

Jjimjilbangs are incredibly popular public bathhouses here in Korea. Besides hot tubs, showers, massage tables and saunas, jjimjilbangs are also a cheap place to spend the night ($8 a night at my local); it's only $6 to use the facilities for an unlimited amount of time.

Think of it as a do-it-yourself spa.

A few of my friends had been raving about the magical relaxation powers of the jjimjilbang so I decided to suck it up and try it out. The result: amazing.

After taking off your shoes at the door, you enter gender-segregated dressing rooms to change into the soft pajamas they provide. We first went to the saunas and cold rooms -- the hottest is 92.2 Celsius (197.6 Fahrenheit), the cold room has ice on the walls. There are also incredible massage chairs -- $1 for 10 minutes of an intense full-body pummeling. After the week we had at school this week, the massage chair alone was worth the trip.

Then it's on to the bathhouse itself -- the naked part. Although at first it's really awkward to be naked in front of a room full of strangers, not to mention in front of your friends, that honestly goes away after a minute. We certainly got some stares (being the only Westerners and obviously standing out) but it wasn't bad.

To answer the obvious question: yes, the bathhouses are gender-segregated. The upstairs saunas are co-ed but you're wearing pajamas; in the actual bathhouse, you're only with your own gender so that makes it much less uncomfortable.

Hot and cold showers, pools of all temperatures, and a number of different saunas -- a hyper-oxygenated coal one, a steam sauna too intense to even breathe in, and the typical dry heat. We jumped around from warm pool to hot tub to icy cold pool to all the saunas. Whew!

Altogether, we spent nearly 3 hours there and could have spent many more if we didn't have work in the morning. It was a relaxing way to cap this hectic week and is such a genuine slice of Korean life. I feel chilled out, my skin is soft, and I'm no longer quite so freaked out to shed my clothes for a good experience.

Both a look into Korean culture and a ton of fun, we've vowed to make this a weekly excursion! And if you're coming to visit and feel up for it, I'll take you too...

(and obviously there are no pictures to back up this post, so you're gonna have to take my word on the wonder of jjimjilbangs!)


  1. Wow that's definitely brave of you! But I guess if everyone's naked it's less awkward than if you were the only one.

  2. They have those in new york city too. I almost went to one when I lived there last summer but it was too expensive. No, that's not me actually chickening out haha.