Karaoke, movies, live concerts, yoga lessons ― and some nice, hot steamIf Finland is famous for its saunas and Japan for its hot springs, Korea has its jjimjilbang, a kind of all-in-one dry sauna and entertainment complex. Foreign visitors assure us that such things are found nowhere but here.
In the beginning, jjimjilbangs were mostly favored by housewives and grandmothers, who wanted to “sweat out” stress and muscle pain. These days, they attract a more varied clientele, and many offer entertainment facilities such as noraebangs (karaoke rooms) and even movie theaters. Customers can take a yoga lesson, watch a live concert or participate in a singing competition. The saunas themselves are sometimes covered with gold, salt, clay or even ice, making it hard to decide which room to go in. These days, ajummas still gather to chat and enjoy the sweating, but you’ll also find young salarymen reading books.
Most good jjimjilbangs are situated near traditional hot springs. The Web site www.zzimzilbang.com recommends six.
Hwanggeum Oncheon (Yellow Gold Hot Spring), Seocho-dong, southern Seoul
Hwangguem Oncheon is one of only six legally registered hot springs in Seoul. Located in the center of the Gangnam area, the spring is better known for its jjimjilbang. The men’s area has a movie theater and a gym; the women’s area has a variety of saunas, including amethyst and gold rooms. The Hwanggeum Pyramid Bulgama, which both men and women can use, has an interior painted gold.
Admission is 7,000 won ($7) for adults and less for children. It’s located across from Seoi Elementary School; for more information, call (02) 581-4888.
Chuncheon Okbulgama, Dogok-dong, Seoul
Chuncheon Okbulgama offers such features as outdoor walks, DVD rooms and massages. Scenes in the movie “Eorin Shinbu” (My Little Bride) were shot here. It has a traditional, Korean-style sauna room that uses rough jade stones heated in a kiln. To really rid your body of toxins, people who purport to know about such things recommend standing up rather than sitting. The best time to take a shower is four to six hours after the sauna, according to the same sources.
Admission is 10,000 won for adults; clothing rental is 2,000 won. It’s located about 200 meters from Yangjae subway station (line No. 3), exit 4. For more information, call (02) 3463-1448.
Naseong Hawaii, Daegu
Naseong Hawaii is a five story building located near Daegu’s Sanseong and Cheongnyong mountains, which are known for producing clean and healthful water. It is famous for its germanium-rich mineral water, pumped from 30 meters underground.
Eun Cheheom (silver) Jjimjilbang, whose floor is covered with silver, and a kiln filled with germanium stones are popular. After finishing a sauna, sleeping in an oxygen-rich hwangto (yellow clay) capsule is recommended. Admission is 7,000 won on weekdays and 8,000 won on weekends. It’s located near Bohun Hospital in the Dalseo district of Daegu. For more information, call (053) 639-0001.
Besta Oncheon Jjimjilbang, Busan
Besta Oncheon became famous with the advent of the Pusan International Film Festival. Every October during the festival, film buffs on tight budgets stay there instead of in hotels.
Its sauna faces the sea, so people can enjoy the sunrise over Dongbaek and Oryuk islands and Gwangan Bridge while enjoying the sauna. The outdoor hot spring is popular, too.
Admission is 8,000 won during the day, which includes clothing rental. For more information, call (051) 743-5705~6.
Handok Spa Valley in Junggye-dong, Seoul
Handok Spa Valley features a stage in a hall that can hold 5,000 people. Guitar performances, singing contests and yoga and taebo classes are held there. Live concerts, by well-known singers such as Lee Eun-ha, and live comedy shows are also held there regularly. To check the schedule, visit www.handokspa.com.
Admission is 7,000 won for adults and 5,000 won for children. It’s located on the seventh and eighth floors of Geonyeong Omni department store. For more information, call (02) 971-7000.
Jungang Spa Land, Ansan
Jungang Spa Land, which opened in September, shows the extent to which jjimjilbangs have diversified. There are eight different themed rooms, including a traditional hot sauna, a bamboo-salt jjimjilbang and an oxygen room. You might not be able to visit all of them in one day.
There are also 100-seat movie theaters and children’s play rooms.
Admission is 5,000 won during the day and 7,000 won at night. Clothing rental is 1,000 won.
Five minutes from Jungang subway station (line No. 4), it’s located next to the LG department store in Ansan. For more information, call (031) 482-4199.
Gangwon Chamsut (Gangwon Oakwood Charcoal), Gangwon province
Currently, there are more than 100 charcoal saunas in Korea, and one third of them are in Ganwon province. Among these, Gangwon Chamsut is the biggest.
It has 25 rooms, which are resupplied constantly with fresh hot charcoal. The rooms, whose interiors are covered with yellow clay, slowly emit infrared rays and negatively charged ions; because of this, so we’re informed, visitors breathe comfortably despite the overwhelming heat. Customers are urged to take a lot of towels, and enjoying charcoal-grilled pork after the sauna is a definite must.
Admission is 5,000 won; clothing can be rented for 2,000 won. Take the Yeongdong Expressway, exit at the Saemal interchange and take Route 442 toward Hwaengseong. Turn right at Route 6 and drive for 10 minutes toward Dunnae; you’ll find the sauna on your right. For more information, visit www.charmsoot.com or call (02) 1588-1558.
by Kim Pil-gyu