Gonna make you sweat: Top 10 saunas
You might need to go to a jjimjilbang.
A jjimjilbang is as Korean as a bullfight is Spanish and a soccer riot is English ― it would be hard to imagine the country without one. Hotsprings, of course, are not unique to Korea. Japan has its fair share, Finland a few and the ancient Romans built many. The Korean versions, however, are less personal. Bathers steam themselves in caves full of strangers and sleep on wide heated floors with dozens of other visitors.
The heat from the floor helps the blood circulate around the body, especially when followed by a sit in one of the sauna’s steam-rooms. Chase it with a cold glass of misutgaru (grain powder juice) and shikhye (a sweet drink made from fermented rice) and you’ll find all your stress and frustration has dripped out, leaving a puddle on the floor.
“I can’t go through these freezing winters without jjimjilbang,” said Jang Mi-gyeong, 25, an office worker. “It is just so relaxing when your shoulders feel like they’ve shrunken.”
A jjimjilbang is more than just a hot sauna. They usually have several different sauna rooms with different themes, from burning hot charcoal rooms to miniature ice-houses. Some rooms are made of brick, while other are covered in clay or with stones. Of course, all this follows a regular bath-house regimen, including grinding away one’s outer layer of dead skin, a process that can make one look either much younger or much pinker.
A good jjimjilbang, however, offers more than just a long hot sweat. Most have restaurants, Internet cafes, movie rooms, televisions, a gymnasium and some even have swimming pools and golf ranges.
The full experience can be remarkably effective. The skin feels softer and looks shinier, the neck and shoulders are totally relaxed, and the brain is happily dead. This overall feeling is why some people go on dates to the jjimjilbang (be warned, it’s not a wise place to go on a first date ― you have to wear very unattractive shorts and a t-shirt).
Jjimjilbangs also have their downsides. Kids are usually on the loose and can be very loud and rowdy. The sleeping rooms are often crowded (that means you’re sleeping elbow-to-elbow with strangers), unsanitary (you’re breathing the same air with people who might have colds) and even noisy (some people snore).
To avoid these kind of hassles, don’t go to a jjimjilbang over the weekend. Mid-week is usually best, if you can bring some extra clothes to change into for work the next day.
Remember that like most places in Korea, parking is very limited. Though some jjimjilbang do provide parking, few do so for those staying overnight. Our recommendation is to use public transportation if you don’t have a sauna within walking distance.
Listed below are 10 of the top jjimjilbang in the Seoul area, including the prices, how to find them and what to expect. No two are alike, but all promise to do one thing: wash away your stress and rub out your worries.
THE TOP 10
1. Gangbyeon Spa Land
This sauna is placed at the top of the list and is the most popular jjimjilbang in Seoul. It has a reasonably large public bathhouse as well as many theme rooms, such as a salt room, clay room, charcoal room, oxygen room and so on, each heated to various temperatures. Its “resting room” (where a lot of people lie down and sleep or watch television) is said to be the most comfortable. This is because the small sauna rooms are far from the resting room, making them more quiet and relaxing compared to those in other jjimjilbang.
The unique selling point is its “foot massage tub,” where people can put their feet in the tub and have the water bubbles massage their feet in a room with a skylight.
Entrance fee: 7,000 to 9,000 won ($6.50 to $8), including clothes rental. Take subway Line No. 2 Gangbyeon station, exit 4. For more information call (02) 455-3737.
2. Handok Spa Valley
This place is famous for its size and its free performances. The entrance fee includes movie theaters, a concert hall, gym, nail polishing shop, Internet cafe and even an outdoor garden. Many young people who prefer entertainment facilities to sauna rooms and bathtubs come to Handok, and well-known entertainers perform at the concert hall quite often. A 50-percent discount coupon is easy to get online, but it means the place can be very crowded. On weekends, despite its size, it is often too difficult to find a space to lie down for a nap. Avoid going on the weekends if you can’t handle crowds.
Entrance fee : 7,000 won, including clothes rental. Subway line No. 7 Hagye station, exit 6. For more information, call (02) 971-7000.
3. Sambu Geongang Land
This jjimjilbang in the Eungam area earned its reputation for its well-made sauna rooms, such as the “charcoal fire room,” “sulfur salt room” and others. All the facilities are on the same floor, so it’s not too difficult to run around from room to room. The place also has a gym, a theater, restaurants and an Internet cafe.
Entrance fee: 6,000 won to 7,000 won, including clothes rental. Subway line No. 6 Eungam station, exit 1. For more information, call 02-302-7737.
4. Sports Club Seoul Leisure
This place has a bathhouse with more than seven different theme tubs to enjoy. Unique themed sauna rooms such as the “snowy room,” and “ceramic-ball room” are particularly fun. Also, small “oxygen rooms” large enough for about two people are a popular choice for couples on a date. The rooms are covered with raw stones such as amethyst and adamantine.
It also has outdoor walking path and a garden for those who are tired of looking of narrow rock walls.
Entrance fee : 6,000 won to 8,000 won, Subway line No. 5 Bangi station, exit 1. For more information, call (02) 404-7000.
5. Seoul Leisure Sauna
This very large jjimjilbang in Gireum wins points for the originality of its location: it’s near an old-fashioned market.
It has a nice foot massage machine in the bathhouse and a children’s playroom separate from the general rest space.
It also features typical jjimjilbang facilities such as hot sauna rooms, singing rooms, a gym and an Internet cafe, but it can be oppressively crowded in the evening. Some people don’t like having to pay an extra 1,000 won to use the gym and another 1,000 for a blanket to take a nap. Yet overall, this place gives people what they need and doesn’t lack customers. After the sauna, try some sundaeguk (Korean-style sausage soup) at the market next door.
Entrance fee: 4,000 to 5,000 won, including clothes rental. Subway line No. 4 Gireum station, exit 7 toward Gireum Market. For more information call (02) 909-6270.
6. Dobong World Sauna
Even though the bathhouse and sauna rooms in this jjimjilbang are not as large as those in other reputable jjimjilbang, it offers a variety of themed sauna rooms, such as the bamboo room, gold room, clay room, and salt room. Visitors say the rooms are very clean. The sleeping rooms for men and women (separate, of course) are covored with mattresses and are very comfortable. There is a ping-pong room, Internet cafe and a bar for soft drinks. This place is overall well-managed and clean, considering that large jjimjilbang have more people, making them messier.
Entrance fee: 7,000 won including clothes rental. Subway line No. 1 Banghak station, exit number 2. For more information call 02-3491-0300.
7. Lotte Bulhanjeungmak Sauna
This jjimjilbang has a typical Gangnam feel, with luxurious decor. This place is popular and is packed even on weekdays. It has a traditional hot sauna room, mudroom, and other theme rooms, as well as a gym, massage rooms, manicure shop and many other facilities. Many users complain, however, that the sleeping rooms can be too hot.
Entrance fee : 8,000won to 10,000 won, including clothes rental. Subway line No. 2, Seolleung station, exit 1. For more information, call (02) 508-0606.
8. Happy Day
This place is one of the few above-ground jjimjilbang in Seoul. The women’s bathhouse has unique theme tubs, such as a tub full of ginseng water and a foot massage tub. On the third and fourth floors are hot sauna rooms for women only, but on the fifth floor, the diamond room, clay room, salt room and others as well as clothing shop, children’s room and snack bars are open to men. Visitors can also work out at the gym or practice golf. On the top floor is an outdoor bathtub.
Entrance fee: 7,000 won, including clothes rental. Subway line No. 2 Guui station, exit toward Hyemin Hospital. For more information call (02) 452-5656.
9. Bellita Bulhanjeungmak
This jjimjilbang near Hongik University is also a above-ground jjimjilbang. The building’s several stories are all jjimjilbang and bathhouses, except the top floor.
The water quality is better than at other jjimjilbang and the sauna rooms offer different humidity levels and temperatures; rooms on the third floor are humid while the ones in the fourth floor are dry. There is also an old-style “fire hanjeungmak” room only for women, and the majority of the users are women in their 40s to 60s. The floors of the many rooms are covered with mats made of straw, which keeps the floor at a pleasant temperature. Using the bathhouse, however, the water pressure tends to change frequently and the gym does not have many machines. Many young people end a crazy night of clubbing in the Hongdae area here.
Entrance fee: 4,000 won to 6,000 won including clothes rental. Subway line No. 2 Hongik station, exit number 1. For more information, call (02) 322-4000.
10. Ssukgogae Bulgama
There are few large jjimjilbang in the Gwanak district. This jjimjilbang, which was built about a year ago, has all the facilities people prefer: several theme sauna rooms, a gym, karaoke rooms, restaurants and snack bars. The fire hanjeungmak room smells like pine trees and other rooms are equally pleasant. The theater, however, is not so attractive. Those living in Gwanak still rate this place as one of the best in the area, however.
Entrance Fee: 6,000 won to 8,000 won, including clothes. Subway line No. 2 Sillim station, exit 3. From there, take a taxi or bus to Sukgogae ipgu. For more information, call (02) 886-9750.
by Choi Sun-young