This past weekend some of the guys and I decided, since we had recently been paid, to head out for some Christmas shopping. While we walking around the mall, we spotted a sign for a place called SpaLand. Figuring we could all use a relaxing time, it was decided to give this place a shot. And thus began my first experience with a Korean bath house, or Jjimjilbang.
Jjimjilbang’s are gender segregated hot baths. The men are herded to one side while the women to the other. Once inside, there are saunas, jacuzzis, and showers. After your hot tub experience, the genders are brought back together for more treats: massages, foot baths, cafes, sleeping mats, dvd viewing rooms, and steam rooms. All of which sets a more Zen-like mood than a feng-shui rock garden.
It probably goes without saying that since I had never experienced anything quite like this before I was both excited and apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect as we paid the cashier and took the escalator up a flight. Obviously, my mind was picturing something like this:
Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed because in actuality, this is much more accurate:
Join me as I walk you through my inaugural visit…
As in all Korean establishments, the first garment of clothing you lose upon entering are your shoes. Lockers are conveniently placed by the entrance and, after you pay the $12.00, you’re given a number. This number is the locker number for your shoes and then once you’re inside, a separate locker for your clothes. Not only that, but this number stays with you, allowing you to charge everything you buy to it, similar to a hotel room. Before you leave, they tally your bill and you pay.
The first thing you do in a Korean Bath House is get naked. Once you’re naked, and surrounded by dozens of other naked Korean men (some as young as 13 but most old enough to by your father or grandfather), you head into the wet bath room. It’s a huge room full of multiple hot and cold tubs of various temperatures. You can hop into a scalding hot pool, a freezing cold one, one with jets, or another with beds in the water.
There’s even a bucket of ice water tied to a string that you can stand beneath and dunk yourself (or your buddy – who will invariably scream like a little girl and send the old men covering what little packages they may have and running for the hills).
You can jump between tubs too. Start hot, get cold. Whatever you want! Have a ball… have two balls. There are plenty to go around.
When you’re tired of the tubs, there are a handful of saunas (again of varying temperatures) so you can sweat your ass off. I’ve never in my life seen so many unattractive, naked, old, Asian men in the same place and at the same time before. And if you tell me you hate being stared at in public by strangers, I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT… EVER!!!
After the wet bath room, it’s time to head into the common areas. But don’t leave without showering up though. Koreans are nothing if not spic and span. And the spa provides plenty of towels, soap, body wash, shampoo, shaving cream, hair gel, mousse, blow dryers, after shave, and cologne.
Once you put your robes back on you get to see the women (seems backwards to me, but whatever). Both ladies and men’s jjimjilbang rooms (that’s slightly redundant since the Korean word ‘bang’ translates to ‘room’) empty into a long hallway. At the end of the hallway is the second most relaxing place I’ve ever been (other than the Caribbean white sand beaches). Hard wood floors separated mini pools everywhere in which people waded their feet to soak the salts into their skin. Additionally, the spa featured another dozen different varieties of coed (finally) steam rooms. One had an Egyptian theme, another was Roman, and a third was Turkish.
Couples young and old, walked hand in hand through the gardens and grounds and even cuddled next to each other on sleeping mats while sharing granola and yogurt treats. The boys and I decided to head upstairs to get massages. Options, options, options. They offered so many options, I wasn’t sure what to choose. They offered Korean, Swedish, Deep tissue, and a handful of others for $100 an hour. We chose a more limited massage: 50 minute upper body/feet for about $60. It wasn’t the best massage I’ve ever had but it was good enough.
By the time we were ready to leave, we had spent over an hour sweating, another hour getting the knots in our backs and shoulders worked out, and another hour snoozing in the Zen garden. I’ve never been more relaxed in my life. I felt like I was on a vacation. If you live near a place labeled: Korean Bath House, and you’re not faint of heart (or shy… at all… in any way…), I highly recommend giving it a shot.
With any luck, next time, I’ll see what the ladies side is like. Of course, I’ve never been very lucky.
Until Next Time…