Jjimjilbang (찜질방) is the Korean version of the public bath house. These bathhouses are equipped with everything a person could possibly need and more. Herbal baths, saunas, massage chairs, pay for a real massage or a full body scrub. Eat your dinner, check your email, sleep for the night and even norebang at some.
For my first few months here I was so scared to go. Why? Well, you have to go into the bath area naked. Since my friends are my co-workers... I just didn't really like the idea of my co-workers knowing every intimate detail of my body. After one of my friends nagged me about it forever, I finally broke down and went. I'm so happy I did. Being naked in public is not that big of a deal. It was even nicer, because we went so late at night that there was hardly anyone around to see anyway. I've decided that 10:30 pm on a weekday is the perfect time to go.
So, how it works: You need to go in (look for this sign, it usually means jjimjilbang, though, sometimes motels use this symbol too, so be careful). I haven't quite figured out exactly what to say when you get there, since there are different options, if you only want the bath, if you want bath and sauna, or if you want to spend the night. Eventually after some gestures they figure out what I want, and they give me my towels and my receipt.
Take your shoes off at the entry way and enter into the women's side. At my jjimjilbang there is a special locker just for shoes. Take the key out of that locker and bring it in. I hand my key and my reciept to another lady. She gives me my shirt and shorts that I will wear in the common area, but thats for later. The lady gives me a key to a big locker and thats where you have to strip down and get naked. Then you can enter into the bath area.
Before you can get into the bath, you must shower. There are lots of showers, and the Korean women will really scrub themselves down, or even get someone else to scrub them. I'm not so hardcore, but I just wash myself clean like I normally would, then head over to a bath. At my jjimjilbang, there are several different baths, The first changes every time I go, but its always some kind of herbal bath, usually some fun color like bright purple or green. There is a super hot bath, I've never gone in that one. There is a bath made out of pine wood, I'm not sure what that bath is either, but it smells really nice. The last bath is the cold bath. It's only 20˚C, which feels mighty cold after stepping out of a steaming hot bath. This bath is good though, because sometimes all the hot water and steam can get to you.
Once you finish in the baths, you can dry off, put your towel in the hamper, and get dressed with the clothes that they give you. You can head over to the common area where all the fun stuff is. At our jjimjilbang, we always frequent the snack bar and buy 2,000 won chamchi sandwiches (tuna sandwiches) which are so yummy and delicious. Maybe after that head over to the massage chairs which cost 1,000 won for 10 mins. These chairs are not just some vibrations on your back. These chairs really make you feel like someone is massaging you. I usually spend about 20 mins here. They have foot massages here, but I don't particularly like them... they kind of hurt my feet. Next is the saunas. There are many different saunas... dry heat moist heat, super hot, ice boxes... we kind of switch between the ones we like.
The common area also has a big tv, a restaurant, PC bang and a massage room. The vast majority of the common area, though, is just one big open space. People tend to sprawl out on the ground and either chill out or pass out. Looks pretty tempting actually, I might try it sometime. The sleeping area I guess is separate, and I think it's just a dark room where you can sleep on the floor (they probably give you a blanket and a pillow, just like renting any sort of ondol room in Korea).
After we're done here, we usually head into the baths one more time for a few mins, dry off and check out. We return our suits and key, get our shoe locker key back, and head out. And it's amazing.
My jjimjilbang is very close by Wangsimni station (line 2, 5 and 1) if you want directions, just leave me a message. I'm not sure of the exit number at the moment.