To fight the terrible coughing and breathing problem I've been facing lately we thought a trip to the jjimjilbang was in order. Jjimjilbangs (찜질방) are public baths/saunas. I wrote a rather extensive post on the subject back when I used to go to the jjimjilbang with friends after work at my old job, but I haven't been to a proper jjimjilbang since my first 6 months or so in Korea. Though, I've been to a few oncheon which are mineral baths so they have similar bath amenities, just generally less sauna options. We chose Itaewon Land (이태원랜드) not for any particular reason other than the fact that we've passed it a few times and it is fairly convenient to our house.
When we checked in, we just requested 찜질방 2 명 (Jjimjilbang for two) which includes the use of the bath, free towels and clothes to change into so you can enter the common areas and saunas. Contrary to any logical English thinking, if you were to request 사우나 2 명 (sauna for two) you would not get to use the saunas at all, but only the bath area. Jjimjilbang literally means a steam room. And for some reason, sauna means bath to Koreans. So, if you're looking for only a bath, and no sauna, then you can request a sauna and get a bath for a cheaper price. Is that confusing to you? It's confusing to me.
After you pay, you can enter through the door for your gender (men and women don't bathe together after the age of 7 or so) and take off your shoes and put them into a locker. Here at Itaewon land you are assigned a certain locker. But, other jjimjilbangs will just let you choose your own shoe locker. Then, take the key to from your shoe locker up to the changing room and you can find the corresponding locker number for your belongings. At this time it is time to strip down to your birthday suit and go into the bath (sauna for Koreans)
I didn't think I'd be able to take a photo in the bath area, since it's usually full of naked women. But just by shear dumb luck I walked in for a moment and no one was in the bath. I snapped this as quickly as I could before anyone noticed the weigookin with the camera and dashed out again.
The bath area here wasn't as nice as the one in Wangsimni actually in my opinion, but it was still very nice. Three pools seemed to be the same temp and same style, plus there was one extra hot bath and two cold baths (one cold pine bath, one normal cold bath). Before getting into the bath, though, you need to wash up. They have soap there you can use if you don't bring your own. You can also buy all sorts of shampoos and body scrubs outside the bath area if you like. Once you're clean you can relax in the tubs.
Once you've had enough of the baths, it's time to make your way to the public area where you can relax in the sauna or enjoy any of the other amenities available at most jjimjilbangs.
First I want to introduce to you my favorite sauna. It's the hottest one. On the floor the temperature is between 90˚-120˚C (remember that 100˚C is boiling). If it were water, you'd be dead, but as it's air, you can sit in there for a while, just not toooo long. They say that the temperature of the at the top of this room is between 800-900˚C, but it's shaped like a dome and fairly high, so you won't find your head up that high. Temperatures this high are supposed to heat not only your skin, but raise your internal temperature. They say that this draws toxins out of your body through sweating. I don't know if it's true, but if it were, it would be pretty darn cool. I can definitely say that sitting in this room made my sore lungs feel wonderful and my skin felt amazing after coming out. It is so hot inside you shouldn't bring electronics in, but I brought my camera in to try to snap a photo. It was a bit too hot and steamy for photos, though. This is how it came out. I kinda like it.
Me after the 100˚C sauna
Usually we don't think of cold rooms as being saunas, but at all jjimjilbangs I've been to, I've always seen the cold room. While there is ice on those pipes, it's really not that cold feeling. It is a bit refreshing to go in there after sitting for a long time in the hot saunas.
Besides the superhot sauna, this is my favorite. The clay room. We can sit here for a while as it's just perfectly hot enough to sweat a bit but not be uncomfortable. Notice that pillows here are made of wood. They're not as uncomfortable as you'd think, but there is a trick as to where to place them on your head. Sometimes I just use my towel to cover it and make it more comfy.
Another nice room is the charcoal room. Not very hot at all, you can chill out here for a while, and some people just come in and sleep. It's not really my favorite, but I'm sure the Koreans will tell you that charcoal has some benefit for your body.
Here is the salt room. It's a very dry heat as you'd expect, but not very hot. The salt room is supposed to be good for blood circulation and preventing blood clots. I don't know if it's true, but it can't hurt I guess.
Most jjimjilbangs will have snack bars and restaurants. Here you can get anything from Korean food to pizza. The price seems to be similar with typical restaurants outside.
At Itaewon Land, they have a huge manga (만화) selection. You can see people renting out a stack of books (300 won per book rental) and reading for hours.
They have these amazing massage chairs, if you don't feel like shelling out the won for a real massage. For 1,000 won for 10 minutes it is definitely worth it. But, there are two types, these in the photo and another one which pounds your body. I don't recommend the pounding chair, it was like a 10 minute torture chair and every time they beat my back around my rib cage I started another coughing fit. Not fun.
Itaewon Land also has a small gym and fitness area. While the price is nice, as gyms tend to be expensive here, you can't wear shoes, it's not really a great idea for using things like the treadmill, elliptical and bicycle machines.
Jjimjilbangs should be fun for the whole family, so you might find some bored teenagers (or adults) playing some video games on the arcade machines or playing Starcraft in the PC room. We also caught the end of the movie Ajosshi in the movie room on the 5th floor.
But, it seems that what is universally appreciated in the jjimjilbang is just hanging out on the floor in the common area. Take a nap, watch TV or drink with friends it's the place to be. Just grab a mat and get comfy.
Itaewon Land (이태원랜드) is located at the top of the stairway across the street from Macaroni Market and Praha on the main street in Itaewon, about 300 m from Itaewon Station ex. 3. They also have valet parking service if you drive. We paid 8,000 won at night time, so it may be cheaper during the day. Going at night means you can spend the night if you wish.