Sunday, February 23, 2014

Get Naked: The Korean Jjimjilbang Experience

Getting naked in front of strangers is a scary thought. I’ve given the Japanese Onsen a try, so I thought I’d give the Korean Jjimjilbang a try too. I was travelling alone and I want to try a unique experience. Well actually, I wanted to escape the cold. Exploring Seoul inwinter can be tiring. I wanted to be somewhere warm during the afternoon. The nice guy in Banana Backpackers recommended that I visit Dragon Hill Spa, a famous Jjimjibang where the celebrities go.
So here is the shot at the entrance. This is the only shot I have on this place.
The spa was almost an hour away from Banana Backpackers but I found it easily. The standard entrance fee is 11,000 KRW, that’s roughly Php 450. A very good rate for an afternoon in the spa. I paid the fee up front at the entrance. They handed me a key for the shoes and the lockers. Watch the people. I spent a minute figuring out why my shoebox key is not working when a guy told me that the women’s section is on the other side. *sheepish smile*

The floor labels are marked in the elevator. Some are men-only/women-only areas. I got my “prisoner’s uniform” in women’s floor reception area. I found my locker and proceeded stripping butt naked. How did I know that was the process? Well, everyone else is doing it. I ALMOST WENT out to the common elevator/stairs hall when someone pointed me to the right direction. I was probably blushing all over as I made my way to the bathing/shower/spa room *another sheepish smile*

I pretended to know the drill. Drop the towel, shower, scrub scrub scrub yourself before dipping into the hot bath. The Jjimjilbang has more pools vs. the one Japanese onsen I tried in Tokyo.  There are hot pools in varying temperatures (38 deg, 42 deg and 45 deg) and two or three other cold pools with different temperatures as well. There’s also an outdoor bath (surrounded by walls of course) which are scented with oils. They also have a sauna and steam room. I really liked the sauna room and cold shower combo.

I am very thankful to be Asian in this setting, I didn’t elicit any curious stares.

I decided to to get a body scrub from the popular/ notorious ajummas. The ajummas are clad in black underwear and then scrub off your body as if you haven’t bathed in years. Using sign language, an ajumma sold me a package costing ₩ 60,000 which includes the famous scrubbing experience and a massage after.

So I lay down on the “scrubbing bed” and she proceeded to scrub off all the dead and still dying cells with a loofah-like sponge something. I was able to endure the whole process without wincing. She poured water over me from time to time to wash off the dead skin/ libag before scrubbing more. My armpits. My butt. My inner thighs. After that whole ordeal, I was instructed to wash off at the nearby showers first, before she massaged by now baby-soft skin.

That is their idea of relaxation.

I went back to the pools for a bit and showered before I went back to the locker rooms. I changed into my prisoner’s uniform (I skipped the underwear as I noticed everyone was putting the uniform with no underwear on) and rode the elevator to the common room. The common room is like an arcade (think Timezone) where both sexes hang out and eat/play games. 

They also have this salt-crystal room (where you hang out and enjoy the benefits of a the salt), the igloo room (I like this) and some oven-like type of room. I saw a couple of foreigners who were observing the locals as well. There’s a snack bar (food is pricey, as expected. You can stay inside the facility for up to 12 hours. That’s why staying in one is a popular option for backpackers who are really watching their funds. The thing is, I’m not sure if you can really get a good sleep in this setting. The spa is relaxing, but I find the napping areas to be a bit warm for a good long sleep. Still, ₩11,000 is still cheaper than a ₩ 20,000- ish dorm room.

This is their Enlglish website
I paid the balance of ₩ 60,000 using my credit card. Pricey, I know. But that body scrub is one experience to talk about. Not sure that I would repeat that again though.

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