South Korea’s bathhouses are where locals come to unwind, catch up with friends and family, and enjoy beauty treatments. They are such an important part of contemporary Korean culture, which is why on our South Korea small group tours we take part in a traditional spa experience and try the unique array of facilities and treatments, including ‘bubble sense therapy’ and ‘sound floating’.
More than just somewhere to have a cleansing soak, a jjimjilbang offers a well-rounded relaxation experience.
Keep reading to discover the traditional customs and cultural expectations at a jjimjilbang.
While being naked in front of strangers might not be the norm in the west, this is a normal part of visiting a jjimjilbang. As long as you’re not covered in tattoos (you may not be permitted if you have tattoos) nobody is going to give you a second look. You can hire swimwear and bathing caps for a small fee at the spa if you prefer to stay modest for your first visit to a Korean bathhouse.
Just like visiting a spa bath or sauna in Australia, if you want to soak in the baths, you’ll need to be clean first. Use one of the showers or washing stations provided using the toiletries you’ve brought in, or purchase some in the changing rooms.
Now that you’re clean, it’s time to make your way to the baths. Each bath has a different temperature, which is clearly marked so there are no surprises. You’ll notice many Koreans will switch back and forth between hot and cold tubs, a practice believed to benefit the skin and circulatory system. On your first visit, choose the baths you are comfortable with to build your confidence, then challenge yourself to a different temperature.
You’ll notice some jjimjilbang visitors scrubbing themselves vigorously. After all, South Korea is the beauty capital of the world and exfoliation is vital. You can scrub yourself, or you can pay one of the attendants standing by the plastic tables to exfoliate your skin. Korean bathhouse attendants are generally merciless and will exfoliate you thoroughly, but the end result of silky smooth skin is well worth it.
Now that you’re soaked and scrubbed, put on your bathhouse pyjamas and head to the common area. Korean bathhouse saunas are a bit different to what we’re used to. These saunas are typically kilns made from stone or clay, with hemp mats, salt crystals or jade crystals to lay on and gradually warm your body. Just be careful you don’t relax too much and fall asleep!
Part of the jjimjilbang experience is to continue relaxing after you’re done with the baths and saunas. This usually involves sitting around in the common area and snacking on traditional jjimjilbang treats, such a sikhye, a sweet beverage made from cooked rice and pine nuts, and some boiled eggs cooked in the saunas, while you watch TV, relax in a massage chair or take a nap.
Visit a Korean Spa on a Bunnik Tour
On our South Korea in Depth and Discover South Korea & Japan small group tours, we visit Jinan Red Ginseng Spa. Here you will experience a very important part of the Korean way of life. Unlike some Korean spas, Jinan Red Ginseng Spa combines genders and swimwear and bathing caps are required.
You will have the freedom to experience any of the themed rooms, including herbal bed therapy, bubble therapy, aromatherapy, mud therapy, stone therapy and floating therapy. There is also a sauna and indoor and outdoor pools to enjoy (with amazing views). This is an experience not to be missed!
Inspired to travel to Korea? Prepare for your trip and read our 15 most useful Korean phrases for tourists!
We're proud to parnter with Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to show what South Korea has to offer.
Frequently asked questions:
What is the etiquette for Korean Bathhouses?
Korean bathhouses, known as "jjimjilbangs," have specific etiquette: Upon entering, remove your shoes. Undress completely in the gender-segregated locker room before entering communal areas. Wash at the shower stations. Use the baths, saunas, and other facilities without loud conversation.
It's customary to bring and use your toiletries, including a small towel for modesty. Silence or quiet whispers are encouraged in relaxation areas. If you have tattoos, be aware that some places may restrict entry due to cultural associations. Stay hydrated, take breaks, and be mindful of personal space. After your visit, leave the facilities as you found them. Overall, respect for others and maintaining cleanliness are paramount in Korean bathhouse etiquette.
What should I bring to a Korean Bathhouse?
When visiting a Korean bathhouse (jjimjilbang), bring the essentials for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here's a list of items to bring:
- Towels: Bring a large bath towel for drying off and a smaller towel for modesty while walking between facilities.
- Toiletries: Carry your own soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Some places provide basic amenities, but it's better to have your preferred products.
- Change of Clothes: Pack a clean set of clothes to wear after your bathhouse visit. Comfortable loungewear is a good choice.
- Snacks and Drinks: Many bathhouses have cafes, but bringing your own snacks and a water bottle is convenient, especially if you plan on spending an extended period there.
- Personal Items: Consider bringing any personal items you may need, such as contact lens solution, makeup, or special skincare products.
- Swimsuit (optional): Some bathhouses have pools or water-themed areas where wearing a swimsuit is appropriate.
- Plastic Bag for Wet Items: Bring a waterproof bag to store wet towels and swimwear after use.
Remember to check the specific rules and offerings of the jjimjilbang you plan to visit, as amenities can vary between establishments.
What is the local etiquette of South Korea?
You can respect the local etiquette of South Korea by:
- Avoid pointing or piercing food with chopsticks; return them to the table often.
- Indicate you're finished eating by placing chopsticks on the rest or table, not parallel on the rice bowl.
- Use toothpicks for fruit; place bones and shells on an extra plate.
- Respect personal space; avoid touching Korean people.
- Don't cross or stretch legs; keep feet on the floor, not on desks or chairs.
- Pass and receive objects with your right hand or both hands.
- To beckon, extend your arm palm down, moving fingers in a scratching motion; avoid pointing with the index finger.