Step Inside a Visit to a Korean Bathhouse
If you travel to Korea, bathhouses are one stop you won’t want to miss! These lavish public facilities are an essential part of Korean culture, where locals come to unwind, relax, and socialize while enjoying a variety of health and beauty rituals. Young or old, these bathhouses cater to anyone looking for anything from routine self care to a full day of pampering with all the bells and whistles that these complexes have to offer.
History of the Korean Bathhouse
As far as the experts are concerned, there’s not much recorded about Korean bathing history — mainly because bathing rituals were a daily occurrence in Korean culture, so no one thought it necessary to record. However, in 1427, we see a sauna-like facility, known as a Hanjeung, come into existence. This was a place where priests would go to treat individuals suffering from sickness, and they played an integral role in the healing process.
A Hanjeung was a type of kiln sauna consisting of a dome built from rocks with an adjacent common room. The furnace next to the dome had a fire in it that would heat the stone walls. As the fire died down, steam would permeate the room for about 15 minutes before straw mats soaked with water were laid on the floor of the dome. Guests would sit on these bath mats and enjoy the warm air in an environment that somewhat resembles what we’d recognize as a sauna or steam room.
In the 20th century, a Mogyoktang, known as the modern day Korean bathhouse, became the most important form of bathing culturally. Their popularity grew through the 1960s as a place to practice personal hygiene and socialize with members of the community.
What is a Mogyoktang and a Jjimjilbang?
To really feel like a local, first you have to know the difference between Korean bathhouse facilities.
A Mogyoktang is solely a bathing area with hot water baths, cold water baths, and showers with some having staff members on hand to exfoliate guests’ bodies from head to toe. This area is a no-clothes zone and separated for male and female use. Per Korean culture, you must thoroughly wash yourself before getting into any bathing area. There are typically rows of washing stations with plastic stools for visitors to grab and use. In a Mogyoktang, there is usually soap provided, but if you want to get fully clean and wash your hair too, you have to bring your own shampoo and conditioner.
A Jjimjilbang is a coed area that does include a mogyoktang, but it also has Korean saunas and other places to relax as well. A jjimjilbang is separated into wet and dry rooms and are typically much larger facilities with rooms for exercising and treatments, like massages and facials, too. There are even designated rooms with arcade games and karaoke to bring fun and entertainment to the whole family.
While you spend the day at a jjimjilbang, grab a snack and try two Korean bathhouse favorites. One of them is eggs, but these aren’t just your average eggs. They’re special. Eggs in a jjimjilbang are steamed inside the saunas. Similar to hard boiled eggs, these roasted-style eggs are known as the national jjimjilbang snack and a common bite for those visiting the sauna. The other bathhouse snack favored by locals is a sweet rice drink called sikhye. This beverage is non-alcoholic and is made from rice, malt water, and sugar and often flavored with ginger and pine nuts.
To top it all off, if you want to treat your visit to the Jjimjilbang as a mini vacation, you can even spend the night there since they’re open 24/7!
Korean Bathhouse Culture
Hygiene and cleanliness are of the utmost importance to Koreans, so it comes as no surprise why bathhouses are renowned cultural staples. Anyone can enjoy these public health oases for a small fee of $2-$10.
Upon entering a sauna, removing your shoes is the first etiquette practice, but don’t worry, there is plenty of space to house your belongings during your stay. Showering is the next step to follow, which everyone must do when visiting a Korean bathhouse, because good hygiene is imperative.
On the whole, local bathhouses don’t come with a lot of fancy bells and whistles. They’re typically neat, practical, and comfortable. There’s usually a bathroom; glass doors that lead to the main bathing area; an area with lockers; an area with vanities stocked with skincare products, dryers, Q-tips, and body lotion; and an area where you can hang out and drink Korea’s famous sikhye, watch TV, lay down, and relax.
Some of Our Top Picks For a Korean Bathhouse Visit
If this has you dreaming of a trip to a Korean bathhouse, we have a few suggestions of places to check out!
Relax and Book a Massage at Dragon Hill Spa
For a taste of how Koreans destress, take a trip to Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul. This large jjimjilbang offers everything from facials to rooms aerated with crystal salts to luxurious massage. For ultimate relaxation, book a massage here with offerings like sports, Thai, and stone massage. Massage therapists at Dragon Hill Spa are trained to offer a variety of massage options to add to the spa experience. Here, you'll find that the saunas and Korean bath areas are segregated by gender but some areas are also co-ed.
Get a Facial at LK Spa
Make a stop at LK Spa on your wellness journey through Seoul. Relax in this jjimjilbang and enjoy a spa package of your choice, ranging from collagen facials to exfoliating scrubs. Whatever you choose, you’ll feel pampered from head to toe.
Enjoy a Visit and a Massage at Hwanggeum Sauna
At Hwanggeum Sauna in Myeongdong, relax in a traditional Korean sauna, called a Hanjeungmak, while you relieve stress and loosen tight muscles with the help of warm steam. Choose one of three unique massage packages: Chocolate Massage, Pearl Massage, or Collagen Massage, each includes exfoliation, lymphatic massage, chest massage, and a special mask to finish. These types of massage are one of a kind and a great way to fully relax and enjoy the spa.
Try the Bathhouse Experience
If you’re new to bathhouses, and want to try one before flying all the way across the globe, come see us at Sauna House where you can spend a few hours melting away stress!
If you’d like to learn more about bathhouse traditions across the world, check out our blog on German bathhouse culture and Roman bathhouse culture.