Monday, September 1, 2014

Dragon Hill Spa: Jjimjilbang Thang (Korean Sauna Experience)

While doing some research on popular things to do in Seoul, I came across something called Jjimjilbang. The spelling of the word alone intrigued me to look further into its description. The word translates to Korean Sauna. I saw many websites label it as the ‘Jjimjilbang Thang’. It sounded like something fun and relaxing. From my browsing I learned that a Korean Sauna is a public bathhouse. I figured it was similar to the Hammams I visited when living in Algiers, which were very nice, so I decided to add it to my itinerary for the week. 

Douglas and I had no time to squeeze in a couples’ visit to the sauna during our time in Seoul prior to the start of the conference. I arranged to go by myself while Douglas was at work. I went on Monday, April 14 early in the morning. I read that was the best time to avoid the crowds and have the most relaxing experience possible. Dragon Hill Spa was located one train stop away from Yongsan Base where we were staying. I arrived at the facility around 8:30 am. I was crossing my fingers that by going early I would avoid the excessive amount of nudity found at typical bathhouses. 

As I walked through the door there was a large circular service desk with one female staff member. I did as the sign requested and paid my small fee to enter the facility. If I recall correctly it was 10,000 won ($10) for the day. This inexpensive fee included unlimited access to the pools, saunas, jacuzzis, shower, and fitness center. I’d say that is plenty for $10. After I paid, the staff member gave me a change of clothes, a towel, and a red bracelet with my locker key attached. There was a scanning device on the bracelet that I used anytime I purchased a special treatment. The facility offered all types of body scrubs, massages, and many other unique treatments I had never heard of before. When I turned my bracelet in at the end of my visit the staff member would scan my device and charge me for all treatments received. You do not need any cash while in the facility. Everything is charged to your bracelet.

I first went to find my locker number amongst the thousands of lockers in this facility. There were over 5,000 lockers. That number alone gave me an idea of just how packed this place could get. The first sets of lockers were for shoes only. I had to remove my shoes before entering the main part of the spa. After my shoes were secured the staff member told me to take the elevator to the 3rd floor for the women’s locker room. I walked through the first floor for a few minutes to scope out the place. It was perfect timing since no one else was there. The spa looked deserted, almost as if it had not opened yet. The first floor consisted of a large arcade area, cafĂ© restaurant with ample seating, and an outdoor pool. It was quite far from the typical sights in an American spa.

After walking through of the main floor I took the elevator up to the 3rd floor. There were two elevators separated by gender. Only certain areas of the facility are unisex. Everything else is separated for only men or only women. I changed into the clothing they provided and secured most of my belongings in the locker. I wore a bathing suit underneath the shorts and shirt that were given to me. I also carried my camera and lip gloss – two essentials on my list. After walking up some stairs, I entered the female spa area. At this point I had removed my shorts and shirt and left that in my locker. I knew I would have to get naked at some point but I was trying to keep my swimsuit on for as long as I could. I had no desire to walk around any public facility (all female or not) in my birthday suit.

There were plenty of signs, written in Korean and English, with rules enforced at the facility. One of them was to shower before getting into any of the pools. I walked over to the shower section and got into an empty stall. It was still pretty lifeless in there so all stalls were free. As I showered – with my bathing suit on, mind you – a short Korean woman (I’m guessing she was Korean) came up to me lightly tugging at my swimsuit. She proceeded to use her body to illustrate what I needed to do with my body. I should add that during this entire interaction she was completely naked with a towel in her hand. 

I’ll give you a second to visualize. Whatever you just imagined, it was worse than that. 

I was confused as to why she had not wrapped this towel around her body. She was trying to explain that I needed to get naked. Well, excuse me, can I get warmed up to the facility before I start dropping my drawers, or swimsuit in this case?! I thought I could wait it out until she left and go back to doing my thing, but this woman refused to leave me alone. She followed me around for a few minutes until I finally peeled off my bathing suit.

I was now standing there, very naked. Humph. First thought? Um…this feels awkward. Well, when in Rome…or Korea. I walked over to the heated pools. There were three types of pools in this section – an herbal medicine bath, a Seasonal Event bath, and a Korean Ginseng Bath. I climbed in the Seasonal Event bath that was a temperature of 33° C / 91° F. It was hot and it felt fantastic! I was the only person in any of the pools. It took me mere seconds to get over my own nudity before I said screw it, I’m here so I might as well enjoy it. And I did exactly that! The hot water felt extremely good on my joints, although I do think it would have been just as enjoyable with a swimsuit on. I got out of the pool and went to the shower to rinse off. I then walked over to the body scrubbing section. There were several options to choose from on the body scrub list. I elected to go with the cheapest and what appeared to be the most familiar option to me. I got an Exfoliating Full Body Scrub with shampoo. That was 25,000 won ($25).

Wouldn’t you know that the same woman who approached me earlier to remove my clothes worked as a scrub woman? I have no idea if that is her official title, but her job was to scrub women down so I do feel the title is, at the very least, appropriate. The woman instructed me to lie on my stomach atop a slightly hard plastic covered mattress. She then pulled out what felt like a Brillo pad and began to scrub the brown off my skin. Good Lord, I had never been scrubbed that roughly in my life. I was sure I would have open wounds on my body after she was done. She literally scrubbed me from head to toe. Afterwards she took a hose and sprayed me down with water to remove the soap. She repeated the scrub and the wash down process. When she was done with me my skin felt like glass. That was the best body scrub ever!

I wandered around the rest of the sauna portion of the facility to check out the features, but after running into three more naked Korean women in a pool and a few more who passed by me, I was ready to go. I exited the sauna and took a short tour around the rest of the floor that I had not yet seen. I saw treatments for parts of the body that I never knew could be treated in such a way. For example, who knew hip washing was a thing?!?! 

Relaxation room and sleeping room for overnight guest...yes, people stay here for a weekend sometimes.

I couldn't imagine over 5,000 people in this facility at once

A few girls playing around...this is when it started to get crowded. So glad I was on my way out the door!

As I went back to the locker room to change into my original clothing, there were groups of ladies and young girls entering the facility. It was just after 10:30 am and Dragon Hill Spa was beginning to get its normal influx of people. Thank goodness I was already preparing to leave. If there were that many people in the facility when I arrived, I’m not sure I would have stayed. It definitely is a different experience going to the spa in the early morning hours before hoards of people arrive.

Doing the Jjimjilbang Thang was certainly an experience I will never forget. Granted, I have no desire to do it again but I’m glad I did it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is certainly a very small fee, considering they have a lot of fun facilities. It’s obvious that a lot of things are new to you, but I am glad that you still had a memorable experience nonetheless. Thanks for sharing, Nicole!

    Ronni Casilas @ JNH Lige Styles