My favorite jjimjilbang in Seoul is Dragon Hill Spa, near Yongsan station. There, for as little as 12 dollars, you can have the most relaxing time you've ever experienced in your whole life, with the added benefit that this particular place attracts a lot of foreign customers so you're less likely to feel awkward (it can be a little uncomfortable baring your body when every other single person is Korean).
For foreigners visiting a jjimjilbang for the first time, it can be daunting if you don't know what to expect. But don't worry, I'll talk you through it!
At the reception, you'll pay your entrance fee and be handed a t-shirt, shorts, towel and locker key. The key is on an elasticated wristband so you can keep it on your wrist or ankle. Next you'll need to take your shoes off. There are small shoe lockers at the entrance, which are seperate to your main locker. So pop your shoes in there and make your way to the main locker room - these are segregated male and female. Now for the part a lot of shy foreigners (and shy Koreans too!) don't enjoy - you gotta get naked. Yup, take a deep breath and just take it all off. It's not that bad when everyone else is naked too, I promise.
The women's locker room at Dragon Hill is spacious and they have a counter selling drinks, shampoo, face masks etc. The first thing you'll need to do is go to the showers and give yourself a good clean soapy scrub and rinse. (The scrubbing is important - Koreans love to scrub off all that old skin, unlike us grimy Brits lol.) Then, you can enjoy hot and cold baths, jacuzzi baths, sauna and steam room at your leisure. They even have outdoor baths - My favorite in summer. You will also see an area where old ajummas in undies are performing what looks like a kind of torture ... don't worry I'll explain that later!
When your skin is sufficiently softened and glowing, you can put on that attractive t-shirt and shorts they gave you and head into the mixed area. As I mentioned before, some jjimjilbangs don't have that many facilities, but Dragon Hill is massive and has everything you can think of, including a canteen, nail bar, restaurant, PC room, arcade games, karaoke booths, kids' play area, massage chairs, fomentation (sweating) room, ice room, even a cinema room and an outdoor SWIMMING POOL! If you want to pay for some extra pampering, there's also a massage therapy spa, plus a members only fitness suite. As I said, it's big.
So what are you gonna eat now that the hot bath has given you an appetite? You HAVE to eat those little rubbery brown eggs when you visit the jjimjilbang. It's the LAW. You can also try 'shikhye', a kind of sweet refreshing drink with bits of soggy rice in the bottom. Much nicer than it sounds, trust me. The unhealthy option is some greasy fried squid and a few cans of Korean beer - nice! Another great thing about Dragon Hill is that you don't need to carry cash around with you because the wristbands are electronic - just touch it to the scanner every time you want to pay for something, and you'll be charged when you hand in your wristband at the exit.
The last thing you may want to do at the jjimjilbang is sleep. This is another concept that seems quite alien to most Westerners, especially as you will be sleeping on a mat on the floor. Most places have the option of mixed or seperate male/female sleeping areas. In the mixed areas you might see couples spooning - so cute! I've even seen whole families sleeping on the floor together occasionally. For me, even though I'm perfectly comfortable taking a shower in the nude at the jjimjilbang, I'm not so comfortable sleeping next to strangers. There are often snorers and people who put their mat too close to yours. Plus, the floor is uncomfortable, and I never know where to put my glasses without losing them! Communal sleeping is also a bit embarrassing if you sometimes talk in your sleep ...
Despite this, the jjimjilbang is still one of my favoritest places to crash after a night out. It beats taking the early morning subway home! That's why I can guarantee any good jjimjilbang in Hongdae is gonna be packed on a Friday and Saturday night - be warned, you'll have trouble finding a spot on the floor to put your mat down.
Now back to those ajummas in the ladies' shower room - what in the name of decency where they doing? BODY SCRUB. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to get it done myself - but never say never. I did it, and it was one of the weirdest things I've ever done in my life. Imagine lying down naked while an older woman in panties scrubs your body down with a bath mit and throws a bucket of water over you to rinse. And there isn't an inch of your skin they don't touch! You'll have your boobs, neck, hands and inner thighs rubbed down as well as your back and shoulders - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. While I was lying there, a girl next to me was getting a body massage, and I kid you not, the ajumma was WALKING on the girl's back! Bizarre, so bizarre. But I have to say, my skin felt really good afterwards and it was extremely relaxing.
I 100% recommend any visitor to Korea to try a Korean bath-house. You'll get a really good insight into Korean culture, as well as treat your body to some quality relaxation. If you want to know more, I recommend this TV show on Youtube for laughs. It's all in Korean but below I've made a list of vocab for your convenience. The girl in the video wants to lose weight in the sauna but ends up eating more calories than she burns - doh. Enjoy!
찜질방 jjimjilbang, Korean bath house
불가마 bulgama, Korean kiln sauna
와이어 없는 브라 wireless bra
뱃살 tummy fat
명당 a vacant space, 'the perfect spot'
베개 head cushion
양머리 ram's head - a cute style of wearing a towel on your head
과일은 살 안 쪄! Fruit won't make you fat!
수면 양말 bed socks
비닐장갑 plastic gloves
황토방 red clay sauna
시끌시끌 annoying noise, chatter
얼음방 ice room
식혜 shikhye, sweet malt rice drink
냉녹차 chilled green tea
핫바 fried fishy sausage snack on a stick
미역국 seaweed soup
허걱, 헐 gasp, omg, whoah, wtf
익었어! I'm baking!