What kind of shenanigans can you expect inside a Korean sauna? You got the Finnish and the Japanese steam baths, but you haven’t quite experienced Eastern eccentricity until you’ve visited a sauna in Korea.
Some first time visitors have described the experience as surreal and occasionally intimidating. Rooms are sometimes compared to a medieval torture chamber. Believe us though—it is a very pleasurable experience once you get used to it.
The traditional Korean sauna (JjimJil Bang) is also called a kiln sauna (Han Jeung Mak in Korean). It definitely looks very different from a western spa club. This sauna is set inside a cave-like structure and has a low opening.
There is a reason these rooms are built in this matter—this is the way it has been done in Korea for the last 500 years, and many people still prefer the basic wood burning sauna design.
What can you expect when you visit a Korean sauna? For starters, instead of a robe or a towel you get a jute blanket, which looks like a potato sack.
The oven-like heat is so intense you need to cover yourself with the bag. In fact, it’s so hot in these saunas that bags of fruit are left to percolate and then sold as hot refreshments.
This drink, like practically everything in the sauna, has healing properties. The heat, though intense and uncomfortable at first, also has healing characteristics. The room increases circulation and makes you sweat; this increases metabolism, improves your skin and reduces pain.
A body scrub makes for excellent treatment, though it’s not for visitors with sensitive skin. While lying naked, you lie down on a table and wait for an ajuma (an expression meaning a middle-aged Korean mother) in black bras and panties to scrub your body down with a special exfoliating glove.
As it turns out, the intense heat from the sauna makes it easier for dead skin to come off. The end result is that your skin (a clean layer) is super soft! Korean sauna facilities also provide massages, nail care, facials, foot treatment and perms. Note that a full body massage means exactly what it sounds like.
You must be clean before you enter the Korean bath so use the provided shower area. All soap must be rinsed off before you can enter the bath. There are various baths at this type of sauna facility, of varying heat and some with unique ingredients, like green tea, ginseng or clay. Baths are highly beneficial for alleviating the affects of disease and painful physical conditions.
For example, one treatment called buhwang helps back pain and constipation. Though…it does involve vacuum compressors being used to draw bad blood from you, so be warned!
A visit to a sauna in Korea is typically not a “gay” experience though there might be individual clubs that cater to a gay audience. Many saunas are actually unisex.
Nudity is required in these saunas, since swimsuits are not allowed due to a chlorine risk. Nothing is familiar when you enter a Korean sauna (and this is worsened by the fact that few workers speak English) but if you are brave enough and open minded enough to stay for a full visit you will be relieved, alleviated and rejuvenated.