Jimjibangs, or public bathhouses, are an essential part of Korean culture. And while I visited them often while I was living in South Korea, I had never considered staying in one until a coworker suggested it. We were heading up to Seoul for the weekend but our train wouldn’t be arriving until after midnight. Our friend suggested that we stay in the jjimjilbang behind Seoul Station: a public bathhouse that doubles as a cheap hostel.
The only other jjimjilbang I had been to was Spaland in Busan, which is kind of the Holy Grail of these places. That one cost 15,000 won for four hours. This one, Siloam, was a little different, but more typical of other jjimjilbangs in Korea. This one had a twelve-hour time limit, making it perfectly feasible to spend the night here. It was also older and less modern than Spaland. The scene that greets you as you walk up to Siloam:
Yeah, I have no idea. There was a long line of Koreans with huge suitcases in the check-in line when we arrived, so I guess a lot of people do this. We saw only two other foreigners during our stay here.
So, how does a jjimjilbang work? First, you pay. It cost us 13,000 won (about $12) to spend the night and have free use of all the facilities through 12pm the next day. Not a bad gig. They then give you a key to a shoe locker and some ugly-as-sin-one-size-fits all shorts/tshirt combo. The men and women split into their respective locker rooms.
Once inside, you put your shoes into a tiny locker. You don’t wear shoes in any part of the building, and at first, it’s very strange to wander through corridors and up stairs with no shoes on. But alas, this is Korea. Anyway, you then bring your shoe locker key to the lady behind the locker room desk, and she gives you a key for a big locker. You can either get changed into your snazzy new duds and meet up in the gender-mixed sauna/relaxation areas, or you can get naked with all the Korean ladies and take a dip in the mineral baths.
Since it was so late when we arrived, we decided to do the sauna/bath stuff the next morning. Alex and I met in the meeting area for men and women, and got the lay of the land before retiring to our respective Sleeping Areas. This basically consists of about 100-300 (hard to tell in the dark) mats and pillows, laid out bunk-bed style.
I chose a mat in the far corner, and tried to fall asleep. Just as I was drifting off, a flashlight shone in my face. A Korean man was crouched outside of my, uh, sleeping accommodations, whisper-yelling at me to put my keys and cell phone in my pocket. Several words and phrases popped into my head, none of which included, “Thank you for the advice, kind sir.” I understand the idea behind keeping your valuables on your person, but dude, I was sleeping.
After a rather fitful night’s sleep (you get what you pay for, I suppose), Alex and I met up to do some sauna-ing before taking showers and heading out for the day. This was my favorite part of this particular jjimjilbang: the fomentation rooms they had were really interesting. They had two different salt rooms, where you went in and literally lay down on a bed of salt crystals. There was another, similar room called the Jade Room. There was a super hot sauna (I want to say around 180 degrees F) so I stayed in all of 3 minutes before I felt like I was going to pass out. But that’s okay – to the Ice Room! This one was exactly as the name suggests: a refrigerator for cooling off after the hot sauna.
Alex and I headed into our respective locker rooms to enjoy a couple baths and a shower before leaving. The baths here were nice, if underwhelming. The facility at Spaland is so modern and huge that my experience there dwarfed this one a little bit.
It was an interesting place to spend the night. The sleeping part was definitely the worst, but waking up in a spa was not too shabby. I was able to stretch out the kinks after my less-than-stellar night’s sleep, which is more than I can say for any hostel I’ve every stayed. I would go back to Siloam and do the same thing again, but next time I’m keeping everything in my pockets at all times.