찜질방 (jimjilbang) is a 24 hour, segregated bath house; there are a variety of different baths on offer, massage rooms, a sauna and a communal sleeping room. The fancier kind even have restaurants and spas within their walls as well as entertainment activities such as a 노래방 (noraebang – singing room/karaoke). A visit to a 찜질방 on the weekend with some mates is a common thing to do in Korea and I experienced a bath house for the first time last month.
My Saturday started fairly early; I had plans to hike at Igidae park in the morning, a trek that normally takes roughly 1.5-2 hours to complete ending at Gwangalli beach. Upon arrival at the end point, my legs were tired, achey, suffering after a week in which I had stepped more than 120,000 times. My friends hit me up to meet them at 회심청 (Heosimcheong) hot springs, in the Oncheonjang area of Busan; I think the second largest 찜질방 in the city after Spa Land at Shinsegae located in Centum City. We arrived only to find that the women’s area of 회심청 was under construction and would not reopen until the 1st of June.
A little dismayed, we trudged out, back on the streets of the city with our phones in the palms of our hands looking for the next closest bath house. Naver struck gold and just around the corner was 녹천탕 (Nogcheontang or Noccheontang), a public bath house and only a bath house, that would be open for the next few hours.
We paid our entrance fee of 7,000 won each, and entered the locker room. Upon arrival, you are required to take off your shoes, are provided with a towel and a bar of soap and are given the opportunity to purchase other bath time essentials such as shampoo, conditioner and exfoliation gloves. We bought the lot, only having to shell out a couple of thousand each. You then make your way over to the lockers to prepare for the bath itself; I must admit, prior to the hike that morning, the idea of getting my kit off in a room full of other people shook me to my core, but once there, with my achey AF pins, I didn’t give a stuff! Off with the clothes, where I stashed them away in to my locker, turned the key and made my way in to the bath room.
It is a requirement to shower and clean your body thoroughly before entering the shared water spaces in all bath houses and 찜질방 in Korea (and probably the world over as it only makes sense!). Once squeaky clean, you can go about the house, choosing to dip your toes or relax your limbs in any one of the number of pools on offer. 녹천탕 had a good selection; there were two in the centre, both set to a 45 degree Celsius temperature, over on the back wall were the colder pools, one that was pretty mild but sent a fair few shivers up my spine, the other basically icy, making me whoop as I stumbled in to it and lastly a small pool, full to the brim with steaming water that almost feels at boiling point. An older Korean lady later informed me that you are meant to spend a few minutes in one of the colder pools before heading in to the roasty toasty one after she had seen me ooh and aah in discomfort whilst hurriedly thrusting my legs in to the super hot water.
In addition to the multitude of baths, 녹천탕 also has two sauna rooms; one with wet air whilst the other has dry. I’ve always found saunas a little insufferable to be honest; indeed I find any kind of extreme heat intolerable so I always make a quick dash in and out of the piping hot steam rooms. I did rather enjoy the wet air sauna room at 녹천탕 however; there was something quiet fulfilling about sitting in a densely humid room, allowing myself to simply relax, perspire and sweat. The dry air sauna was a different story altogether; in and out I was, like a flash, hurriedly heading to one of the colder pools to lessen the stifling heat!
All-in-all, the average person spends between 1-2 hours at 찜질방 or a public bath house here in Korea. Many people love to stretch out their relaxation experience by sleeping there for the night, arriving in the late evening to soak before climbing in to a pair of pajamas, tucking in to some food and finding a place to rest their head. I plan on heading back to 회심청 for the full shebang when the female section reopens in early June. Although 녹천탕 did not disappoint for my first bath house experience, I left feeling truly replenished and revitalized after my earlier hike, the timely restrictions based off of the 8pm closing time can be a limitation to others.
Ultimately, I loved the experience! My previous worries of getting nakey nakey have been subdued and I am open to making my appearance at 찜질방 or a public bath house a more regular occurrence!