Dragon Hill Spa
Jjimjilbang 찜질방 is a Korean-style public bathhouse. It’s immensely popular among locals, and gaining popularity amongst tourists (now frequently listed as a “must-do” when visiting Seoul). Apparently some tourists, and locals, opt to spend a night at a jjimjilbang, rather than pay for a hotel… since the floors at the jjimjilbang are heated (so that you can sleep on the floor) and it’s relatively safe to do so because it’s gender-segregated.
The last time I was at the Dragon Hill Spa, one of the most popular jjimjilbangs (located in Yongsan, Seoul, right next to the iPark Mall) was two years ago, with my friend Renee and a German exchange student. Since getting a body scrub at the Dragon Hill was on my (pretty short) Korea bucket list, when Renee offered to babysit Baby M for a couple hours, I immediately walked over to the Dragon Hill Spa.
Upon arrival, the first thing I had to do was pay the entrance fee. Since it was a weekday morning, the fee was 12,000 KRW (~$12 USD). I was given two (tiny) towels (pretty standard for Korean spas/Japanese onsens — they aren’t meant to wrap around your body or even cover up your privates!), shorts and a t-shirt, and a numbered wristband with a key.
Next, I had to take off my shoes and store them in the assigned shoe locker (matching the number on the wristband). Then, I took an elevator up to the third floor, where the women’s locker room was. Again, I found the corresponding locker, stored my bag and changed into the spa shorts and shirt. On the same floor, there was a large room with a heated floor. Lots of women were lying on the floor, sleeping or looking at their cellphones. According to the information guide, there’s a movie theater, an arcade, outdoor pools, restaurant, etc. (you should wear your spa uniform when visiting these co-ed areas). In the interest of time, I headed straight for the women’s sauna on the second floor (after I stored the t-shirt and shorts in the locker… you have to be naked to enter the sauna).
The women’s sauna has dozens of standing and sitting showers (all open… I think Asians aren’t as self-conscious about their bodies as Westerners?), several tubs of varying temperatures, a small tub for children (the sign said under the age of seven) , and at the very back, several ajummas (Korean for ‘auntie’) dressed in black bras and underwear, furiously scrubbing away dead skin from patrons.
I gave an ajumma my wristband, and she asked me which spa treatment I wanted (from a list taped to the wall). I asked for the body scrub only (25,000 KRW/~$25 USD). (Two years ago, I got the body scrub and the “relaxation” massage, which was anything but relaxing…) I lay down on a “bed” — basically an elevated table covered in vinyl, as the ajumma donned her scrubber gloves (I swear… they felt like Brillo pads!!) and began to scrub away all of the (dead) skin on my body. It was painful! I remember it hurting two years ago, but this time, it burned!! This ajumma, who spoke fluent Mandarin, kept trying to up-sell me (“Your skin is so terrible… you should get the ginseng oil massage.” “How about the shampoo package? You need a head massage.”). After she realized I wasn’t going to budge, she shut up and scrubbed with a vengeance!
It was gross, seeing all the bits of gray debris (dead skin) all around me. Every once in a while, the ajumma would take a big bucket of water and splash it across my body to remove the dead skin, from my body as well as the table (hence the vinyl covering). After the initial scrub with the coarsest sponge gloves, she went around again with a softer pair. After 15 minutes of torture, I was finished. The ajumma charged the 25,000 KRW to my wristband, and I was free to go.
When I changed into my clothes, I noticed a difference right away. The feeling of my jeans against my legs felt smoother. My entire body felt baby-soft! I picked up my shoes, and proceeded to checkout. (You can charge anything to your wristband: body scrub, massages, items from the gift shop, etc.)
While the experience wasn’t enjoyable, I love my clean, smooth skin now. Who knows, maybe I’ll get another body scrub before leaving Korea?
My blog post (I forgot I blogged about it!) on the National Museum and Dragon Hill Spa: National Museum of Korea & Jjimjilbang 찜질방
5 AM to 8 PM: 12,000 KRW for adults / 6,000 KRW for children
8 PM to 5 AM & weekends & holidays: 14,000 KRW for adults / 6,000 KRW for children