This past weekend, Danny took me to one of the best saunas in Korea so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you all about Korean saunas. Saunas (pronounced "sah-oo-na" here) is a huge part of the culture. A while ago, when most people didn't have showers or baths in their houses, people would go to a public sauna to get clean, and still today it is some Koreans main place to take a shower.
Whenever you see this glowing sign,
you know a sauna is close.
When I imagine saunas, I used to think of hot rooms you could sit in wearing a bathing suit or towel, that make you sweat all of the water out of your body. Although there are steam rooms in saunas, now I think of a large room filled with tons of showers and naked people. You will usually also find different pools of various temperatures because Korean think that it is good for your health to go from 100 degree water to 50 degree water and back again...yikes. Koreans apparently don't feel self conscious being naked in front of strangers, however my first time at the sauna was a little nerve racking. I was one of those foreigners who tried to carry around the tiny towel to cover myself... I must have looked pretty silly. It really isn't as akward as some of you might imagine, and it doesn't take long to get more comfortable with your birthday suit.
Here is how a sauna works...
The women's outdoor pool at Spa Land.
(naked people not included)
1. You get naked and walk into the main shower area.
2. You start the long showering process and are usually given a pink "scrubbing" towel to exfoliate yourself.
3. You shower for a loooooooonnnnngggg time... you should get really clean because they don't want you to be dirty at all when you go to soak in the common pools.
4. You head over to the pools to relax. If you can, try each pool and see if you can handle the temperature.
5. Soak till your hearts content or go in a steam room for a while.
6. Take another shower to rinse off.
And there you go. You are a sauna expert now!
In addition to saunas are jim-jil-bangs. A jim-jil-bang is the common area that you can walk around in a sauna, and it is also where men and woman can hang out together. Most saunas that have a jim-jil-bang is where you can stay the night if you are looking for a cheap place (about $12 a night) to sleep but be warned that you will probably be sleeping next to strangers on the floor. You will also be given funny looking pajamas to wear in the common area... boy are they hot... but you can't keep them, sorry. Here we are with our good friends Gabi, Sarah, Greg and Pete...I think we look a little like prisoners if you ask me:
I have pictures only from the jim-jil-bang area because that is the only place where people are wearing clothes (duh), although I wish I could show you more about the actual sauna part... NO, not so you could see naked people, but so you could get a good picture in your mind.
A great place to take a nap.
For my birthday, Danny took me to Spa Land in Busan, which is one of the nicest and biggest saunas in Korea. (Warning: most saunas aren't as nice as this one so don't expect too much.) The sauna area is pretty large with about 10 different pools, but I go for the jim-jil-bang... it's amazing! You get to walk around and explore about 20 different rooms with 20 different temperatures from a charcoal room to a salt room, which are all supposed to help you in different ways.
You can lie around on comfortable mats, take a nap, or even go into the "relaxation room" where everyone gets a lounger with their own TV. There is also a movie room, an oxygen bar and a spa connected for all your massage needs. You can wear a bracelet that is not only a key to your locker but a little device you can scan in case you want to buy any drinks or snacks while you are relaxing. Often you will see couples sharing some cuddling time together because they might not have anywhere else to do that.
The TV "relaxation room".
One of my favorite parts was the foot pool. It felt so nice to dangle my feet in hot water and it made me feel more relaxed then I've felt in a long time.
Well even though some of you might still think, "I will never do that!" I would still suggest trying a Korean sauna. Even if you don't walk away with a free pair of weird pajamas, you can at least say that your sauna experience was "Good for health" (said in a Korean accent). Have fun enjoying Crazy Korea with nothing but your birthday suit!