Ask any beauty and wellness expert where industry trends begin, and without hesitation, many will respond: “South Korea.” From fish pedicures in the early 2000s to serums and sheet masks today, the country has been at the forefront of spa culture. And now, another hallmark of “SoKo” self-care is making its way around the globe: the jjimjilbang, otherwise known as the 24-hour spa. Often taking up several floors of a single building, jjimjilbangs invite guests to bathe, eat, sleep, get massages, indulge in steam sessions, undergo skin treatments and even play video games, one blissful day at a time. Here are four of the very best jjimjilbangs to enjoy during your next visit to Seoul.
Dragon Hill Spa
Perhaps the best known jjimjilbang in Seoul is Dragon Hill Spa. Located in Yongsan, just north of the Han River, this popular spot offers a staggering seven floors’ worth of spa zones, from a calming series of pine and crystal saunas to a red clay meditation room, charcoal kiln, and heated outdoor pool. Here, as in most spas of its kind, spa-goers enter to find lockers where they are expected to leave their shoes and collect a key. From there, guests rinse off before heading to the speciality zones for rest and rejuvenation. The family-friendly establishment has a children’s playground on site, as well as game and song rooms. Dragon Hill Spa also features personalised spa services, a nail art shop and an exceptional noodle bar.
Just south of the river in Jamwon-dong, Spa Lei caters only to women in its no-frills, budget-friendly location in the Cresyn Building. Known for its wide array of baths, each of which offers its own series of benefits to the body: the sea water bath is packed with minerals like magnesium and salt that absorb into the skin and promote wellness; the rose bath soothes and gently cleanses; the chrysanthemum bath benefits the nerves, thyroid and high blood pressure; and the herb bath soothes the mind through heady aromatherapy. It’s customary to use the small towel provided by the spa as a head wrap with “ears” folded at the sides, resembling those of a sheep. Here, the Spa Lei towel is folded lengthwise into thirds, cuffed at the ends until the desired length is achieved, and then placed over the head for a whimsical effect.
In Jung, Siloam Spa‘s medicated baths introduce ingredients like mugwort, salt, charcoal and jade (or “giok”) to cleanse, soothe and rejuvenate visitors, while an array of saunas use fire, salt and jade to open the pores and loosen the muscles. Here, much like the etiquette expected in most jjimjilbang, nudity is expected in same-sex areas, although visitors may opt to use the provided towel for modesty when walking to and from the changing room, and loungewear is mandatory in common areas. At Siloam, an oxygen room, charcoal room, grotto-style sleeping room, restaurant and coffee shop round out the spa’s offerings, as well as a separate sleeping room for those who snore.
Gold Spa, located in the ever-trendy commercial district known as Gangnam, is an oasis of relaxation and recreation, complete with baths, spa treatments, a fitness centre, movie theatre, barber shop, golf range, restaurant, internet cafe, and, of course, sleeping quarters. Its stone and wood accents create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for spa-seekers in need of rest and rejuvenation. While details vary depending on the spa, most jjimjilbang follow similar rituals of dress, hygiene and behaviour; likewise, at Gold Spa, it’s expected that patrons wear the spa’s complimentary loungewear in common areas while going au naturel in same-sex rooms. When in doubt, of course, ask the concierge for guidance.
Given its prominence in global spa culture, a visit to Seoul isn’t complete without a massage, facial or sauna. Or better yet, all of the above for 24 hours straight. At these jjimjilbangs, you can truly immerse yourself in the best spa treatments South Korea has to offer. You’ll walk away with a truly unique experience—and some very smooth skin to boot.