One of the nicest things about living in Korea, that many of us foreigners don’t take advantage of, are the saunas.
I’d been in Korea for over a year before I went to one, myself, but once I got over it…
What ever people think, I’ve never had a single strange or uncomfortable moment at a Korean sauna. The first time I went, an old man chatted me up in the hot pool, but he was mostly just getting a kick out of seeing a foreigner there.
Usually, you go in, either on the top floor, or in the basement, pay about 8000 won and they hand over shorts and a baggy shirt then you head into the shower room where they are usually three pools, hot, hotter, and cold. There is usually a hot/dry room and a hot/steam room in the same room, too. If you’re really brave, there’s a table in the corner where you can choose from a list of different massages, or get a “dead-skin scrub”. I tried it once, and barely (I was going to say hardly, but it just didn’t seem right!) a spot on your body that doesn’t get a scrubbed raw. As much as it feels good afterwards, you get the sense a bit of dead skin is good!
When you’re finished, you get your shorts and shirt on and go into the common room, full of families, friends, and snores. You grab a mat and a wooden block for a pillow and find a place to spread out. The really nice jjim-jil-bangs have small caves surrounding the room, starting warm and going up. Occasionally, I’ve seen ice-rooms, as well.
If you’re traveling on a budget, they are also great places to spend the night cheaply.