Are Koreans More Polite When They’re Naked? — A Visit to a Korean Bathhouse

Posted by on Jun 18, 2010 in Korea Sandbox, Uncategorized | 31 comments

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Korean Bathhouse

For Koreans a  weekly visit to the spa or bathhouse is a must. They go there to lounge in the hot pools, sweat in the saunas, and scrub their bodies until they’re red. Men and women are separated and everyone roams around buck naked.

When I first came to Korea I enjoyed a bathhouse that overlooked the ocean. Once I got used to the idea of parading around in the buff it was one of my favorite weekly activities. I would lay in the warm water until my skin puckered. The two dollar admission brought me an afternoon of bliss once a week.

Having gotten away from the weekly ritual I decided a couple of weeks ago that a visit was long over due. Thursday is now “bathhouse day”. This week I went to one here in Daejeon and for $5.00 I wiled away a most enjoyable afternoon. I was massaged with the water jets, and sweated off a few ounces in the saunas before I plunged into the COLD water pool.

The one thing I took note of was how nice everyone was. Koreans are known for being rude, and they have no qualms about pushing in line. In public places it often seems to be “survival of the quickest”. Get them naked, and a new personality takes over. The bathers made sure that I had my turn at the jets, no cutting in line. Sauna doors were held while others passed through. I had forgotten how polite naked Koreans usually are; a pleasant surprise.

A trip to Korea isn’t complete without a trip to the public spa/bathhouse.

–Men and women bathe separately.

–Don’t be shy about being naked. We’re all the same. You might get the odd stare, but just ignore them. Try a bathhouse in a bigger city where they’re used to seeing foreigners.

— Don’t even think about wearing a bathing suit. That would just be too weird.

— Remember to take your shoes off before you enter the locker room area.

— Expect to pay between five and ten dollars. You can stay as long as you like.

— You’ll be given two itzy bitzy towels. If you have a bigger towel, you might want to bring it along.

— Be sure to shower before going into the pools.

— Most spas offer body scrubs and massages. Be warned, these are not gentle!

— Bring your own toiletries.

— Bath houses are everywhere, and often attached to a hotel/motel. Ask at your hotel or look for the sign that looks like a flame.

A trip to the bathhouse is not only a fantastic way to experience Korean culture on a budget, but to mingle with the locals when they are on their best behavior.

31 Comments

  1. LOVE this! i long for an afternoon there!

  2. That is pretty interesting! Imagine if we had those here in the U.S. – that would be bizarre! I don't know if I could visit one though, I'm not a freak about germs but something about sharing water and jets with a bunch of naked people is weird to me. Thanks for the tips though – this way I'll be prepared!

  3. Oh boy – I want to go right now! If only I could click my heels together and wish myself there in that lovely soaking water….

  4. Hey.. look what you got here!! :) Public path house is quite long, traditional thing. It starts with social background.
    :)
    I went there with my granma when I was kid. Sweet memory.
    Nice!

  5. I enjoy a good sauna, but I don't know if I would go once a week. I did that for awhile last summer when I was at the gym, but it lost its appeal after several visits.

  6. My first experience of this was in Sydney with my mum and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into! Of course we settled into it after a few minutes but then came the massages… haha… they are definitely not gentle but I had dry skin no more after it!
    Definitely something I would try again, hopefully when I get to Korea :) Great post.

  7. I have to admit that this would be a very liberating experience….especially since I've never been to a sauna!

  8. This sounds amazing. I'm hoping to go to Korea one day and this sounds exactly up my alley.

  9. I used to think that way too. It's amazing what you get used to and what you'll do after living in a country for a while.

  10. that's fantastic that this is a weekly thing.. relaxing indeed. Gotta try it out when we're in Korea! :-)

  11. Ha, that was a great story. Really good photos on your site in general too. We will keep on checking back for more!
    Jamie and Jess
    http://www.cloudpeopleadventures.com

  12. Real tips about getting naked with Koreans — I love it. A weekly spa? I'm in!

  13. Can't wait to get to Korea really. Not sure if I could do the whole naked thing but I guess it's something I have to do once there.

  14. Not a big issue for most once you get used to it. There are also water parks in some places where you do keep your suit on :)

  15. Not a big issue for most once you get used to it. There are also water parks in some places where you do keep your suit on :)

  16. Sounds fantastic. A bizarre concept that people would be more polite when naked, but guess it kind of makes sense. Reminds me of a very bizarre experience I had in a steam hut in a suburb of Vientiane, Laos.

  17. Nice story :) I haven't been in Korea, but I did public bathhouses in Japan. In my first time, I noticed some people were starring at me. Turned out I did the big mistake: jumping to the hot pool without showering!

  18. I used to live in Korea last year and went to the Bath house at least once a week, sometimes more often. As you say, we're all the same naked. I paid about $4 to enter and an other $12 for the scrub or $20 for a scrub and massage. The guy was tough on my body but it felt great afterwards, so relaxing.

  19. it does make sense, nothing to hide !!

  20. Korea has been tentatively on my travel map. The people are rude? I didn’t know that. One of my primary draws to the Middle East is the friendliness of the people. Maybe if I keep mostly to myself I’ll like it :) I don’t know about going to one of these baths, though.

    • Sabina, over the years I have met some very nice Koreans. As individuals they can be lovely. However, when they’re out in public they don’t think anything of pushing in line, or whatever. A lot of it has to do with the Confucius influence. If they don’t know you, you are invisible to them. A good example is when you go into the ladies room and their is a lineup. It’s important that you acknowledge each person who comes in after you. Usually a bow of the head and a smile will do it. Once you’ve done that they won’t try and push in front of you.

  21. Naked in Korea. I remember the time…. Whoops… the internet thing is turned on. Um, where was I ? Oh, people get naked and polite in Korea?

  22. Naked in public bath? I don’t know about that… Either way, Koreans sound an awful lot like Chinese do when it comes to getting in line (I almost got trampled at the Shanghai World Expo). Glad to hear they’re more polite naked! Not a care in the world perhaps when you could care less how people look at you?

    • I relate to the Expo in Shanghai. The Chinese were pretty crazy when it came to standing in line.

  23. Not me! I went to several onsens in Japan, and it sounds like a similar concept. I could never relax because I could never get past the whole being naked in a room full of naked people. Too strange for me, but that’s awesome you could take advantage and enjoy yourself.

  24. All the jimjilbangs I go to are wayyy more expensive, like 7 to 12 dollars just for entry, although if you stay all night, it’s a bargain. Maybe I just go to the fancy ones. ^^

    • That seems to be the average price here in Daejeon. I did go to the one at the Hamilton Hotel one time, and stayed the night. I can’t remember the price, but I know it wasn’t any more than 12 dollars, and I think it was less. I’ve also used the one at the Express Bus Station in Seoul, and the last time I was there it was 10.000Won. I’m not sure if that was just the sauna or the jimjilbang as well. i didn’t spend the night.

  25. Amy, I think it’s one of those things that you either like it or you don’t :)

  26. See, when I was there I was alone and simply walked in with with my swimming suit- I didn’t know I had to be naked. Soon after a couple of elderly men came in and requested I take my speedo off- I as then explained about the culture behind it.

  27. Wow, great observation in their polite level :)
    I did onsen in Japan, and I did a horrible mistake: Jumped to the hot pool before rinsing myself. Everybody was starring at me. How embarrassing..

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