Last Friday night some coworkers invited me to join them on a trip to the main shopping area in Seoul. I tagged along not so much for the shopping, but as an excuse to go into the city and have some company during the 2 hour subway commute. Plus, I was curious about the legendary Dongdaemun markets. We arrived around 9 pm and the area was happening. People strolled the streets, lounged at sidewalk cafes, and browsed the many shops and department stores. As the night wore on, the crowds didn’t dissipate.
11:00 pm – friends, couples, and families all over the place.
11:30 pm – still full of people.
12:00 am – it could have been a Saturday afternoon at a U.S. mall! Amazing!
The shops stay open until 5 am (!), at which point the subways re-start. Many Koreans will shop all night then take the subway home in the wee hours of the morning. It was unbelievable. Not being a marathon shopper, I lasted until about midnight, then went to a jimjilbang to retire for the night.
When my American friends first raved about jimjilbangs, I was dubious. These public baths, segregated by sex, are popular places for Koreans to scrub, steam, and soak themselves silly. But doing all of this in a public room? Naked? In front of other people? I was kind of nervous, but curiosity won out. Plus it would be a cheap place for me to spend the night in Seoul. That’s right – you can SLEEP in these 24-hour spas.
I paid the entrance fee (about $12) and received pjs (a t-shirt and baggy shorts), a couple towels, and a locker key. I entered the women’s section, found my locker, deposited my belongings, and got into my birthday suit. Then I walked into the spa, a large room ringed with showers, containing 3 hot tubs set at varying temperatures, 2 cool pools, a few massage tables, a dry sauna, and a couple dozen nude Korean women. After a few minutes, however, my embarrassment at being in a room full of naked ladies subsided, and it eventually seemed pretty natural. I showered and soaked and rinsed to my heart’s content, then changed into my pjs. I wandered into the spacious co-ed hall where families clustered on sleeping mats, sprawling all over the floor, snacking, resting, and sleeping. I then found the women’s sleeping room, a long hall full of bunk beds, each containing a thin foam sleeping pad and a square “pillow” (similar to a pilates brick). While I wouldn’t want to regularly sleep in a room with 40 Korean women, it was quiet, dim, and safe – certainly comfortable enough for one night.
In the morning, I explored the spa some more and discovered its other amenities: an “ice room,” workout center, computer lab, and small video arcade. It even had a cafeteria, where I ordered eggs and toast for breakfast. I used the spa a bit more, helping myself to the complimentary toiletries and hair products available in the changing rooms. All of this for $12? Awesome! I’m so glad I got over my hesitation and tried a jimjilbang – it was an enjoyable experience and a unique way to spend the night in Seoul.
(no photos for this post – that would just be creepy)