South Korea // Accommodation //

Staying at a jjimjilbang

For travellers willing to take the plunge and bare all in front of curious strangers, saunas (known locally as jjimjilbang; 찜질방) are some of the cheapest and most uniquely Korean places to get a night’s sleep. Almost entirely devoid of the seedy reputations that may dog similar facilities abroad, jjimjilbang are large, round-the-clock establishments primarily used by families escaping their homes for the night, businessmen who’ve worked or partied beyond their last trains, or teenage groups having a safe night out together. They can be found in any Korean city, typically costing W5000–8000, and consist of a shower and pool area, a sauna or steam room, and a large playschool-style quiet room or two for communal napping; most also have snack bars and internet terminals. Upon entry, guests are given a locker key and matching T-shirts and shorts to change into – outside clothes are not allowed to be worn inside the complex, though it’s OK to wear underwear beneath your robe. All must be sacrificed on entry to the pools, which are segregated by gender. The common rooms are uniformly clean but vary in style; some have TVs and hi-tech recliner chairs, others invite you to roll out a mini-mattress, but all will have a floorful of snoring Koreans.