Bathhouse Basics 1 – What is a bathhouse? (목욕탕)
Bathhouse (목욕탕) – exactly as the name suggests. Simply a place to wash. However, while some establishments are not much more than a place to administer yourself a thorough scrub down, others offer the chance to wallow in luxurious ambiance. The range is broad and bathhouses often have their own distinct atmosphere shaded by the time you visit. What you will find common to all are: nudity, segregation by sex, places to shower, both standing and sitting and a number of pools. This is the most basic I have experienced. Others will have a number of adjoining ‘rooms’ containing various saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms (어름방), salt saunas, yellow mud sauna (황토방) sleeping rooms, and a place to be scrubbed down by an attendant. Once again, the variation is extensive. Pools vary in size and number and like the various ‘rooms’ often utilise specific minerals which are believed to promote good health. The most common are probably hot pools (열탕 – yeol-tang), warm pools (온탕 – on-tang), cold pools (냉탕 – naeng tang) but I have also bathed in pools of gold and saunaed in silver. Baths may contain herbs, or green tea or be built with health inducing minerals. In addition, some bathhouses have heated areas around the pools where it is possible to take a nap and these may be heated by ondol (온돌) heating (underground heating) or by infra-red lights.
In the bathing area, bathhouses often have:
conveniently located televisions
various types of massage
soap, towel, body clothes, toothpaste
a large stone on which to eradicate hard skin
In the changing area:
a room in which to dry and preen yourself
toothbrushes, shampoo, Italy towels, hair conditioner
socks, underwear, ties
soft drinks, some snacks, especially smoked eggs
Grouped around the bathhouse (목욕탕):
shoe shine facility
shoe repair facility
a sports complex or some exercise facilities
a jjimjilbang (찜질방)
Some may have outside areas or indeed, be located in outdoor settings. Finally, some establishments have limited opening hours while others are open twenty-four hours.
Variations are extensive and endless!
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.