Stress is real. Stress kills. And stress can be overwhelming when you are on your own in a foreign land and you don’t know how to cope with a completely different culture. Throughout my Journey in Korea and Japan I have found two places that are the perfect places to chill out and relax. They might not be for everybody, but I would feel guilty if I didn’t share the experience.
Korean Jimjilbangs :
A Jimjilbeng is a Korean Day Spa that has both a “wet area” and a “dry area.” The wet area is separated by gender most likely due to the fact that it is a completely nude environment. The wet areas are typically home to at LEAST three varying temperatures of hot-tubs, wall to wall showers, and three different “rooms.” These rooms are sort of mini saunas that allow to sweat out all of your worries. While in my experience the rooms vary from Jimjilbang to Jimjilbang there has been a consistent trend of one sauna lined with salt crystals on the walls, one of intense dry heat and one that comes with an actual massive bowl of salt that I theorize is supposed to help exfoliate. Some Jimjilbangs have more rooms and I’ve only been to one that has less. In addition the wet area also serves as a place to get a deep skin scrub where you can lay day and you get professionally scrubbed down. While I myself haven’t done that yet, (not sure why honestly) my friends said that it was such a thorough job that they felt they came out as new people.
The “dry area” is communal and mixed gender. It is the place where everyone comes to relax. Typically the dry area is a vast open space where you can see everyone. The dry area of Jimjilbangs typically have the following in common: Massage chairs, dry saunas and food/refreshments. The dry saunas also very in temperature like they do in the wet area, but the experience is different. The dry area saunas that are most common are one with a floor of hot rocks perfect for relaxing, a completely cold room perfect for cooling down and then there is the super hot place that is so intense that there is a warning sign before entering (its in Korean, but I got the gist with it being in red and all lol). Between these rooms, the open area and the massage chairs, I frequently wonder what have I been missing back in the states.
In addition to all of the amenities of a Jimjilbang my two favorite qualities of a Jimjilbang are its cost and its hours of operation. Jimjilbang are relatively in expensive. The most I’ve paid for a Jimjilbang is $17 but that was an outlier as it was the Dragon Hill Resort so it was a massive 5 story building that had a basement arcade, gym and slew of other things. Regularly I pay $8 to $12 dollars for entry. Conversely there are actual Jimjilbangs back in the States and their minimum for entry is $25. Their isn’t much comparison.
Second, a Jimjilbang is a 24 hr operation. No matter at what point in time you can show up and get in. This is perfect in a country that shuts off their subway system close to midnight and sometimes you are stranded in place and you don’t want to pay an expensive taxi fare to get home. In fact, I’ve been to 6 Jimjilbangs so far and half of them are because of last ditch emergencies where I was out too long with friends.
SIDENOTE: There will be a blog about the dangers of Korean nightlife later.
JAPENESE OLSEN :
Recently I had a great experience touring one of my bucket list cities, Tokyo. I grew up watching anime and idolizing Japanese culture and if you’ve seen anime like I have you know of the infamous “Japanese Hot Spring” scene always comes up. While I didn’t get to experience a wide variety of Onsen I managed to go to one called the Maenohara Onsen in Itabashi, Tokyo.
SN: The Onsen strictly prohibited photos, cameras and shoes so I don’t pictures.
The Onsen I visited did not have much of a dry family area as compared to Korea, but they had a private floor completely dedicated to massages and specials of the like. They also had the best massage chairs I have ever seen or experienced in life. I fell asleep in one it was so relaxing.
The main draw of an Onsen is the outdoor hot spring that I alluded to earlier. This Onsen did not disappoint. It came with an indoor water area and an outdoor. Like in Korea, the genders were separated because everyone was nude. The inner wet area was filled with different versions of hot tubs, bubble jets, and showers. My personal favorite was this new gentle cascading waterfall chair that allowed warm water to just trickle down your spine.
The outside does not disappoint. The gentle breeze is the perfect ambient weather to go with the outdoor hot tubs. The hot tubs are pretty much the same temperature, but they are treated differently. There was a normal one with from what I knew was normal water and then there was another one contained salt water meant to help soothe the skin. My personal favorite was the for lack of a better word… a bucket. They were thin wooden barrels that I couldn’t get my whole body in, but I was positioned perfectly to just stare up into the starry sky and I can say it was one of the most cathartic moments of my life.
The Onsen came to a total of around $13 dollars. The actual Onsen was about $8, but I had to pay for the towels to dry myself and a 20 minute session in the massage chair. This still beats the market rate spa treatment you would get in the States.
I feel that the East has the secrets of relaxation down to an art. Maybe that is one of the reasons why they have such long life span. Either way, if you find yourself traveling to Japan or South Korea I sternly believe you should visit these places.