Yvonne, Yvonne, Yvonne! What can I say? She is always getting me into something when we go traveling together. This time it was a ‘really great idea’ to spend the night in a Korean bathhouse, because she read about it and ‘why not, YOLO’ or something like that, she always has a ‘good reason’ to try crazy things. Modest Mouse sums up how I feel sometimes:
You’re the good things yeah that’s you…
You’re the icing on the cake on the table at my wake
You’re the extra ton of cash on my sinking life raft
Rub-a-dub-dub 50 Koreans in a tub!
I’m an American from the US and by god some things shouldn’t be seen! Some things are just private! Okay, I’m not that prudish, but I have been raised in an American-US culture and Americans are more willing to see someone shot 50 times and beheaded before they show a dong dangling about (let alone erect). My god think about the children, teach them to kill…. not love! This is Amer’ca!
As you can imagine, I was a little shocked and shy when we went to a Korean bathhouse for the first time. During our trip to Korea, Yvonne and I went to two Korean Bathhouses. In the first bathhouse, I was too shy and didn’t want to be naked in front of 100+ men I didn’t know, so, I hung out in the common area where men and women could interact and enjoy the saunas together. The second bathhouse was a different story.
24 hours in a Korean Bathhouse (oh the horror)
Yvonne loves to read travel blogs and get a good idea about where to go and what to do when we travel. This is part of the reason I go along with her plans. She loves reading and commenting on travel blogs, but I never really read travel blogs or plan that much before I go to a new place. Different travel styles for different nomads. So, before our trip to Korea, she read that many businessmen and some travelers will sleep in 24 hour bathhouses because it is cheap and there are many bathhouses.
For example, a hotel for one night was about 50,000-60,000 won (about 50-60 Euros), but a bathhouse is about 10,000 won (about 8-10 Euros) per person for a 24 hour period of time. So, this allows people to ‘sleep’ in a bathhouse.
When we arrived at our chosen bathhouse we didn’t know what to expect. This was our second time to a Korean bathhouse, so we were ready for the nudity and scrubbing, but we didn’t really know the sleeping procedures. We arrived about 8 pm because once you enter the bathhouse you cannot leave. You pay for a 24 hour period of consecutive time (it’s not really a hotel). We had dinner and bought a few snacks before entering the bathhouse.
Once inside, we showered and enjoyed the saunas and tubs for about 1-2 hours and around 10 pm many people started to disappear into large rooms with no light. We nervously followed after sometime and after tripping, falling, and crawling over sleeping Koreans, we found a spot to sleep.
The room had about 50 others sleeping in it, mostly men, and as you can imagine, it was very loud. Korea, much like China and other Asian countries, has a culture of ‘let it all out’, so all night people were farting, burping, and snoring like they were in a room alone. The only problem was they were not alone! I was there! Trying to sleep and cursing Yvonne because I could hear her snoring right along with the rest of them.
The rooms are large but not quite large enough for 50 men and women to sleep comfortably. All night the man next to me kept trying to snuggle up to me and put his arm around my waist. This was quite alarming and didn’t help me sleep. I could only imagine who had their arm around Yvonne! As the night went on, people began to fall into a rhythm and things got better, but I was still battling Mr. Snuggles all night and worried about my safety.
In the morning, Yvonne joked about how hard the floor was and ‘what a great story this will be one day’. I was cursing, yawning, and still looking over my shoulder, all the while saying ‘today is not the day for the “great story”‘. My back was sore because it is not a hotel and there are no beds. The bathhouse provides mats, but no blankets or pillows. You are sleeping on a hard floor. This is what it is like to sleep in a Korean bathhouse.
What you need to know about sleeping in a Korean bathhouse
First, sleeping in a bathhouse is considered normal and if you want to try it don’t be shy. Nobody will care if you are spending the night, so, go for it! The experience will be worth it and if you have read this far you probably thought it was a good story. You too can have this ‘unique’ travel story for the low cost of 10,000 won and a sleepless night.
Second, it is much cheaper than a hotel and some hostels. If you are a solo traveler in South Korea and you are traveling on a budget, this is a great option to save on accommodations.
Third, you should bring your own sleeping bag or blanket and pillow. The bathhouse will not provide these items because they are not a hotel and are not licensed to operate a hotel. Yvonne and I usually travel with small linen sleeping bags and we have found them useful on many trips. Be sure to buy one before you go traveling. You will thank us and yourself later.
Fourth, the bathhouse will provide a locker for your items, which is very useful but often times very small. Keep this in mind if you have a large pack; you may need to reorganize your backpack. The lockers are about the same size as a gym locker.
Fifth, some bathhouses will provide food and drinks. The one we stayed at had a small snack area but the food was a little pricey. You can bring your own snacks and drinks, which will save you a little money and also guarantee you have something you like to eat.
Finally, bring a set of PJs because the bathhouse might not provide comfortable clothes. Many will offer sauna or lounge clothes but it might cost money and you might not be able to sleep comfortably in them.
All fun and games
I jest mostly, the bathhouses are actually pretty nice and once you get used to being naked, it’s not that bad and can be quite enjoyable. Yvonne and I went to two Korean bathhouses and we really enjoyed them. I often try to make ridiculous stories out of normal travel tells because I think it is more fun for the readers and myself.
Overall, I would definitely recommend going to a bathhouse (even if you are American from the US). It is an unique cultural lesson and you can learn a lot about Koreans by watching them bathe. The saunas are also enjoyable and it can be a relaxing afternoon to beat the heat. What do you think about Korean Bathhouses? Want more about Korea? Read 13 awesome snapshots of Seoul that will make you fall in love with Korea.