Nudity, padlocks and puppies – Seoul, South Korea

We’d been doing a heap of walking over the last few days, so to put some pep back in our strides we thought we’d start the day with a bath. But not just any old bath… a public bath known as a jjimjilbang!

The entrance to Dragon Hill Spa (no photos from inside…that would be a bit rude!)

After our hilarious, yet enjoyable onsen experiences in Japan, the concept of getting nude with a bunch of dudes in a pool full of hot water wasn’t quite as confronting as the first time around. The Korean experience begins in a similar fashion to that in Japan:

1. Get your gear off (all of it)
2. Grab a washer and thoroughly scrub yourself down at a free seat in the washing area, including all nooks and crannies
3. Rinse off and discard your washer
4. Choose a pool based on desired temperature (at Dragon Hill Spa they had 20, 42, 43 and 44°C in the men’s section. It sounds like there were more options in the ladies.)
5. Immerse yourself and relax….
6. Grab a new washer and scrub yourself down again

This is the point where the jjimjilbang starts to differ somewhat to an onsen…

Korean jjimjilbangs also give you options for saunas, scrubs, haircuts and even noraebang (karaoke)! And then, when you’re finished you can take yourself down to the shared area (after remembering to put on some pants first!), meet up with your partner or family and make the most of the cold rooms, entertainment areas, hot rooms, games room, cafe, outdoor pool, and all manner of other options! Most of it is included in your entry fee, but where it isn’t (massages, food, arcade games etc.) you just give them your wristband to scan and you sort your bill out on leaving the spa. A lot of locals actually take advantage of the fact that you can stay in the jjimjilbang all night, by dropping by at the end of a big night out (after the trains or buses have stopped), and getting some shut eye in the communal area.

One option given to the ladies that most blokes may not know about, is a very special type of steam treatment! All I will say is that involves a steaming hot bowl of water, a pink poncho and a seat with a hole in the bottom!! For a better appreciation of this very special means of torture, drop by this hilarious blog post written by Timah. After reading this account, Karen decided not to take them up on the offer!

Instead, before selecting a body scrub treatment she chose to brave the 72°C sauna…The result? A world record for shortest sauna ever!! I can’t even imagine how traumatic that would be on the tender bits! On the upside, despite being extremely vigorous, the scrub was fantastic and well worth the W25,0000 price (~$25AUD). Something to remember though, if you do decide to have a basic scrub down, be prepared for the hard sell from the little old Korean ladies providing the service. They’ll try every trick in the book to get you to go for one or more of the little extras on offer!

Another worth noting is that the ladies area seems to have a quite a few extra options when it comes to the free baths and saunas, with a greater range of temperatures. Lucky buggers!

Blissfully unaware, I had a great time working my way up the thermometer in my pool selections, alternating with the cold water pool each time. The perfect preparation for a day of hiking Mt. Namsan!

Taking the subway from Yongsan over to Myeong-dong Station, we dropped by Isaac Toast for a quick bite to eat before tackling the numerous steps up the side of Mt Namsan in the heart of Seoul. You can take a cable car if you like, but as I’m sure you’ve already gathered, walking is our preferred mode of transport.

A beef ‘Isaac Toast’…a little greasy, but very quick and easy.

Would you like a serve of religion with your toast?

It’s wasn’t a long walk, perhaps 30-40 minutes to get to the top, but it IS steep and in the humidity we were huffing and puffing pretty quickly! Great views greet you at the top, together with some of the old fire pot beacons that were used hundreds of years ago for sending messages across the nation.

Part of the old city wall alongside the stairway to the top


Beacon fires

We also couldn’t help but notice that over the years hundreds, if not thousands of Koreans had contributed to the vast number of padlocks attached to the railings surrounding the lookout! A bit of research revealed that this is a pretty common activity throughout South East Asia (surprisingly, we hadn’t seen it before), with a couple professing their undying love for each other by attached one or two padlocks to the structure and throwing away the key. I hope they built the railing strong…!

After having such a great time at the dog cafe in Gangnam on our first day in Seoul, we decided to finish up our last full day in the city with a visit to a second dog cafe, Bau House (love the name!) over in Hapjeong. Another awesome afternoon of furry fun!