Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jimjilbang: Budget accomodations

I have discovered first-hand the best place for a budget traveler to stay short of a bench at the subway station: a jimjilbang ( 찜질방 ). A Jimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse. The feature that distinguishes a jimjilbang from a sauna, or most bathhouses, are the sleeping rooms.

While I Pusan, I was traveling alone for half of the time, and only had the time to get a few hours of sleep. Tickets for that day's movies went on sale at 8:00am each day. On Friday night, my movie let out at 11:30pm. I went to the box office to see if I could get any tickets for the next day's movies. There, I found a line was already forming. People were going to camp out there. I would have done that, but I was already exhausted from my week at school, the travel to Busan, and smelled of sweat. So, I decided to be adventurous and try out a jimjilbang for the first time. I asked a guy at a corner convenience store. He drew a small map and I followed it. However, I was a bit apprehensive when I cam to the location. It was the Haeundae Spa. Haeundae is the region of Busan I was in and has a rare ocean-side hot spring.

The building looked new and posh. However, by this time it was 1:30am and I was ready to crash. So, I followed the signs and went up to the fourth flour. I was greeted by a friendly male and female staff member behind a nice desk. It was only w7,000 (~$7) for the entire package. I then headed up to the male floor. I was greeted by an old man who ran that floor. I took my shoes off and kept them in hand as he grabbed some spa clothes for me and showed me to my locker.

The facility was pretty large with easily over 500 lockers. There were probably twenty guys there that night, and they were all nude. Since I bypassed the athletic sports in high school for the "academic sports" I had never had a real locker room experience. However, I paid my W7,000, I was sweaty, and tired and so I went for it. I did turn some heads. I'd like to think it was because I have more hair on my chest (and back) than everyone in that place combined.

There were showers lining the walls that had hot mineral water. After washing off, there are two hot tubs to choose from, three cool pools, and saunas set at various temperatures. I saw one of these saunas set at 62 C (143.6 F). I was already hot and sweaty and decided against it. However, I spent some time in one of the hot tubs letting my muscles relax, showered off again, and then cooled down in one of the pools.

After cleaning up, I put on my spa clothes (they look like prison uniforms with short sleeved shirts and shorts) and headed up to the sleeping room. While the room was very nice, the sleeping arrangements weren't. There was a little snack bar at one end, a TV room off to the side, and a balcony. I went to the ajuma (old Korean woman) to get my sleeping materials. I was handed two thin mats (really thick quilted sheets with no padding in the middle) and a block for my head. Yes, a block. I tried to sleep at first on these things and had no luck. then, I decided to pay a W1,000 (~$1) for the massage chair. I thought I could fall asleep there. The massage chair kicked my ass. I wanted to get out, but then felt a little embarrassed about paying for the chair and then just leaving in there--so I rode it out. When the machine finished beating me up, I tried to sleep, but found the heat from the halogen lamps above very uncomfortable.

So, I searched for a bare spot of floor near a window, opened it, and tried to sleep. I was basically sleeping on the hard floor with a thick sheet as my only padding, and a wooden block for my head. I awoke the next morning, face-down with my forehead on that block. I had little lines from the texture of the block. I promptly folded my mats, and went down the change back into street clothes, and headed out to get my movie tickets.

I didn't get the best sleep there, but the price was so right that I returned there when my friend met up with me the next night.

Info on spas in Busan

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