SEOUL, South Korea — Five star hotels they are not, but at 7,000-15,000 won a night, they are a great option when visiting the Korean capital. And the ample baths and showers feel great the next morning. Here's a guide to some good spots to get a good night's rest and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of a Korean bathhouse.
The best option is within walking distance of Hongdae's club scene and the subway station – Happy Day Spa. Open 24/7 and with plenty of sleeping room, there's also a nice selection of food in the restaurant – open 24/7 as well. My main complaint here is the lack of darkness – unless you're in one of the sleeping rooms, the lights are never turned off.
Getting there: Hongdae station (line 2, exit 9) Walk straight along the main road for about 400 meters along the way. You’ll pass a 24-hour FedEx/Kinko's along the way, in case the Jerry Maguire urge hits. 02-332-9000.
On a side note, perhaps you and a paramour are looking for something a little more… er, private. Take a quick taxi ride from Hongdae to the Sinchon area. Within walking distance of Sinchon subway station (???) are literally dozens of cheap hotels (average price 40,000-60,000 won for the night). From exit 4 of Sinchon station, take the first left and meander down the side streets until you see the rows of hotels.
Korean jimjilbangs offer a variety of pleasures. Including salt rooms, where the floor is covered wall to wall with salt.
Itaewonland! Don't bother with a hotel or a taxi, as both will take you for a ride. This jimjilbang is within stumbling distance of Itaewon’s party zone, and great even if you’re new to the saunas. There are plenty of sleeping rooms, and each sleeping cave has two plugs – perfect for recharging your phone.
Getting there: Itaewon station (line 6, exit 3). Walk straight. Look for the big set of stairs on the right and head up. 02-749-5115
Siloam Sauna – 'nuff said. Plenty of sleeping areas, plenty of baths, and plenty of massage chairs. Bonus: several saunas, oxygen rooms, and a play room for the kiddies. Several floors of stairs might get tiresome – especially if you’re drunk – but there’s an elevator to make things easier.
Getting there: within stumbling distance of Seoul Station. If you’re in a taxi, say 'Seo-bu yeok’ (???) to the taxi driver, and he'll take you around the back entrance of Seoul Station. If you’re in Seoul Station before the subways shut down, take exit 1 to street level and walk as though you’re transferring to the Gyeongui line. After walking down the stairs, turn right and walk along the sidewalk. After about 200 meters, begin looking for the classic sauna logo: three rays of steam above a bowl. Cross the road to your left and bear left, then look right. 02-364-3945, www.silloamsauna.com.
The atmosphere at the jimjilbang is generally quite laid back and casual.
????? (Myeong-dong han-jeung-mak) – yep, it's a jjimjilbang in Myeong-dong, and thankfully it's very close to the subway station.
Getting there: Myeongdong station, line 4, exit 9, once at street level, look for the second building on the right. It’s in the same building as a Coffee Bean. 02-752-7506
Two nice options in the area – one within walking distance and one that's a short taxi ride from the action:
Hwang-geum On-cheon (?? ?? – Gold Spa) features a chance to practice your golf swing, along with the usual jjimjilbang amenities.
Getting there: Gangnam station, head out exit 5 or 7 and walk about 600 meters to the Woosung Apartment intersection (the first major intersection you'll run into). Take a right and walk another 350 meters to the entrance. 02-581-4888, www.knwater.net.
Central Spa. If you prefer something a little closer to Seoul’s behemoth subway system, the Central Spa is inside the Express Bus Terminal. This is a little tricky to reach even when sober, since the XBT is such a huge place. Your reward is the best possible place to get an early start the next morning. Plenty of dark sleeping rooms, with a few plugs around if you go and look for them.
Getting there: Express Bus Terminal station, line 3, 7, or 9. Ask the taxi driver to take you to the Honam line side (??? – Ho-nam-seon). Once inside, follow the signs for exits 4, 5, and 6 (the subway and the stores will likely be closed, but the hallways are open). Go up one escalator, then turn right into a commercial area. Central Spa is on your right. 02-6268-3400.
Some offer a morning (or anytime) round of screen golf. (Yes, she did miss that shot)
For women only, I'm told by that Spa Lei is a luxurious place to do anything from get a massage to crash. Sagebrush, kelp, and rose hot tubs are just a few of the more exotic options, although plenty of standard options are available as well.
Getting there: Seocho station (line 3, exit 5), walk 150 meters and take a left. Look left down the alley. 02-545-4113, www.spalei.co.kr.
Wolgok Land – the focus here is more on the sweating rooms, but there's plenty of sleeping rooms. There's not much partying to do in this area, but it might be closer for you than some of the other options. Go up to the fifth floor for cave-like sleeping rooms (separated for men and women). An extra fee also gives you access to the fitness center and there is also an “ice room” there as well. Put simply, there’s enough here to keep you busy an entire afternoon or evening.
Getting there: Wolgok station (line 6, exit 2). Walk about 50 meters before turning right down the first alley you see. Walk another 100 meters then bear left. Follow the parking lot on your right until you see an opening to the front entrance. If coming at night, you’ll easily spot the building’s neon sign from the alley. 02-919-2266
Can't make it back to your sleeping cave? No problem!
The 24-hour Sambu Geongang Land (??????) is one of the best in the area, if your party has taken you this far northwest.
Getting there: Eungam Station (line 6, exit 1), walk straight 300 meters and turn right. Go straight through the first intersection, then look left. 02-302-7737.
The Spa in Garden Five: Nice, new, but a bit out of the way. The place has plenty of standard amenities, and still gives off that 'new jjimjilbang' smell. Until the rest of the Garden Five complex takes off, there's not much else to see in the area.
Getting there: Jangji station (line 8, exit 3). Make a U-turn out of the station, then turn left at the first light. Walk 300 meters, then look left for a large metal sculpture in front of the building’s entrance. Take the elevator to the 10th floor and follow the signs. 02-404-2700 www.spagarden5.co.kr.
Chris Backe is one of Korea’s most popular expat bloggers. You can check out his travel and life in Korea blog: Chris in South Korea
The easily recognizable sign found outside of Korean "Jimjilbang."
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