If you’re looking for a unique Korean experience, you might want to consider going to a Korean bathhouse. Getting naked and scrubbed down the Korean way makes you, as Outkast says, so fresh and so clean. See what it’s all about.
When you wash, do you just slide a bar of soap along your skin? Sure, you might get every inch of your body, but for Koreans, that’s hardly the way to get clean. When washing, Koreans try to get rid of ttae (때), a combination of dirt and dead skin, which builds up and gets trapped under the oils of the skin. If you have it, you may see it as something that resembles black eraser dust (check by wetting your skin and rubbing very hard with your thumb).
Of course, the way to get rid of it is to exfoliate and use loofas, which people around the world do everyday. But Koreans often take it to the extreme. Instead of using a soft loofa that will be kind to the skin, Koreans use wash cloths that aren’t very nice. Sandpaper-like wash cloths called “ttamiri towels” (때밀이 타울) have been used for generations, and they essentially rub out all the ttae (dirt and dead skin), leaving only new and fresh luminescent skin. It’s a painful process, but it produces excellent results.
Obviously, since there’s lots of nakedness involved, there aren’t any existing videos of realtime ttae removal. But here’s a strange video game(???) that shows you essentially what it is.
The best place to get rid of ttae is the bathhouse (목욕탕 – mokyoktang). Most Koreans homes don’t have baths but only showers. So it’s hard to get that deep soaking clean that a long nice hot bath will give you. As a result, naked Korean women and men (usually family members) gather at bathhouses to scrub each other down, particularly the back. But for those without someone to scrub, Korean bathhouses have employees that will give you a professional scrub down for only a few thousand won. They are the only non-naked people in the bathhouse, and they are often older men and women who have years of experience making grown men and women cry. Here’s how it works:
– Lay on a table (naked)
– Scrubbing beings
– Face scrunches in pain
– Scrubber tells you to stop being such a baby
– Flip and get scrubbed more
– After tears subside, see beautiful and luminescent skin.
Although these are ultra local, and very rare for tourists to visit, we highly recommend it for those that have never tried it. Get washed down by these professional exfoliators, and you’ll be as clean as the day you were born.
Bathhouses (목욕탕 – mokytoktang) are found in nearly every corner of Seoul. And as bathhouses are local entities, there aren’t any “famous” ones around. Luckily, they are also connected with the more tourist friendly, less naked dry saunas (찜질방 – jjimjilbang). Here’s a few Seoul jjimjilbang/mokyoktang combination recommendations:
서울 중구 중림동 128-104 (Seoul , Jung-gu Jungrim-dong 128-104) – Google Map
How to get there: Chungjeongno Station (Line 2, 5) – Exit 5 – Straight until end of the street (on the other side of the street)
And remember, when you go to jjimjilbang, be careful of being robbed!