Korean Saunas, aka “Jjimjilbangs”

Try to hold in all of your little schoolgirl giggles, because today I want to open your eyes to the Korean world of saunas. As I told you before, I love saunas, and I’m not the only one! There are cultures all around the world that have saunas and bathhouses engrained into their culture, just as us Brits have football. So here we move onto a Korean sauna, or jjimjilbang.

Korean Saunas

Korean culture is very communal, where they live together with many people from the family under one roof, so they hold little shame when it comes to walking around in the buff. Korean saunas are usually split up by gender, and sometimes have a clothed common area, where one can take a break from their sauna activities, have a chat and perhaps a snack with some tea. There are even places to nap, and sometimes you can find fitness clubs or Internet café.

Most Korean saunas are located indoors. They typically have a large, enclosed, open area with numerous pools ranging in size (keep it clean people!) and temperature. Koreans feel that it is good for one’s health to drastically change the temperature of the body to fight off illness. So you will see naked sauna goers moving from one hot pool to a cold pool to a boiling hot pool to a frigidly cold pool. They also typically have rooms off to the side for a dry heat room and a separate steam room. Additional services and amenities can be purchased, such as shower shoes, massages (while covered with a towel) and shampoo.

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German relaxation

So, I’m going to start with Germany as this is where I first got into saunas, and I think it’s still a great place.

Germans take saunas as seriously as they take anything generally, with subtle humour and a love of knowing the rules (how else can you break them!) Take a little time to get to know German sauna etiquette and you’ll have a great time, as Germany is full of saunas of all types, and here relaxation or, as they call it, wellness is serious business.

German saunas are a great place to relax

My absolute favourite sauna, and one that I think is perfect for sauna-novices is in Cologne.The Claudius Therme Cologne is at the high end of saunas for Germans without being too fussy. This is a great starting of point for a Brit, as there are clear clothing and non-clothing areas – rare in Germany. Of course as soon as you go near the sauna itself it is clothing off, but here you can swim and sunbake with your swimmers on. They rent everything you need, have great food facilities and are centrally located (don’t be put-off by the cable car passing overhead), so it’s perfect for visitors to spend an afternoon. But, you’ll want to spend more than a few hours here I can assure you, regardless of summer or winter, to take in the indoor/outdoor swim through pool, the multiple saunas (including a women only) and other treatments such as massage.

Of course, if you’re looking for a cheaper option check out the local council swimming halls (such as KölnBäder ) which offer a great alternative.

A beginners guide…

saunas are great when you know the etiquette

So, to the average Brit mention a European sauna and they fall about in fits of giggles, or are just totally shocked imagining god knows what…to us Saunas are maybe somewhere we would spend 10 minutes at the end of other exercise if we’re lucky enough to belong to some swanky health club, with swimmers on and towels wrapper tightly. What surprises me is I still read feedback in places like Tripadvisor from Brits or American commenting how such and such sauna in such and such foreign land was just great, except ‘WARNING’ the people are (gasp) naked!!!!

Many countries have a great sauna culture, it is an integral part of the activities for lots of people, although each country approaches it with slightly different practices. If you are visiting a country with a sauna culture, I urge you to spend 10 minutes googling the local practices, and go in with an open mind – it could be the most relaxing authentic thing you do on your trip, and a great way to meet locals.

Things to be aware of are:

– many countries split their saunas according to sex, males go in one area, females in another, or alternate days for males/females – check this out on the sauna website.

– look into what you may need/want at the sauna, just because you may have no clothes on, doesn’t mean you don’t need other things like towels (full length sauna towels), sandals or dressing gowns. If your going to a big touristy sauna you may be able to hire things.

– eating and drinking. For some, saunas are big day trip, with eating and drinking in between. The Russians are fond of vodka, the Swedes think pouring beer over the coals brings a nice aroma. In other countries this would be looked on with disgust.

– there are places within the sauna where you may need to cover up ,just because its naked in the sauna doesn’t mean you run around everywhere in the buff

Do a little bit of research and you’ll have a much less daunting time.