I’ve travelled over 84,000 kilometers, takes 37 flights, visited 52 cities (infograph below) but never have I truly found myself with nowhere to stay. Firstly, for a budget backpacker, Seoul is definitely not the cheapest place to visit but I’ve always been drawn to the place and alas I found myself here rambling the city and it’s stunning suburbs. On this particular weekend just gone, There were a million and one events on including some superstar K-Pop band that I had neither heard of and didn’t really care for either. However, this meant that pretty much everywhere was booked with the exception of some premium hotels I couldn’t afford. So my options were strolling the street for a night or staying out all night until the next day. With neither of those options seeming all too inviting, I hit the web and searched the terms “24 hours: and “Seoul”.
Goldmine! I found a place that I thought was a bit of a joke at first but alas it was true. Korea have massive bath houses that stay open all day and night to allow guests to bath, relax, meet up for chats, and chill out to unwind in a never ending array of saunas. Some of the fancier ones even have food courts, gaming rooms, reading rooms and a whole host of other pointless rooms you may never wander into. I read an account of one girls experience in hitting a sauna called Silloam Fire Pot Sauna that seemed to work for me.
So I stashed my bag in the luggage room of a friends hostel, put my wallet in my pocket and made a beeline for the bath house at 11:55pm, just in time to catch the last metro. Arriving I was greeted by a man in a box, very similar to an arcade ticket booth really. With no Korean, I smiled to the reply of a finger jaunting out at a sign outlining the fee. Upon stuffing cash in his hand, I was given a ticket.
I’m going to make this really clear so you don’t get completely lost. Here’s what you do:
1 – Hand the ticket to the man at the counter inside
2 – Take off your shoes and place them in a show box and take the key
3 – Give this key to the same man at the counter
4 – He’ll give you another key, this is for your locker. You’ll also receive some nightwear
5 – Head to your locker and take all your clothes off…. everything
This is one thing that took some getting used to. The nakedness. It’s not a gay sauna, far from it if you know Koreans and how conservative their culture is. So you are completely naked for the majority of your time here. You are expected to wash up before hitting saunas, so you hit the basement where you find:
*Cold immersion pools
*A misty steam room
*A human carwash with power jets
*Sit down showers
Now, I thought it was all very clean with a grooming room just outside to prep yourself up but when a very large burly Korean man came into the sauna and I was the only one in there, I couldn’t really figure out why he sat down next to me, trapping me in the corner. No big deal until he spent 15 minutes smacking his massive belly, stretching his nails and inspecting his penis for an uncomfortable amount of time. When finally, I managed to escape this rather strange encounter, I dried up and grabbed my PJ’s from the locker. Heading upstairs, I was met with people sprawled everywhere each floor. I wandered into Fomentation rooms.. Yup, no idea what it was either until I tried it.
Fomentation rooms rooms with differing environments that give added health benefits to the body. Some have charcoal nailed to the wall, some have red lamps on, some are a mad temperature and one even had ice all over the walls (see how long you can last). One rather interesting one had the floor filled with ball bearing sized clay balls that sent me flying headfirst to the floor and a mouth full of balls (no this is not that kind of sauna, I swear).
5am, I’m not dying of thirst so I hit the shake shop, grab a smoothie, play some old school arcade games and head back to the basement for one last wash up before hitting the top floor and curling up in a bunk. BRING EARPLUGS. Seriously, people are out cold and snoring their heads off and no matter how relaxed you are, if snoring gets under your skin, you’ll need to find floor space on any of the 4-5 floors in the building. Being shook awake by an old man at 10am, I made my way back down to get a body scrub. Here a large Korean man drowning in his own perspiration and boxer shorts glued to his legs got to work. With only a scrubbing mitten, he ruthlessly tore my skin apart to the extent where I nearly though I was going to punch him in the face. However, having baby smooth skin after was a stunning feeling.
Getting dressed and lacing up my shoes, I walked out the door at 1pm into the midday sun feeling like a million bucks. Now if accommodation, spa therapy and relaxation rooms have you on the edge of your seat, wait for this. This night of therapeutic oddities set me back…..wait for it…..$11.
Now that is a bargain! Especially at half the price of a hostel bed….