ANN/THE KOREA HERALD – Outdoor activities – skiing, snowboarding, sledding – may be among common ways to enjoy the winter season. But, sometimes, laying on your back on a heated floor at a jjimjilbang is simply the better way to beat the bitter cold.
Jjimjilbang, a Korean-style sauna featuring two traditional heating systems – ondol and gama, referring to a heated floor and kiln-shaped sauna rooms in Korean, respectively.
Diehard sauna lovers or those who know about jjimjilbang through Korean dramas may want to visit more unique jjimjilbang, challenging themselves to more exotic Korean sauna experience.
Some 160 kilometres east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, the highland county of Pyeongchang is home to the Relife Centre. Even before stepping near the entrance of the jjimjilbang, the smell of burning wood welcomes visitors.
The sauna facility offers three unique jjimjil, or sauna, rooms: the pine needle room, tourmaline room and heated soil room.
After checking the reservation, visitors are required to change into jjimjilbang clothes – loose-fitting, brown T-shirts and shorts. They can freely spend their time at the pine needle room, which has floors covered in pine needles, hand-picked from the nearby mountains by the 56-year-old Relife Center owner Kim Pan-sik.
Kim said that some prefer to stay in the higher temperature of the tourmaline room, which has walls plastered with the crystalline mineral and smooth tourmaline underfoot.
The soil room operates on a special basis twice a day, whereupon Kim covers visitors in the dark brown soil, warmed by biochemical reactions with enzymes. The effect is similar to a sand bath enjoyed seaside.
“The infrared radiation emitted from red clay, tourmaline and soil heated to a high temperature passes four to five centimeters beneath the skin surface, facilitating cell activities and blood circulation. Higher body core temperature is good for the immune system. It is also thought to detoxify your body,” the owner told The Korea Herald.
Kim, who started the Relife Center as an overnight healing programme that offers healthy food, light martial arts training as well as sauna services, is more than happy to see his visitors smile after staying a while.
“Relife Centre is a lesser-known jjimjilbang place. I heard that the information is shared mostly by the elderly who visited our place before, saying that the sauna reduced muscle aches as well as pain in the back, shoulders and joints. But sauna lovers in their 20s and 30s visit as well,” Kim said.
The owner added that the Relife Center does not have some of the more elaborate services and facilities available at fancy jjimjilbang in cities. But it is surrounded by the Odaesan cluster of mountains, offering fresh air with scenic views.
JANGHEUNG CHARCOAL KILN
Just a 50- to 60-minute drive from Seoul, Jangheung Charcoal Kiln is one of the more popular jjimjilbang in Gyeonggi Province.
At first glance, Jangheung Charcoal Kiln is not much different from other jjimjilbang.
After taking off their shoes at the entrance, visitors pay KRW15,000 for adults and KRW11,000 for children, receive a key for the locker and meet up with again in the common space in the jjimjilbang attire.
One can freely move between five kilns differentiated by temperature – slightly warm, warm, hot, boiling hot and scorching hot – hang out together in an open space, sweat it out and unwind at a relaxing pace.
But what makes this jjimjilbang special are the open kilns and barbecue restaurant.
A charcoal kiln near the jjimjilbang’s entrance is opened to visitors, radiating intense heat until 11pm. Many sit around the kiln to relieve muscle aches and back pains.