Disillusioned on Dokdo: Part I

June 6, 2011


It’s been exactly ten months since I landed in Incheon. This weekend was a lot of firsts for me. First time going to a jjimjilbang (찜질방), a cheap place to sleep, probably the Korean equivalent of a capsule hotel (but there are no capsules per se). First time on a Korean island. First time on a group tour. I always shied away from organized tours, mainly due to the fact that I’m capable of arranging transportation and accommodation on my own, and signing that responsibility over to a company seemed lazy and counterproductive. But I thought I’d give it a try this weekend, if for no other reason than to meet new people.

First hurdle. This trip had been planned for about three months, the ferry times set, the hotels booked. A few hours before departure, the coordinator emailed me saying the ferry was leaving two hours earlier. This seriously screwed up my schedule. Although the chartered bus left from Seoul, I had arranged to meet it at the ferry terminal in Donghae (동해), a mere one-hour journey for me. When they changed the departure time, it meant I couldn’t stay at my apartment the night before and catch the first bus to Donghae; the connection time was just too tight. As such, I was forced to travel to this coastal town on Friday night and find a jjimjilbang.

A jjimjilbang in Korea is a combination bathhouse/sleeping room/restaurant/gym. In theory, you could check into one of them and stay for days as long as you didn’t miss fresh air and something other than fast food. For 6,000-12,000 Won, that’s a pretty good deal. The one in Donghae was just a few blocks north of the intercity bus terminal, and only about two kilometers from the Mukho Ferry Terminal, making my evening a lot less stressful.

So what does one do at a jjimjilbang? The procedure is almost the same as that at a bathhouse or capsule hotel.

Pay at the front. They’ll ask you if you want to use the jjimjilbang or just pay for a bath. If you have common room appropriate clothing, you don’t have to pay the ~1,500 Won rental fee for a shirt and shorts. The attendant should give you a key.

Store your shoes in the numbered locker. Your key will open the shoe locker and the bath locker.

Take a bath, if you so choose.

When it’s time for bed, you can don the provided clothing and make your way into the common area. Depending on the jjimjilbang, different services may be offered. The one in Donghae had massage chairs, a large room with heated floors and a TV, sauna rooms, restaurants, a PC 방, massage services, a gym, family rooms, and snoring rooms.

It was kind of a sleepless night with the ambient noise of the TV, snorers, and whisperers, but well worth the price of 7,500 Won. As for what happened the next day around Dokdo, well… wait and judge for yourself.

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