Spa Castle in the Sky: A Visit to Koreantowns’ Jjimjilbangs

Episode 002

What do maroon pajamas, shaved ice, and mugwort have in common? They can all be found in a Korean spa!

This episode, we make a bathing pilgrimage to Korea– well Los Angeles’ Koreatown, to take a grand tour of Korean spas. Also known as jjimjilbangs, Korean spas are a mainstay in the Korean-American diaspora as a place for friends and family to gather, socialize, wash-up and escape the stresses of city-dwelling.

We also talk to travel writer and chef Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee about bathhouse culture growing up in South Korea, and dare to dream about world peace facilitated through an underground spa bunker.

Take a Deeper Dive

  • Thanks to Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee for talking with us this episode! You can find her at, or slinging delicious Korean-Mexican fare behind the counter of her restaurant, Nabi. We heartily recommend the Dictator Rice Bowl and her spin on a Mexican torta with Korean beef, gochujang mayo, and all the fixings.
  • Bathhouse diplomacy! Lose yourself in the eerie splendor of the renderings from a speculative design competition for building a bathhouse that bridges the DMZ between South and North Korea. Read an interview with the winning architectural studios.
  • While Alana has many fond memories of Spa Castle in Queens, NY, it also has a weird dark side.
  • Next time you visit a jjimjilbang, rock your towel “sheep head” style: