North Korean Bath Houses

According to Andrei Lankov in the Korea Times:

The North boasts a huge public bathing facility, one that probably exceeds in size any comparable enterprise in the South, and one that is not much inferior in service quality. This is Changgwangwon, a mammoth bathing complex that opened to the public in March 1980. In 2001 North Korean media reported that during the first two decades of its existence Changgwangwon was visited by some 37 million people.

Changgwangwon can be described as a ‘super-bathhouse’. This granite and marble structure is replete with swimming pool, an impressive array of spas and showers, saunas, and the like. It has its own bars and tearooms. And it is open to the general public.

However, not everybody can just walk in: one has to have a ticket, and the ticket is only valid for a limited time. Actually, the Changgwangwon complex serves some 5,000 patrons a day, but it is not enough to satiate the wishes of the capital residents: many more people would like to get in. Thus people wait in the early morning, from 4:00 AM, in a long queue. Foreigners are luckier: they have a designated day (Saturdays) when the entire complex is reserved for their exclusive use ㅡ much to the dismay of the common people. However, foreigners pay hard currency for the privilege

In the 1980s a handful of other top-class bathing houses were built in Pyongyang. These are moderate if compared to Changgwangon, but quite impressive by the standards of the ‘normal’ North Korean public bathhouses. However, a visit to Changgwangwon is a rare event, even for the inhabitants of privileged Pyongyang; it is the humble public bathhouse that is for daily use.

And what about private bathing facilities? These are nearly absent. Rare is the dwelling in the countryside that has any bathing facilities at all. This is often the case even with the multi-story buildings, especially outside Pyongyang: a tap in the kitchen is the best that one may hope for. Only a minority of North Koreans can wash themselves in their own apartment building, but even then it is seldom done in a private bathroom. The better apartment complexes have small bathhouses for the exclusive use of the residents. Sometimes there is a shower room on every floor, and sometimes a bathhouse is located on the ground floor of a building. Only in a handful of the best apartments in Pyongyang is every flat equipped with its own bathroom.


Comments are closed.