Private bathhouse industry booming in Pyongsong

Interior of Bath House No. 1 in Central District, Pyongyang. Image: KCNA

Privately-run public bathhouses are springing up across North Korea, with regular visits by locals becoming the norm.

“They used to be small-time operations where people would just take a bath, but increasing demand from 2012 has seen bathhouses popping up all over the place,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. “A lot of residents are regularly using them.”

“Private investors tend to bring in good quality equipment for their bathhouses, so people prefer them over the state-run facilities,” she added.

The source told Daily NK that entry fees vary from district to district, with a two-floor public bathhouse in Pyongsong charging around 3000 KPW per person. A private bath costs 5000-6000 KPW, while baths for couples go for 10,000 KPW and family baths are priced at 15,000 KPW.

Pyongsong’s privately-run bathhouses even offer laundry services. Upon entry, guests can ask for their clothes to be washed and can pick them up after their bathing session. The laundry service charges extra, with thick clothes costing 15,000-20,000 KPW and undergarments costing 3,000 KPW.  

“These bathhouses have snack stands that sell a few drinks and snacks like beer, orange juice, cider, mineral water, chips, pastries, peanuts, dried squid, boiled eggs, and fruits. Some even have a beauty salon where guests can receive skin treatments, and there are sofas and chairs where they can relax after a bath. A single bathhouse often has well over 20 employees,” added a separate source in South Pyongan Province.

“Just in Pyongsong alone, there are about 100 privately-operated bathhouses but because the privately-run bathhouses are popular, the authorities inspect them frequently.”

Officials from the local administrative committee and People’s Committee are known to regularly inspect bathhouses under the pretext of auditing electricity usage or building management. It is common practice for these officials to be bribed with money and cigarettes. In addition, the source added that bathhouse operators are required to bribe the commerce management office with 50 USD per month and must pay electricity fees to a state-owned factory.   

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

 

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.