Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Korean Bath House

 A couple weeks ago, I went to one of these Korean spas that are very popular over here. They are very cheap, you can spend all day there for a set price, and they offer massages, facials, hair and nail care, etc. The one I went to had seven stories. One floor was a gymnasium and work out center that offered yoga, pilates,  kickboxing, and horse back riding. Well, it said so on the sign, but the gym was on the 4th floor, so I don't really know how they could manage to have horse back riding as we would know it, but then again, who knows. They have car elevators.  There was one floor for the spa, one floor for an arcade/cafe area, the rooftop restaurant and bar, and then of course, the Korean baths. Entrance into this spa is about 10 dollars which includes a uniform that they provide for you and everything else minus massage and facial costs, and food, which is an extra expense. When I went, I ended up spending almost seven hours there.  I was shocked that I had just pampered myself through an entire work day.
I went to the gym first, I had been dying to do some exercise, and it felt to good to run myself back into some normalcy. Plus, getting onto the treadmill carried some memories from home and it felt good. Afterwards, I headed down to the Korean baths.
Ok, The Baths. It is a very cultural thing, and well known throughout Asia like Turkish baths are to a larger extent or the mud baths in Calistoga are back home. So, I knew what I was in for, but knowing something and experiencing it are always very different. 
Everyone is totally naked in the baths. No swimsuits. No clothes. No underwear. Naked. 
Which is totally weird and difficult to jive with. Public Nakedness? What? No. 
Except, if you want to experience the tactile paradise that is the Koran bath, you suck it up and you strip down. 
Note: the baths are completely gender separate.  Each had its own floor. That said, its still not easy getting down to just your skin, even knowing that once inside, your body will be, basically, just one among many. I came back to the locker room after my work out, to change out of the uniform I was given, and go to the baths. Standing there in front of my locker, knowing I am going to just take off all my clothes, place them in the locker, close it, and then nudely walk away, is absolutely the hardest part of the whole spa experience. Even when naked people are walking past you, and you know that the sooner you just jump in line and walk to the bath house the better, I still stalled. I think I even took a deep breath and quickly closed my locker door and walked away as if I was preparing to go bungy jumping or skydiving.  Silly Prude Americans.  We don't know what we are missing. Well, You don't know what you are missing, I know exactly what we are missing out on, and that's  Glorious Group Bathing. 
So I finally made it past my own personal awkwardness, because no one else there cared one bit that I wasn't wearing any clothes, and started to check the place out. It was fantastic. The Koreans have set up a system of about ten different baths alternating from hot to cold, escalating in intensity. At the end of the rotation are three different saunas that you can choose from. The baths, which are really large pools, are all set up in this huge tiled bathing hall with water pouring everywhere. Along two walls are the large bathing pools. One wall has the saunas and next to that is an area that you can get a sea salt or mud massage for two dollars. On the other wall and into the walkway are shower heads and basins of water that are being pumped fully to the brim and then allowed to overflow. Everything is a mess of water and people washing their hair and shaving and showering, now that their aquatic relaxation is all over. I even saw this one woman take her two year old daughter over to a drain in the middle of the room and tell her to pee there. And then took one of the many buckets that was laying around the place and clean up. Awesome.
The first bath is about body temperature,  the next one is slightly colder then the first one.  Then the third on is several degrees hotter then the first one and the forth one is several degrees colder then the second one, and so on, until you reach the last two baths that are : very very hot, and very very cold. I spent around 5-10 minuets in each bath working my way through the bathing system, enjoying the water jets each pool had and the unique design each separate bath had been given. One bath had little dog fountains with water pouring out of their mouths.
I read that this bathing system is very good for blood circulation, and I didn't really know what that meant on a physical level, but wow, improving  your blood circulation feels amazing! After getting out of the last bath of ice cold water, my lungs seemed like they could suddenly take in more air. I had this internal tingling feeling in weird organs like my kidney and liver. It felt great! And then I got to go into the saunas. There was a salt sauna, where the walls were made of salt rock and another oak wood sauna. I liked the salt sauna the best. My newly expanded lungs liked the taste and feel of the heavy salty air.
Sitting in the sauna, I felt so languid, that I wasn't even thinking about how good I felt. The contentment had slid deeper into my body and past a surface thought of contentment. I sat there in a total cloud listening to my toes tell me how good they felt.
After repeating this process another couple of times, I went back upstairs to change into my uniform and get my massage and facial. Then I went up to the rooftop bar, grabbed a beer and a snack, and headed home. Where I was incapable of doing anything productive so I decided to complete my day of indulgence and eat ice cream and watch movies. 


  1. wow...WOW!Wasn't Pounce de Lion looking for this in Florida? This is what Shangri-La is supposed to be all about. What an experience. You lucky dawg...

  2. Where was this sauna located in South Korea? Was it near AK plaza? Or... The NC mall?