Korean Spa: Five Things You Should Know Before Visiting
Visit an American spa and you might expect to lounge in a plush robe, enjoy a soothing massage, and sip a glass of detoxifying cucumber water. Visit a Korean spa, on the other hand, and you can expect to plunge naked into a freezing-cold pool, catch a movie, take a nap in a salt cave, and dig into a platter of short ribs. No robes allowed.
Korean spas are a growing trend in America, and they are modeled after the traditional Korean jjimjilbang, or public bath. And while they certainly offer ample opportunities to relax—wet and dry Korean saunas, movie theaters, massage chairs—they also come with their own set of rules and expectations, some of which may feel unfamiliar to the average American spa-goer.
Below, we highlighted five things to know before you head to the Korean spa for the first time.
1. Yes, you must get naked.
Let’s cut to the chase: when you use the wet spas at a Korean spa, you really must be nude. You might get a towel, but it’s likely to be quite small ... probably big enough to cover your face. Everybody may be looking at you naked, but there’s no rule that says you have to look at them while they’re looking at you, right?
The good news? Once you’re actually relaxing in the soothing waters of the hot and cold plunge pools or steaming it up in the saunas, chances are your inhibitions will amscray along with all those toxins that are quickly vacating your body. And if they don’t, well, you can always stay at home and sweat in your very own sauna suit.
And you won’t be naked the whole time. In most Korean spas, the dry sauna areas are co-ed, and guests are issued a comfy suit that resembles a pair of pajamas to change into.
2. Forget looking cute.
To help ensure the spa stays as sanitary as possible, you’ll likely be required to shower between visits to any wet sauna or pool. This means any time you spent fixing your hair or makeup before you arrived was time better spent doing something else (like bedazzling). If you’re really lucky, the Korean spa you visit might even require you to wear a cute (read: not cute) hair net in the wet saunas. If this bums you out, just remember: sanitation is beautiful.
The good news is everyone around you is in the same boat. And if you really can’t stand looking unpolished for a day, most Korean spa locker rooms have primping tools such as hair brushes, blow-dryers, and cotton swabs, so you can re-primp when you’re ready to head out to the dry Korean saunas.
2. Silence is golden.
The highlight of the Korean spa is its plethora of dry saunas. These heated rooms may feature walls made of 23-karat gold, precious gems, salt, charcoal, or some other substance renowned for its purported health benefits. To reap these benefits, you simply need to step inside, find a comfortable spot, and then ... that’s it.
Don’t be surprised if you hear some snoring coming from other people in the sauna. But try not to giggle. In fact, try to make as little noise as possible if you can help it. For many people, a trip to the Korean spa is a rare opportunity to completely relax. Try to embrace it. And if you get antsy, just excuse yourself to one of the common areas where talking isn’t as frowned upon.
4. Beware the high sauna temperature.
There’s a 15-minute recommended maximum for each sauna. This might sound overly cautious, but a full day of exposure to the high sauna temperatures might leave you feeling a little light-headed and lethargic. Drink lots of water, listen to your body, and go slow. If you’re feeling tired, most Korean spas have movie theaters or meditation areas where you can go to relax and take a break.
Photos courtesy of King Spa & Sauna in Niles, IL
5. Come hungry.
You know those spas that are all about detox diets and cucumber water? Korean spas aren’t like that. Many actually contain Korean restaurants right inside of them. The smell of savory, grilled meats will likely permeate every sauna and salt cave, so you might as well just dig in. After all, half the people there have already seen you naked.