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 jimjilbang, 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 attempt to answer any and all questions you might have before visiting for the first time.
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.
The highlight of the 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.
At King Spa and Sauna, the gold room is called the Pyramid Room (photo by Groupon).
As noted above, each of the saunas is a bit different. Some are warm, while others are very cold. At a popular Korean spa in Chicago, the fire sudatorium room can reach temperatures as high as 170 or 180 degrees, which the spa claims helps to deeply detoxify the body. If that sounds too intense for you, skip it and spend more time switching between the more temperate rooms.
There's a 15-minute recommended maximum for each sauna. This might sound overly cautious, but a full day of exposure to the fluctuating 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.
Many Korean spas are, indeed, open 24/7 and your admission may very well entitle you to stay for the entire day. If you're unsure, check with the front desk.
Prices for general admission vary by location. King Spa and Sauna in the Chicago suburb of Niles is up to $35, for example, while College Point, New York's popular Spa Castle charges $40–$50, depending on the day of the week. You can find coupons for both spas
The fire sudatorium at King Spa and Sauna (photo by Groupon)
Check out what some of Groupon's customers had to say about their experience:
"Tried every service and spent a half a day in the most relaxing self-indulgent setting. What a great place to get away from it all! Staff who help with every part of the experience are very courteous and guiding. The massage was wonderful. Loved the oxygen room. The Korean food was great. Can't wait to back!"- from Victoria S.'s review of King Spa & Sauna in Niles, IL.
"Very relaxing environment. It's a huge facility but feels cozy. So many things to do. After paying the entry fee you don't have to spend any more money. Can spend hours in the various saunas, hot tubs and quiet relaxing rooms. However, the body scrubs are wonderful! The food is good too. The entire Spa Castle experience is great!" - from Adrienne W.'s review of Spa Castle in College Point, NY
"The Wi Spa is wonderful! You are stepping into a bit of Korea here in LA. The place is always clean, and organized. They have an army of people cleaning the place. I LOVE the Clay room, but the whirlpools, Chill room and the little known ROOF are great! I rarely get a massage, but when I have its been great. One of my favorite in-town get-aways!" - from Sam B.'s review of Wi Spa in Los Angeles
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.