Strangely compelling spa day

A few days ago, I went with a friend to Spa World, a Korean style spa/bathhouse.  This WaPo article describes it pretty well.  The CliffNotes version:

  • there are two single-sex pools
  • you must be naked in the pool
  • the pools have all kinds of fun jets, for feet, hips, back, etc.
  • you hop in the pool and move around, relaxing with all the different jets
  • there are also two hot pools, a kids pool, a cold pool, a dry sauna, steam room, a cold pool, a cold shower and regular showers
  • in the pool-area, you can get a body scrub massage that removes dead skin
  • in the co-ed area, you have to wear jammies that look prison-issued
  • the co-ed area also has more saunas (called “poultice rooms”), an ice room, a common area to chill out in, a snack bar, sofas, a restaurant and free wi-fi
  • there’s an upstairs area that has regular massages, foot/hand massages, salon services,
  • there’s also a gameroom and gym

There may also be other areas I didn’t see.  The place is HUGE.  It was a totally awesome — and foreign — experience.  The pool was interesting.  After feeling uncomfortable with the nudity for 5 minutes or so, I completely forgot that I was naked.  It was not a big deal at all.  We hung out in the various pools for about 30 minutes (I even tried the super cold shower), then I had a body scrub.

If you have an image in your mind of massage that involves complicated draping, new age music, quiet, and scented oils, forget it all.  For the body scrub massage, you get on a pink plastic-coated table (that is either internally heated or warmed with hot water — I couldn’t tell).  There is no privacy — other women were getting scrubs in the same area I was, and you could see into the scrub area from the pool.  Then a woman scrubs you all over with very scratchy mitts, periodically dousing you with hot or cold water, or hitting a few pressure points.  I got the 30 minute massage, and the main focus was to scrub off an entire layer of my skin.  Longer massages include a facial and/or more massage.  The scrub is intimate and extremely thorough.  My whole body got scrubbed.  Every single bit.  I had trouble figuring out whether to laugh or cry through most of it.  In the end, my skin was extremely smooth — baby’s bottom smooth.  And I was completely amazed by how much dead skin I was carrying around.  Although the massage was very  intimate, it was also impersonal.  Like the pool, after I got used to it I didn’t feel uncomfortable, just uncertain.

I also got a pressure-point foot massage, which was really great.  The foot massage room had big red chairs lined up against a wall that were extremely comfortable.  The massage was intense, but I liked it, and my feet felt great after.  I limped a bit that night, but the next day my feet were fine.

The poultice rooms were interesting.  We looked in all of them.  Each room has a different theme and temperature, with signs that describe their supposed benefits.  For example, the amethyst room improves energy flow and improves the body’s “overall condition.”  We hung out a bit in the salt room, tried out the red ball room (where I managed to slip and fall on the balls!), and the ice room.

We also had lunch in the restaurant, which was fine.  I had rice, veggies and a fried egg in a earthenware dish.  I liked it a lot, but am not familiar enough with Korean food to evaluate it.

The spa is inexpensive:  $35 gets you in the door and gives you access to the pool and poultice rooms.  We had coupons for $20 off.  The scrubby massage was $50 and the foot massage was $45.  Lunch was about $12.

Many of the Yelp reviews of SpaWorld complain that it isn’t clean.  I didn’t find this to be a problem.  I found the pool area to be as clean as my local public pool, which is pretty clean.  The locker rooms were very clean, and the rest of the facilities were just fine.  If you are uncomfortable walking around in bare feet in a common area, you might want flip flops (I was really glad I had mine).

Would I go again?  Definitely!!  I would do both massages again, although maybe not on the same day.  I’d also like to go back and spend more time in the poultice rooms, and try out the steam room.  It was relaxing and fun, and a nice way to spend time with my friend.  Next time, I would bring a bath towel and at least one small handtowel to provide a little cushion on the wooden pillows in the poultice rooms.  Those items, my flip flops, and my Kindle were all I needed.

Posted on March 13th, 2011 by Katxena