Originally posted in The Chalkboard 7 March 2017
NUDITY PLUS CULTURE SHOCK can be a terrifying combination. In the case of Korean spas, it’s simply the price to pay for otherworldly relaxation. This traditional experience is basically a black hole of holistic health and hardcore leisure, and lately we’re a little obsessed. Pop in for a sweat and a skin-polishing scrub down; leave feeling amazing from all day detoxing, with a glow people will comment on and muscles so relaxed they feel like pudding.
What have I gotten myself into? A reasonable question for the K-spa newbie. Imagine a giant, multi-level bath house with different therapeutic rooms (herbal sauna, Himalayan salt sauna, steam room, ice room etc.), where you can also get a delirium-inducing massage and other beauty treatments followed by a feast of authentic Korean eats — all under one roof. We could easily spend four plus hours there (some are open 24/7 so technically we never have to leave) and not think of our phones or clothes once.
We’ve become pros at navigating the terrain, from how to handle the co-ed jimjilbang to the dos and don’ts of the in-house cafe. Whether you’ve been a million times or never, don’t be scared; bring a friend, submit to the scene and thank us for these tips later…
10 RULES OF KOREAN SPA-ING
GET NAKED. Like, really naked. Not just physically, but existentially. Strip down to the point where you don’t care about being fully nude around lots of strangers. Own it. Overcome the overwhelm. It’s shocking, it’s weird and then it’s not. Don’t even try to sneak in with that tiny lace thong, you will be chased down and yelled at by a stern Korean woman and will end up taking it off.
COME CLEAN. As in, don’t wear makeup and don’t try to look cute. The first thing you’ll do when you get to the spa is take a shower (because hygiene), then you’ll be bopping back and forth between steam rooms and saunas forever — or until you leave. You don’t want a mess of melted mascara distracting from your newfound glow, now do you?
DON’T BE SHY. Eye contact happens, you’ll survive. Expect to spend a portion of your day in a brightly lit room with other equally nude patrons, including middle-aged Korean women with a soul penetrating gaze you just have to tune out. Try not to stare, but no need to keep your eyes on the floor: they’re just bodies, we all have them and we’re all here to get them silky and relaxed — don’t overthink it.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Some of the saunas are intense. Don’t stay until you have to be dragged out; pay attention to what your body is feeling. The same goes for hot tubs. One is always scalding, one is more temperate, both will leave you raw and raisin’d if you don’t know when to call it quits.
THOU SHALT SCRUB. The oil scrub massage is not necessary, but is definitely a highlight. It’s the most thorough rub down you’ve never imagined, and well worth the occasional wince (especially once you see how much dead skin is no longer on your person). Yes, it’s a touch invasive, but in the best way possible that will leave you fully tension-free and with with silky skin that could put a baby’s to shame.
KEEP THE PEACE. There’s a vibe, respect it. People of all ages come to the Korean spa to relax — hard. While there’s definitely a social element to the experience, it’s not a party. Silence is golden. Come with friends, detox together, but keep chatter to a quiet minimum. Maybe that means bringing a book, or developing a system of hand signals for emergency communication (telepathy might also be useful, but isn’t a requirement).
TOSS THE TECH. Keep your phone in your locker because A. it’s kinda creepy to have it when everyone is nakie, B. you don’t want it near water and high temps anyways, and C. why not take the opportunity to simply be where you are? You have everything you need. Settle into the comfort of knowing you could grab it if the urge to selfie is just too strong, but ask yourself: do you really need another?
DON’T DINE NUDE. This tip might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many boundaries are blurred once you’re inside the Korean spa. We don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to eat out of a sizzling stone bowl with chopsticks but it’s rarely a clean feat; add some nudity and it’s a full blown hazard. If the cafe is in the co-ed area, definitely stick to this rule.
BYOB. Bring your own beauty! Some spas will have little shops where you can stock up on essential Korean products, but if you’re like us, you have a backlog of beauty ready to roll. Bring a mask, deep conditioner, your latest lotion obsession – whatever floats your boat. Pretend this is your own bathroom, but with lots of other naked people primping themselves in close proximity.
DON’T HOLD BACK. No shame! Paste on that creepy sheet mask that makes you look like a Harry Potter villain, don’t think twice about your uneven boobs [or your man parts looking funny]. Korean spa-ing is the ultimate exercise in confidence. Do you. This is a judgement free zone.
Building Community through Social Nudity.