10 Tips For A South Korean Spa (Part 1)

As I wrote in my article Korean Apartments: Back To Basics , there are unfortunately no tubs in Korean bathrooms. However, if you’re a brave enough expat you can get your scrub-a-dub-dub on at a Korean spa for that extra squeaky clean. There are too many differences between Korean and Western spas to name in one article, so I’ve taken the 10 most crucial bits of info on Korean spas and broken them down into two easily digestible articles for you. Enjoy today’s top 5 tips, and check back here for another 5 next week!

1. Public Nudity

Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way so you can decide from the get-go if you’re on board with me or not. Shy expats, it’s time to buck up. This is the part where we separate the men from the mice. The naked men that is. In South Korea, you are expected to walk around the spa floor designated for your gender in nothing but your birthday suit. Some places will allow shy foreigners to wear a bathing suit (as well as children), but trust me, it really is liberating to splash around in hot tubs and salt baths in the nude. If you happen to have tattoos or piercings, be warned that more conservative spas might ask you to leave. I’ve only ever heard of one spa ever asking a tattooed friend to leave, though, so I think the majority of us are safe.

2. Multi-Level Flooring

Once you’ve stripped down and secured your clothes and belongings in a locker that the front desk assigns you, you’re free to roam the grounds. There will be a separate floor for women and another for men to enjoy their own hot tubs and steam rooms. Above these two separate spa areas is a unisex floor where spa enthusiasts can reunite and enjoy the clay hot rooms, meals, or drinks together. Be warned though that going to the spa is usually filled with families and hung over men on Sundays. So, if you’re heading down to get some knots out and enjoy some quality R&R, Sunday is not the day to go. If you can visit a spa in the middle of a weekday, chances are you’ll have more personal space and quiet.

3. Scrubbing Stalls

On your designated floor, there are a few things you can expect to find when you’re ready for a good deep cleaning. The first is scrubbing stalls. People will take large plastic buckets over to a seat at a scrubbing stall and, you guessed it, scrub themselves. This is meant to be a deep exfoliation. Most people do this after soaking in the tubs for a bit so that their skin is a bit softer. Personally, I skip this step because the thought of leaving my dead skin in a bucket in Korea weirds me out a bit. I have friends that work the scrubbing stalls into their spa time religiously, though. So, each to their own.

4. Different Temperature Whirlpools and Salt Tubs

If you and I ever go to a Korean spa together, and you can’t find me after a few hours. Don’t worry, I’m not passed out in a steam room from heat exhaustion. I’m actually right where you left me, still enjoying the whirlpools and salt tubs. So, a quick info dump on my favorite section of spas. First, the temperature for each hot tub is displayed above the water in most spas. Some are scalding hot so be sure to work your way up to those. Also, I’ll share a little pro tip with you. There’s a cold tub in the spa that hardly gets any love. Everyone always flocks to the warm and hot tubs but ignores the cold tub. Don’t ignore the cold tub. The cold tub is your friend. Seriously, I’ve never felt more refreshed and replenished than the moment I stepped out of the cold tub. Sure, it’s like daggers to your skin when you first enter, but it’s all worth it in the end.

5. Massages And Body Scrubs Are Done In Public (By little old women)

For an extra fee you can opt for a massage or exfoliation scrub treatment, but it isn’t like your typical western massage and scrub. There’s no private room you undress inside, no dimmed lights and scented candles to “awaken your senses,” and you can take my word that here’s no good looking masseuse waiting to rub out those painful kinks in your back. Nope, here you lie on a table in front of the rest of the spa population and get your treatment done by a little old ‘ajumma’. I’ve yet to experience one, but I’ve seen how strong some ajummas are so I’m sure their hands can get the job done when you really need a massage.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Korean spas with me! Don’t forget to check back here soon for part 2 of my Korean Spa most important tips! Happy travels!


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