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Oncheon’s Heosimcheong – The Largest Spa in Asia

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For our second Korean jimjilbang experience, we decided to go big. The Heomsimcheong Spa in the neighborhood of Oncheon claims to be the largest spa fed by a natural hot spring in Asia. The popular complex, which also bills itself the Grand Hot Spring, includes a full hotel, an excellent brewery on the bottom floor and of course, a full array of baths and saunas.

Jjimjilbang-Oncheon-Heosimcheong

Later this week, I’ll be taking advantage of South Korea’s incredible medical tourism and having my eyes Lasik-ed. I only mention it because, throughout my life, I’ve encountered a mere handful of occasions where terrible vision has been a gift, rather than a curse. For example: bright lights look like glowing orbs of color, which can turn an evening cityscape or a Christmas tree into something abstract and beautiful. And people really are less likely to hit the guy wearing glasses.

But in the Heosimcheong Spa, I discovered another benefit of bad eyes. Without my contacts in or glasses on, the naked human body disappears into a single flesh-colored blur. I can see the human-sized shape, but no details… and the horrors of jimjilbangs are all in the details.

Heosimcheong cost ₩8000 ($7.20) to enter, worth the price just for the bathing area, which is in a giant salon capped by an opaque dome. Under the soft natural light, we cooked ourselves in hot tubs, gasped for oxygen in steam saunas, sprang in and out of freezing ice baths, and sat underneath heavy waterfall streams that pounded our necks and shoulders. It was crowded, but the other people didn’t bug me much — this time, I was almost blind, and couldn’t tell if they were staring at me.

After paying an extra ₩2000 apiece for funky pajamas that M.C. Hammer would have been proud of (and possibly designed), we entered the mixed-gender jimjilbang area, with relaxation and steam rooms. It was kind of a disappointment, with just a couple separate rooms and a very active, hyper population of kids running around. There was an igloo-shaped ice room, and a yellow steam room… nicely done, but there wasn’t much variety. After a nap and a facial mask, which was provided for free, we were done.

Well, we weren’t quite done. On the bottom floor of the complex is a gigantic brewery, serving German-inspired beers. At night, this is apparently a Busan hot-spot, with a Bulgarian band that sings in a variety of languages while intoxicated Koreans get down and dirty on the dance floor. Sadly, we missed this, but the beer was excellent.

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June 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm Comments (7)

Shinsegae’s Spa Land

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Relax At Home: Premium Massage Chairs

For our first trip to a Korean spa, we choose one of Busan’s biggest and most modern: Spa Land in the Shinsegae department store. Twenty-two baths, thirteen distinctively-designed saunas, relaxation rooms, steam rooms, foot baths and more were ours to enjoy for four blissful hours.

Shinsegae-Spa-Land

The jjimjilbang (as bathhouses are called here) is an essential part of life in Korea, found in every neighborhood, and popular with people of all ages. Most are open twenty-four hours a day, and offer Koreans a place to recuperate from the pressures of everyday life, bathe and clean, meet with friends, and even sleep. I don’t know what took us so long to finally visit one…

Oh wait, yes I do. I know exactly what took us so long: the nudity. I was just completely put off by the thought of disrobing and walking around naked in front of others. Jürgen might be from sexually-enlightened Western Europe, where people whip their clothes off at any opportunity, but I’m a good old-fashioned American prude, taught to be secretly ashamed of my body and hide it jealously from peering eyes. Public nudity is something I just don’t do, unless absolutely compelled. Like in prison. And, as we paid and then entered the changing room, that’s kind of what I felt like — going to prison. I was very distressed.

I’d love to report that my fears were unfounded and that, upon disrobing, I discovered the liberating joy of being naked among others. But… nope. It was uncomfortable, and Koreans have no problem with staring. I’m sure that it’s just the novelty of a foreign body, but we felt penetrating, curious eyes on us every time we walked over to another tub. But although I was constantly aware of it, I did eventually relax and was able to enjoy myself.

How could I not? The first room was gender-separated, and had around eight separate baths of sodium bicarbonate (for the skin) and sodium chloride (for the blood), heated to various degrees. Some had whirlpool bubbles, while others were still and serene. We switched from baths to saunas. There was a variety of styles to choose from, including Finnish (with wooden benches and suffocating heat) and Roman (with thick steam and a circular tiled bench… and naked Korean dudes staring at you).

Spas Korea

After showering off, we put on comfortable brown shirts and shorts which made us look like monks, and went into the gender-mixed area. Here, a variety of saunas awaited us. We tried the 52° “Pyramid Room”; according to the description, 52 degrees is the “easiest angle to collect energies from universe”. We laid down in the Hamam Room, which recreates a Turkish bath house and the “Body Sound Room” which is “based on the principle of bone conduction”, whatever that is. My favorite was the Yellow Earth Room, which is apparently good for mental stability.

In each of these steam rooms, we sweated like crazy, and took breaks between each in the pleasantly cool main hall, which had cozy chairs to lay upon. Perhaps more than anything else, I was most surprised by this aspect of the jjimjilbang — that people come here just to sleep. Everywhere you looked, people were snoozing; on the chairs, laying on the floor and (perhaps dangerously) in the steam rooms themselves. There was an entire section called the “Relaxation Zone” with at least a hundred recliners, each with its own personal TV. So many people were here, sleeping, watching soap operas or playing on their cell phones. Basically doing the kinds of things which Americans do at home.

We stayed at Spa Land for the maximum four hours permitted. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to remain any longer, it’s a restriction most jjimjilbangs don’t have — usually, you pay the entrance, and stay as long as you want. I’ve read that many families even spend the night, for the healing properties of sleeping on a hot, hard floor.

The price was fantastic. Regular entrance is ₩12,000 ($10.80), and we had coupons (available at Shinsegae’s Information Desk) for an additional 20% off. Four hours of first-class spa treatment for less than $10 is a crazy deal. And now that we’ve tried it out, we’re already looking forward to discovering Busan’s other jjimjilbangs.

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June 16, 2012 at 2:27 am Comments (4)