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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 (6)

Shinsegae – The World’s Largest Department Store

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We hadn’t even discussed it with each other, it was just understood. An unspoken contract between me and Jürgen, sealed the very moment we learned of its existence: the first place we would visit in Busan, before any temples or museums or beaches, was going to be Shinsegae Centum City — the world’s largest department store. That title is Guinness-certified and uncontested. Shinsegae is three times the size of Macy’s, which was the previous record-holder.

Shinsegae

Finally, the fateful day arrived! You have to understand. After three months in Sri Lanka, where most shopping is done in dusty streets, we’d have been excited about any department store, and the thought of visiting the world’s largest made us delirious. We stepped through Shinsegae’s massive sliding doors, and spent the first air-conditioned minutes hooting like dazzled apes at the sheer size of the place. Fourteen stories! Over 3.1 million total square feet! An ice rink! Four food courts, and a ridiculous number of restaurants! A “Spa Land” with 22 tubs and capacity for 1600 people! A cinema, a water bar, a rooftop park, a bookstore, an art gallery! A driving range with 60 tees!

What to do first?! Exactly as clever as the apes we were unconsciously mimicking, we wandered from the lower-level food court into the four-story parking garage and promptly got lost. “Hngh?” I asked. “Mrrng!” came Jürgen’s frustrated reply. You know you’re out of “shopping practice”, when the first thing you do is lose yourself in the mall’s parking lot. I don’t know how to explain it… we thought there was a special elevator to the top floor at the end of the lot, but misunderstood the maps. And then we couldn’t get back. It was all in Korean! We were jet-lagged! We’re idiots: that’s probably the simplest explanation.

Shinsegae lacks for nothing. Relaxation, food, entertainment… there are coffee shops and theaters, a rooftop park with green grass, and a daycare center. A person could live quite comfortably here, and I’m fairly certain that some do. Everywhere we looked, there were old women on benches, gossiping with each other. Businessmen were taking breaks to whack golf balls. We sat down at the ice rink with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and watched kids learn how to skate. On the fifth floor, we browsed the huge bookstore, and then checked out the view from the upstairs park, where there were actually people picnicking.

We spent about five hours inside the store, which is more time than we’ve dedicated to certain cities. As we were leaving, we stopped by the information desk to pick up parting gifts, ours simply for being foreigners. We just showed our passports and proof that we had bought something. I had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so I got a free bag, and Jürgen had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so he did too. Not a bad deal, and not a bad day out.

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May 7, 2012 at 11:35 am Comments (8)