For Koreans a weekly visit to the spa or bathhouse is a must. They go there to lounge in the hot pools, sweat in the saunas, and scrub their bodies until they’re red. Men and women are separated and everyone roams around buck naked.
When I first came to Korea I enjoyed a bathhouse that overlooked the ocean. Once I got used to the idea of parading around in the buff it was one of my favorite weekly activities. I would lay in the warm water until my skin puckered. The two dollar admission brought me an afternoon of bliss once a week.
Having gotten away from the weekly ritual I decided a couple of weeks ago that a visit was long over due. Thursday is now “bathhouse day”. This week I went to one here in Daejeon and for $5.00 I wiled away a most enjoyable afternoon. I was massaged with the water jets, and sweated off a few ounces in the saunas before I plunged into the COLD water pool.
The one thing I took note of was how nice everyone was. Koreans are known for being rude, and they have no qualms about pushing in line. In public places it often seems to be “survival of the quickest”. Get them naked, and a new personality takes over. The bathers made sure that I had my turn at the jets, no cutting in line. Sauna doors were held while others passed through. I had forgotten how polite naked Koreans usually are; a pleasant surprise.
A trip to Korea isn’t complete without a trip to the public spa/bathhouse.
–Men and women bathe separately.
–Don’t be shy about being naked. We’re all the same. You might get the odd stare, but just ignore them. Try a bathhouse in a bigger city where they’re used to seeing foreigners.
– Don’t even think about wearing a bathing suit. That would just be too weird.
– Remember to take your shoes off before you enter the locker room area.
– Expect to pay between five and ten dollars. You can stay as long as you like.
– You’ll be given two itzy bitzy towels. If you have a bigger towel, you might want to bring it along.
– Be sure to shower before going into the pools.
– Most spas offer body scrubs and massages. Be warned, these are not gentle!
– Bring your own toiletries.
– Bath houses are everywhere, and often attached to a hotel/motel. Ask at your hotel or look for the sign that looks like a flame.
A trip to the bathhouse is not only a fantastic way to experience Korean culture on a budget, but to mingle with the locals when they are on their best behavior.