Sunday, July 01, 2012

A total beginners guide to King Spa

"This looks like Vegas," says Kate upon arrival
Kate totally earned her best friend badge today, agreeing to accompany me to a traditional Korean Spa in spite of the copious nudity I warned her would be required.

And man, was there ever a lot of nudity. This is not the place to feel modest, but if you can get over your discomfort with being totally naked in front of your BFF (not to mention a diverse crowd of women--Koreans young and old, Russians, and a handful of Americans of all shades), you will experience the finest relaxation money can buy.

I'd bought a Groupon, which saved me a few dollars off the entrance fee and included the $5 admission to the Base Rock Room. Admission is good for 24 hours, and while it might seem weird to spend the night at a strip mall spa, I can totally see how this place would be preferable to (and much cheaper) than a youth hostel. We were given high tech wristbands, which included a key to our shoe locker and our larger clothing locker in the women's room. Leave your wallet in your locker; you can charge massages, food, even earplugs to your wristband at King Spa.

Upon entry into the locker room, you're instructed to strip naked and head into the single sex shower/hot tub room, where you take a non-private shower. Signs encourage guests to report anyone who doesn't use soap to the staff. We soaped and shampooed our hair, but we could have also availed ourselves of the free toothbrushes and toothpaste, had we wished to. Once clean, we could enter the hot tubs, cool plunge pool or steam room. The shower/hot tub room was also home to a row of treatment tables, where scrubs and massages are offered by a team of strong middle-aged Korean women dressed only in bras and panties.

After bathing and soaking briefly, Kate and I made appointments for our treatments and dressed in the clean cotton shorts and t-shirts provided to guests for use in the unisex areas. We explored a few of the various treatment saunas before returning for our bodywork. I got a 60 minute scrub and Kate opted for a 60 minute massage. Both were performed buck naked and with zero privacy, but man, it was satisfying. "Jenny" scrubbed every cell of dead skin off my body, poured buckets of hot water over me and greased me with copious amounts of baby oil before finishing with a shampoo, scalp massage and mini-massage. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. And my skin has never felt so baby soft.

After our treatments, we re-showered and headed back to the unisex area. We experimented with the various saunas and checked out the movie theatre and meditation (sleep) areas. My favorite rooms were the salt room, the ice room and the Base Rock room; the justifiably titled Fire Room was too hot to bear even for minute. There's also a restaurant serving fruit juices, smoothies and authentic Korean food. We had watermelon ices, a too-weird-for-words shave ice fruit salad topped with a mound of sugary black bean paste and a bowl of beef noodle soup with kimchee and other pickled sides.

Spicy and delicious
It wasn't very crowded, but the couple dozen people there were a diverse mix of Koreans, African Americans and gringos, including plenty of children, from infancy up to around 12. The ornate sofas and chairs in the area between all the saunas were populated with older people reading Korean newspapers, couples snuggled together watching videos on their iPads and children playing chess on the game tables. Foot and chair massages are offered to those who would rather keep their clothes on. And a family movie was scheduled to be shown in the theatre at 1pm.

The place was immaculate. In addition to the laser focus on thorough personal cleansing, staff were on the move, mopping the floors, changing out towels and mats and disinfecting the large leather barcaloungers in the napping and movie rooms. Although it is definitely a Korean-first establishment (the napkin dispenser reads "Here is Napkins"), all of the staff save the masseuses seemed to speak English perfectly and were very welcoming to us first-timers.

I am already looking forward to my next trip. Three hours was really not long enough to enjoy all King Spa has to offer, and I think Zoe and Ada would get a real kick out of the experience.