Like all great loves, it starts with wearing no clothes.
It’s 9:30 on a Sunday night, and I’m polishing off a patio cocktail with new friends. They’re announcing plans to order another round and celebrate the resident birthday girl for at least another hour or two.
I’m calling it a night. “It’s an early day tomorrow,” I say. “I’ve got to cut back on the late nights.” Whatever the excuse, I’m gliding out to an Uber already posted outside.
But I’m not going home as my exit suggests. At the last minute, I change my routing to an unexpected destination. Spa Palace waits for me like a mistress, just west of Downtown Los Angeles.
I never thought this would be my life, sneaking away from a social outing to spend time sweating it out with strangers. My newfound access to Korean-style spas has changed the game.
Every patron is given a pair of shorts and a shirt—the men in white tees, the women in yellow. It’s hard to judge strangers when you look just like a 6th grade P.E. class.
My obsession began a few months ago when I decided to take a meeting with friends at Wi Spa in Koreatown. With a modest $25 entrance fee, Wi Spa is the Disneyland of K-spas, at least four stories high, complete with a rooftop deck for straight lounging under the stars. But the gem is in the wet floors underneath where you shower and steam, and the co-ed jimjilbang, which is a restaurant, juice bar, library, lounge, sauna house, and nap area all rolled into one.
The only other time we had experienced something similar was last year in Tokyo, where it’s called an onsen (the Japanese term for hot springs). There is something magical about being a little drunk, fumbling in after a show at 2:00 a.m., and dipping into a group bathing scenario where you’re largely ignorant of the tradition.
When I came back to the states and went to Wi Spa, I started to understand why:
No clothes allowed. In the gender-segregated wet areas you must be nude as a matter of cleanliness and custom. What’s great about being naked is that everyone’s the same. That’s something you need a reminder of in this Instagram-inspired image-fueled society. When you’re sweating it out in the steam room or whirlpool, nobody knows or cares what you were wearing or where you came from.
And when it’s time to get dressed for the co-ed area, the principle is upheld. Every patron is given a pair of shorts and a shirt—the men in white tees, the women in yellow. It’s hard to judge strangers when you look just like a 6th grade P.E. class.
Doors never close. The mega Korean Spas like Wi Spa and the newer Spa Palace are open 24 hours. Historically, the scene was set up for drunk businessmen to duck in after a heavy night, clean themselves up, and go straight back to work when the sun came up. There’s never a wrong time to go. Feeling a little gross after the umpteenth beer? Hit the spa and sober up at whatever o’clock. It’s low-key, the ultimate travel hack if you’re a light traveler needing an affordable place to crash overnight (the lockers are too small for more than a large backpack).
Good for you. Besides the fact that general stress can cause so many unnecessary ailments, the co-ed jimjilbang has a selection of specialized saunas with natural elements to rid you of the less obvious impurities we’re exposed to every day. My favorite is the himalayan salt sauna, which is known to sooth respiratory and skin conditions. Another sauna is basically an adult ball pit, full of detoxifying clay spheres that are the size and color of Cocoa Puffs cereal.
Korean Food. I don’t think there’s anything more to say here.
It’s a spa. Let’s be honest. You’ve probably noticed that most of your out-of-home destinations fall into one of only two categories: Places to get work done or places to get fucked up. It’s refreshing to have a spot solely dedicated to chill mode. Where your job is literally to relax.
I’m purposely skipping the other offered services like acupressure, massage, etc. The main draw of the K-spa is not having to drop $100 plus on a professional service in order to enjoy the benefits. That’s why you’ll find me there on a Sunday night as a quick detour before bed.
Sometimes I see it as the equivalent of one really, really long hot shower, with a few bonuses. That is, until I can afford one of these for my place.
Repurposed with thanks from Kindland.