I recently took the plunge (as it were) and decided to try something totally new for me: try a day spa. Spas have always seemed sort of mysterious to me—this is probably because I was raised in the midwest, where anything that pampers the body is looked on with greater-than-usual Puritan disdain. (Pleasure is evil, after all!) Spas are represented in the popular media as places of luxury and indulgence for the rich and indolent; places that only rich women and leather-skinned old perverted men go to.
Well, let me tell you straight off the bat that it’s all a bunch of bunkum!
After chatting with my fabulous friends at Craft Night last Thursday, I decided that a visit to a Korean day spa that is conveniently located near my home would be a neat new experience for my boyfriend and I. The place is called Spa World and is located in a large shopping center in no-frills Centreville, VA, near where I live. If you’re curious, there are a boatload of reviews of the place on Yelp—check them out!
The first time I saw Spa World, I foolishly assumed they were a vendor of spa equipment, like hot tubs and other such things. Boy, was I wrong! The front of the place is pretty unassuming. If I hadn’t heard about it from friends, I would never have thought to venture inside.
After passing through two sets of thick glass doors, you enter the foyer, where you pay your entry fee and store your shoes. Entrance to the spa is $35.00 for twenty-four hours. You store your shoes in the lobby lockers as insurance against fleeing without paying for further services, I guess. It also helps prevent outside muck from entering the facilities, which is good—and part of the sanitary theme that is carried throughout the facility. Once you pay your money, you get a little electronic key on a bracelet that provides access to your lockers and is used to track any additional purchases you make while inside the facility. The attendant on duty hands over a set of inside garb (a short-sleeved top and shorts). My first (and really only) complaint here is that the inside garb only comes in an extremely limited range of sizes. While the shorts fit me (tightly), the top was extremely tight and somewhat uncomfortable. Men are given ochre yellow clothes while women and children get orange.
Now you’re off to the gender-separated area of the spa and the start of your experience.
Two things should be noted at this point:
- If you are uncomfortable about the idea of being naked around other people of the same gender, do not come here.
- If you are uncomfortable about the idea of seeing children, old people, and less-than-perfect bodies naked around you, do not come here.
I’ve been told that Korean culture is very different from American in that people are pretty laid-back, touchy-feely, friendly, and comfortable in their skin. I can say without a doubt that the description holds true for my experience at Spa World! We arrived at about 18:00 on a Friday. The place was far from packed. I’d say that over the roughly six and a half hours we spent there, maybe half the male patrons were Asian (all Korean, I’m guessing) and the rest were a mix of Europeans and Americans. There were children from fairly young (I’d guess about six) to early teens; a few men in their 20s (mostly Asian); a few men in their 30s (mostly American); and adult men from 30 to 70 or so.
Now, I’ve only been once so far, so I can’t say that all the comments from men on Yelp about nudity are wrong, but: there was definitely a lot of ‘checking out’ going on from the non-Asian population in the male pool/locker area. It wasn’t as gross and judgmental as in a gay facility, but people were definitely curious about what other bodies looked like (and yes, I looked, too). I thought it was amusing that with one exception, the only men who tried to cover their fronts up were of African heritage; the other was a young Asian guy in fairly great shape who seemed to be extremely nervous about anyone checking out his ‘package.’ As someone of homely-at-best appearance and body-by-cream puff, even I felt comfortable enough to walk around the pool area in the nude. Most of the men there were slightly plump and a few were larger than me; once you’ve seen a few dozen crotches, you get used to the fact and basically only notice who gives into the tyranny of manscaping or has gotten unfortunate ‘tramp stamp’ tattoos.
Anyway, enough of the nude bits
The spa is divided into three basic areas: a men’s pool/locker/sauna, a women’s pool/locker/sauna, and a common area. The pool/locker/sauna areas are gender-separated and you’re nude in them other than to change into/out of your street clothes or the inside outfit. The locker room, like every other space in this sauna, is spotless and clean. Staff on hand are friendly (if not always conversant in English) and every area is checked regularly for cleanliness and safety. I don’t know how they manage to keep the place so clean, given the amount of water and the 24-hour access, but they do—and I’m really glad for it.
The focus of my stay was the men’s pool area. The pool area consists of a series of standing and sitting showers (all open to sight), which you’re expected to use before entering the pools; a large “Bade” pool, several smaller hot tub-like pools, a scrub/massage area, a wet sauna, a dry sauna, and an infrared-heated resting area. The sauna rooms are closed off, but with glass so you can see inside. The scrub/massage area has a low wall around it but nothing is closed off or hidden from view—it’s a spacious, comfortable feeling.
The main pool is heated to 95–96 ºF, just about body temperature, and has a variety of stations with amazing water jets and fountains. I can’t adequately describe them other than to wish there were more and to recommend you try them all over and over again. Each jet is on a five minute rotation with little contact-sensitive switches to turn them back on when they run out (and you’ll basically keep them going all the time). Outside the main pool are three heated pools, at around 101 ºF, 104 ºF, and 106 ºF. You’ll be amazed at how even a degree or two of temperature makes a difference! There’s also a cold pool, chilled to 62 ºF, for European-style sauna experiences. The two sauna rooms are hot: the wet one averages 120 ºF and the dry, 190 ºF. I couldn’t stand the dry one for more than a few seconds, and the wet for more than a minute, but they were exhilarating nevertheless.
You can purchase extra services inside the spa, one of which is a body scrub (they also offer massages). For $50, you’ll have an exfoliating loofa scrub that is quite intense and invigorating. I don’t recommend it if you have sensitive skin, because it is VERY intense, but I tried it and really enjoyed the experience. You get scrubbed all over (and I mean all over—guys, expect to have the attendant move your genitals aside to rub down your crotch; trust me, it’s not erotic), rinsed with warm water, washed, and then a light shiatsu massage. The massage was a little intense for me, but it helped release some of the tension I carry in my shoulders. Note that the attendants are clothed in shorts for the work over, since they move your body parts around for the scrub, but they approached and left the area nude (which I thought was kind of amusing).
You could spend all day in the pool area, and we nearly did. Eventually hunger drove us out, though, and after donning the uncomfortable inside garb, we entered the common area. It features a few TVs, numerous mats on which you can relax, several “poultice” rooms (hot dry spas with various minerals in the walls that supposedly impart health benefits—each room was too hot for me), a drinks bar (non-alcoholic only), and a cafeteria with Asian/Korean food. There are gym facilities, sleeping areas (monitored by camera), a massage salon, and a smoking room upstairs. Note that this is NOT a handicapped-access area, sadly, and getting Piotr to the smoking room was a bit of a trial. There’s free WiFi access, couches, chairs, at mats to relax on and people were definitely using them. Since you’re clothed in this area, this is where families and mixed-gender friends hang out (and yes, families and mixed-gender friends were in plenty of evidence on a Friday evening). The café was a little sparse but $12.00 got me a filling meal of steamed dumplings, miso soup (which I normally don’t like but this wasn’t bad), and Korean side dishes.
As I mentioned, we spent nearly seven hours here and were it not for the fact that we were exhausted, we could have stayed longer. The clientele was interesting, the staff were polite and friendly, and the place is spacious and spotless. If you have not tried a spa before, I strongly encourage giving this one a try. Unless you are really uptight about your body, you should have a fabulously relaxing time!