Public bathhouses can be intimidating. Having grown up in the states, the thought of public bathhouses was really odd to me. Sure, as a young child visiting relatives in Korea, I would go with my mom, grandmother, and aunts, and I suppose it wasn’t THAT weird … no, actually it was still weird. It’s not everyday that one parades around naked in front of a bunch of people, family or not. (Not for me at least.)
So when fellow Kimchi Belle, Sue, and husband surprised me with a spa day at Jeju Sauna last year, I was rather hesitant to say the least. While surprise spa days are awesome, spa days where I get butt naked in front of friends and strangers is most decidedly not. After some convincing and the fact that Sue is like a sister to me, I relented and went with her. And the outcome was rather surprising: it was kind of awesome. So much so, that despite my initial hesitations, James and I recently spent one morning at Jeju Sauna for some good, clean, fun.
Although Jeju Sauna is a Korean bathhouse, the patrons of Jeju Sauna are very diverse. During our time there, we saw people of every shape and color. I saw big boobs and small boobs. New boobs and old boobs. Basically, I saw a lot of boobs. But sorry fellas, women and men are divided into separate bath areas. The only time James and I saw each other were in the lobby where we paid our entrance fee and after our baths in the coed common area: unisex clothes provided.
General admission is $25 for 24 hours. This gives you access to the gender specific bath areas, which includes cold, warm, and hot pools, steam rooms, dry saunas, showers, and lockers. There are even lounge chairs with tvs and quiet sleeping rooms with mats. The coed area has seven specialty cleansing rooms, a food court, indoor pool, and also a fitness area upstairs. For $25, some people even choose to sleep overnight (clean pillows and blankets provided). This may sound a bit odd, but think about it: clean showers and bathrooms, a place to sleep, food court, tvs, some quiet meditation … not bad for $25. My dad, who would come to Atlanta for business from Augusta, preferred to stay at Jeju Sauna instead of my house because at least at Jeju Sauna he wasn’t being bothered by toddlers and dogs.
Additional spa services are a la carte. James and I both opted to get a body scrub and massage. We agreed to meet in the common area in 2 hours and went our separate ways. Once in the locker area, I grabbed a couple of towels, found my locker, and stripped right down to my birthday suit. You’re self-conscious for about 10 minutes but that really goes away once you realize that everyone else there is just as exposed as you. And if that doesn’t work, all reservations completely fly out the window when getting scrubbed down by a Korean grandma in black lace undies on a slippery table. If you are looking to get a gentle exfoliating treatment and massage to the sound of waves crashing in a private room with candle light — this ain’t it.
For 30 minutes, grandma gets all up in your business and scrubs every nook and cranny while you’re slippin’ and slidin’ around on a waterproof, padded table. It’s as sexy as it sounds. Not only are you laying naked on a table, it’s in an open area with other tables; you very well might have some company next to you while you’re getting the most thorough scrub of your life. Disgusting rolls of dead skin magically slough off. Rolls, people. And since James and I also got the basic massage in addition to the scrub, my personal session went on for another 30 minutes and included an intense massage with cucumber facial and shampoo. There are different packages with varying degrees of aromatic oils and length of service.
After your bath time, rendezvous in the common area in one of their seven purifying rooms, which range from the Charcoal Saunas to the Jewel Sauna. Descriptions with healing attributes are posted outside the Saunas and each of them vary in composition and temperature.
Going to a bathhouse for the first time is daunting enough. Don’t be caught off guard by making sure you do the following:
- You’ll be naked so groom in advance (the level of grooming is up to you!).
- To avoid crowds, go early morning and on weekdays. You could very well run into someone you know (that you don’t ever want to see naked) on a Saturday afternoon.
- Bring a change of clothes and toiletries. (Ladies, don’t forget your makeup.)
- Leave valuables at home. While lockers are provided, you probably don’t want to leave anything valuable in them just in case.
- If you’re getting a scrub or massage, take cash to tip (but the front desk will give you cash back if you pay via credit card).
- If you’re getting a scrub, soak in the hot tubs and steam in the wet rooms for at least 20 minutes beforehand.
- Plan to be there for a few hours (at least).
Although this isn’t a glamorous spa excursion, I would say it’s worth visiting just once for the experience. My post-Jeju Sauna silky smooth skin is the reason I’ll go back. And if you end up loving it, they offer one year membership for a mere $1600.