The word "sauna" in Korea has a completely different meaning than what most Americans think of when they hear the word. Picture this: You enter a locker room atmosphere (men and women are seperated). Using the plastic wrist band with attached key, you open your designated locker, strip down— completely down to your birthday suit– and head into the spa area. Entering through the doors, you feel the heat of the hot baths hit your face. There are people of your gender everywhere, all in their birthday suits and now staring at you– the foreigner who has decided to venture out to a Korean spa, sauna, bathhouse (all used synonymously). There are many baths, hot tubs and showers. Most also have wet and dry saunas inside as well.
Customarily, one is to shower prior to entering the other baths of varying temperature (from icey cold, to scalding hot). This too is a unique experience as it is totally acceptable for Koreans to help one another bathe. In fact, asking the person next to you to scrub your back (afterwards you are expected to return the gesture) is just a part of the showering process. Koreans believe that saunas are for your well-being. Thus, they believe the waters have healing and revitatlization in them. With this in mind, you can imagine how often they frequent spas for the rejuvenation they provide.
I have been to a spa three times to date. Once you get past your own mental awkwardness, it is an amazing experience. I plan on going again this weekend. There is something very organic about the purity of these bath houses. Obviously, it's not sexual at all. A place where people of all ages (I have seen babies to great grandmas there) go to socialize, relax, refresh and heal. Two of the three locations had outdoor areas as well. That was interesting. lol In Busan, the 2nd largest city in the country & home of the biggest vacation spot: Hundae beach, has a great spa that overlooks the beach. It also has a few plastic massage tables (inside) where, for a small fee, you can get different treatments: massage, exfoliation, masks, etc. Of course, you know I had to check it out!! As a massage therapist, I can say with authority: these therapists are great at the art of massage! I got an exfoliation, facial and whole body mask, massage, hair shampooing and the beating of a skilled drummer drumming away my aches and pains.
I will definitely return — this weekend, in fact. Entrance is only about $3 US and the massage mentioned above is only about $35 US. There is NO WAY I could get an experience like that in the States for less than $150!! Just one more reason why I LOVE KOREAN BATH HOUSES!!