Jody Robbins | Travels with Baggage - A a freelance writer with bad hair, a loud mouth and a serious case of wanderlust

Exploring L.A.’s Koreatown

L.A.‘s Koreatown is a total hipster hangout and not at all touristy, making it the perfect destination for intrepid city breakers. Being one of the densest populations in Los Angeles, means you’re in a city within a city that never sleeps. Twenty-four-hour restaurants are just the beginning. Within steps of the hotel are round the clock spas, karaoke clubs and cocktail bars ripe for exploring. Like art? You’ll find impressive street murals and art deco treasures on every block.

Guide to L.A.'s Koreatown

While Asian families have been flocking here since 60s, Koreatown was only designated as such in 2010. To assume the neighbourhood is primarily Asian is actually incorrect. This revitalized community is comprised of over 50% Hispanic folks and only 35% Asian. A trove of food, culture and nightlife, you’ll definitely want to suss it out on your next visit to L.A. Here’s a neighbourhood guide to Koreatown so you know what’s hot.

Korean woman in hat

Spa

Korean spas are a thing of wonder. Mostly 24-hours, mostly naked, mostly cheap. A day pass can be had for around $20 bucks and offers a variety of tricked out saunas, relaxation rooms and pools to plunge into. You can also get treatments done such as massage, facials, and body scrubs. Check out this piece I wrote on Wi Spa in Koreatown for an in depth look on getting naked or going home.

Sip

Coffee shops are everywhere, but in Koreatown, you’ll find Caffe Bene, Korea’s answer to Starbucks. Located just off Wiltshire Blvd on Western Ave., this trendy java joint serves up the regular suspects, but what you’re after is Misugaru. This latte type drink is a totally authentic Korean staple. Made from brown rice, sesame seeds and black beans, it’s high in protein, low in calories, caffeine free and good for digestion. Frothy and warm, it tastes similar to malted milk, but with a bit of a toasty tang. Caffe Bene also dishes out proper Belgian waffles, interesting looking cheese bread and hot bubble tea. 

Korean latte

Shop

City Center Mall is a bustling mini-mall brimming with Asian goodies. Pick up fab beauty supplies (BB cream, potent $3 facial masks, etc…) or get your hair blown out for only $30.

fish bun

Zion Market is a grocery store inside this mall, where you can find everything from salty squid snacks to seafood pancakes to great deals on sushi ($6.50 for an eight piece roll). Make use of your hotel room kettle and score some instant ramen and corn tea. Best is the goldfish sweet buns a lovely elderly gent makes fresh every few minutes. I recommend going for bung pung vs. the red been paste. The light, sweet dough is crispy on the outside and a smooth vanilla custard oozes from its center.

Where to Eat

Ham Ji Park

The whole point of staying in Koreatown is the ability to gorge yourself on Korean barbecue several times a day. For truly authentic Korean barbecue, search out Ham Ji Park, a little hole in the wall that Anthony Bourdain has eaten at. Pork ribs are the most popular and like most Korean BBQ joints, your meal with come with ban chan side dishes. Known as ban chan, these side dishes change all the time, but you can expect some kind of salad, veg (I had bean sprouts and broccoli in hot sauce), pickled radish and always kimchi. 

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong

Likely the most popular barbecue joint is Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Waits at this strip mall restaurant can stretch for two hours, but it’s worth it. You’ll feast on perfectly charred meaty morsels and will slurp back the most divine garlicy clear soup (served cold). A metal ring surrounding the BBQ is filled with corn and shredded cheese in one section, onions and peppers in another and raw egg poured in dramatically by kettle fills the last compartment. The egg is soon scrambled, the peppers charred and melted cheese oozes over the corn.

Where to Sleep

The Line is arguably L.A.’s hippest hotel at the moment. A collaboration between celebrity chef Roy Choi and trendy lifestyle brand Poketo (all the cool kids follow them on Pinterest), it’s certainly stylish, a mix between minimalism and Cloud Cuckoo Land.

floor to ceiling window view

Rooms are cozy, but efficient with spectacular views of the Hollywood Hills via floor to ceiling windows. Be sure to check out the mini bar should you be hankering for some sesame biscuits, gummy bears, condoms, a lover’s intimacy book or sleeping pills.

Roy Choi Korean food

POT is the main restaurant and it’s good, but so is room service arriving in stacked metal tins and wrapped in cloth bento style. The unassuming sounding breakfast burrito was anything but. Marinated chunks of beef short rib sandwiched together with eggs and zesty cilantro sauce kick started my morning. The side bowl of assorted fruit was actually a full casserole dish size. Tea comes in a hipster canister, preserving it nice and hot for a good half hour even after arriving. And POT Cafe has THE BEST, snacks particularly the Mocha (voted L.A.’s best cookie) and the guava cheesecake POT Puff.

Have you ever been to Koreatown? What are your favourite neighbourhoods in L.A.?

Black and white images via The Line.

Friday Faves

Oh boy. It’s been one of those work weeks. It started off OK, got super fantastic and then tanked spectacularly towards to end. There are many advantages to freelancing and working from home, but with it comes uncertainty and occasionally crushing moments where you feel you haven’t just let yourself down, but others as well. I suppose that can happen in an office environment, too, but when you work for yourself it seems more raw.

As I start off the weekend I taking a moment to be grateful for all the support I do have. My very patient family at home, at Vacay.ca, the IBMer, fellow housewives, writer and blogger friends have not only stood by me during my journey as a writer, but have gone out of their way to help me through my metamorphosis. I can’t thank them enough.

Here’s What Caught My Eye This Week (When I Wasn’t Self Absorbed)

With the loonie falling, now is a great time to travel in Canada. 20 Best places to visit in Canada 2015.

Best money ever spent. The quickie closet intervention

Sigh. 5 Ingredient triple decker chocolate peanut butter bars

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Dolly Parton’s tips for meeting people

Insanely beautiful. Have you seen the flipped iceberg that looks like a floating gem

Sounds silly, but after reading this, I’m going to schedule some in. The lost art of free time. 

9 Things successful people never do

Apparently this zingy dressing makes everything taste better. 

Meryl Steep? Which actress would play you in a movie about your life?

Thought provoking. The likely cause of addiction has been discovered, it’s not what you think.

No plans for the weekend? The Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival is going on and it’s AMAZING (especially the ice castle and ice bar).

Hope you have a great weekend!

4 fab masks for winter

Winter I adore you, but your harsh, dry air wreaks havoc on my sensitive skin. Hot yoga and using a humidifier help, but for some extra oomph I treat myself to a calming mask about once a week at this time of year. If you’re looking to quench dry, parched skin, check out these 4 fab masks I currently have on rotation.

Hydrating Kiwi Masque

This little baby was snuck into my hands by an esthetician from the esteemed Darphin Institute in Paris. I splurged on having a facial there during a quick layover in Paris and I can tell you it was money well spent. All Darphin’s products are top notch and this mask relieves thirsty, sensitive skin with its infusion of vitamin E, shea butter and kiwi extract.

Facial masks for sensitive skin

Found at Sephora.

The Face Shop

France had their turn, then the Japanese and now Koreans are leading the world with their innovative beauty treatments. At The Face Shop you can score dozens funky masks for under a fiver. Admittedly you’ll look like a mummy when you wrap the 3D mask sheet across your face, but such is the price of beauty. Pay the extra buck and get a mask that includes a highly enriched ampoule you apply to your skin prior. These mask throw in impressive sounding ingredient like colostrum (!), collagen and pine mushroom to create more resilient skin.

3D mask sheet

Found at Market Mall and Chinook Centre in Calgary

Origins Drink Up Intensive

I come back to this super hydrating treatment year after year. You can apply this mask for the recommended 15 minutes or slather it on before bed and go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, you’ll find it’s penetrated and plumped up your skin. Earning top marks in the rehydration and repair category, be sure to slather this on after a day braving the elements.

moisturizing winter mask

Found at Origins.

Rose Formula Antioxidant Facial Mask

Not only does this mask smell heavenly, it instantly brightens lackluster skin. Comprised of maple, damask rose and gotu kola (reputed to stimulate collagen production), it very gently exfoliates and leaves you feeling as dewey as a freshly plucked rose. Naturally the scent is totally intoxicating, too.

organic facial mask

Found at Neal’s Yard Remedies.

Do you treat your skin differently in winter? What are some of your favourite masks or remedies to combat the cold?

Korean sauna

The best part about visiting Los Angeles isn’t the celebrity spotting. It isn’t Disney, nor is it hanging ten with the surfers. The very best part about L.A. is their 24-hour Korean spas. Asian spas are different than their North American counterparts. Think ancient bath house rituals infused with modern treatments. And when it’s only $20 for a day pass, it’s worth sussing out. Before you shed some skin, here are a few things you might want to know, gleaned from my experience at Wi Spa in L.A.’s Koreatown.

Go Naked or Go Home

koreans in sauna

The Lowdown

  1. Don’t bring a bathing suit. You won’t be allowed to use it. At Wi Spa, gym shorts and baggy T-shirts are doled out at check in. This is the required uniform inside the saunas and co-ed areas. Fret not, you won’t be the only bra-less wonder. Pretend you’re back in the USSR, where everyone is equal (and saggy). In the private women’s section, you wear nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Don’t worry, you get used to it.
  2. You don’t need to wax. Not that I’m fond of looking at other women’s bush, but sometimes you just can’t help but notice a forest or clear cut. Ladies come in all shapes and sizes and hair lengths. To each their own. Just know there’s no need to sweat it if you didn’t do proper detail before coming in.
  3. The ladies wandering around in lacy black bras and panties are boss. In the women’s only section you can get spa treatments, but like the rest of the zone, you’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin and only your own skin. Just off the plunge pools lies an open treatment room. Ten or so tables lined with fuchsia vinyl lay side by side. Plop yourself down on one and prepare to get the shit scrubbed off of you by aggressive Korean ladies sporting only their undies. Within arms reach will be another gal, also getting pummeled.
  4. Don’t look too closely at what comes off your body. Using a plastic pot scrubber (for real, no loofas here!), the panty ladies contort you into a variety of positions and proceed to take off layers of your skin. If you do swipe a glance, you’ll be disgusted by the amount of dead skin and it’s dismal, grey colour. This kick ass treatment is called the Buff Body Scrub and I reckon it’s the most popular one.
  5. Oily massage is good, too. At first I didn’t sign up for this because it sounded like one of those lame massages husbands give half heartedly. But these ladies are fierce! Their powerful hands will coax those knots right out of your body and leave you begging for mercy.
  6. Prepare to sweat in your shorts. There are five co-ed specialty saunas and they’re worth a go. I didn’t get the point of a few of them (what the hell will laying in a jade room do for me?), but the salt and clay saunas contain massive chunks of salt and clay, respectively. Find yourself a spot, lay down and bury yourself in the therapeutic minerals. The only downside is if it’s busy, you’re sandwiched together like sardines, sweating it out in a T and gym shorts you’ve got to wear all day. Tip: the hairdryers in the change rooms are used more for drying clothes than hair.
  7. You may get hooked on Korean period dramas. You’ll find flat screens showing the latest Korean TV in the common areas, ladies lounge and some saunas. There was one awesome drama I got hooked on in the clay sauna. The royal doctor was blackmailing the princess’ lady-in-waiting because she used to be a slave. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thirsty, but I just couldn’t leave until finding out what happened (clever lady-in-waiting got the doctor fired). Thank goodness for subtitles!
  8. No need to bring cash. At check in, you’ll be given a nifty wrist band that you swipe to enter your locker and it covers all experiences like lunch at the cafeteria.
  9. Yes, you can eat at the spa! There’s a cute Korean restaurant on the Jimjilbang floor, where you can tuck into healthy soups and succulent beef short ribs (not exactly spa food, but delicious nevertheless).
  10. Jimbilbang is the traditional center of Korean spas. It’s a co-ed space, so be sure to wear your T-shirt and baggy shorts up here. This is where housewives set up camp, couples nap and friends shoot the breeze between treatments. There are loads of yoga mats, pillows and blankets to make your space as comfy as possible.
  11. You can still connect. In this Jimbilbang area, you’ll find little nooks filled with computers, a kids’ zone, a library and even a comic book collection. Wi-fi is free through the spa.
  12. Spas like this are a true community hub. They’re not for the modest, but if I lived in a Koreatown, you can bet I’d be meeting my girlfriends here once a week.
chill out room at a spa

This isn’t the Jimbilbang (common area) at Wi Spa, but it looks pretty similar.

 

Have you ever been to a Korean spa? Would you go to one if you had the chance or does it not appeal?

Want to read more? Like me on Facebook and Tweet me: @Jody_Robbins

Friday Faves

If you have no weekend plans, consider skating at Delta Lodge Kananaskis

 I don’t know why, but Friday always seems to catch me by surprise. I’ve been here and there for the past month, and am looking forward to a week where I’m home the entire time. I can’t complain, though. I had an amazing snowshoeing experience at Sunshine Village this weekend and I’m headed back there this weekend to get some après ski snowboarding in. And I might, maybe, put away my Christmas decorations. Below are some links I found interesting this week. Hope you enjoy these Friday Faves as much as I did.

Link Love

Gwyneth didn’t always highlight. Oscar photos you’ve definitely never seen before.

What happens to a woman’s brain when she becomes a mother.

On Instagram? You’ll want to check out FashionDads. So cute.

Some good ideas here! $20 20 minute meals

Tempted. A service that sends glitter to people you hate.

I think The New Yorker has been spying on texts between my girlfriends and I. Let’s Get Drinks

Duh! Never tell people how old they look

How to score great finds on Etsy.

What if one of these became our flag? Four flags that almost became the Canadian flag.

When I become a certain age, I hope I can also pull off these looks.

I never know what’s in style. Interior trends for 2015.

Bring on the carbs! 12 Hearty casseroles for winter nights.

Have a great weekend. Stay warm and dry!

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