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 a delightful wellness concept known at the Korean spa.
Updated April 2020. This post may include affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
What is a Korean spa?
You’re probably wondering what is a Korean spa and how is it different than its North American counterparts? Think ancient bath house rituals infused with modern treatments in private men and women’s areas. You’ll sauna together, but bathe separate and naked. Most of these spas open 24-hours, so it’s a great first destination if you can’t check into your hotel yet.
Typically, it’s only $25-30 for a day pass, so 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. See the video below, even Conan checked out it!
Korean spa experience
Your Korean spa experience begins the moment you walk in the door. At Wi Spa, you’re issued a nifty wrist band that serves as your locker key and is attached to your credit card. That’s pretty awesome, in case you feel like having lunch in their cafeteria.
You begin in either the male or female locker room – where the massage area and pools are. You can start off your wellness experience with a shower, followed by a dip in a series of hot and cold plunge pools. You may also want to get a massage right away (more on that later).
Korean spas are true community hubs, so most of the action takes place in the Jimjilbang, the co-ed floor where there’s a variety of saunas and mats are laid out for resting. There’s free wifi, so you can chill all day, soaking up the full experience.
What to bring to a Korean spa
Know this: You won’t be allowed to wear your bathing suit. What you need to bring to a Korean spa is basically your favourite amenities. They supply all the towels, soap, etc.. but you may be partial to your own moisturizer. There’s some really amazing Korean skincare products out there, and you just might find some of them here!
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. Naked. No robes here. Don’t worry, you get used to it.
Oh, since wifi is everywhere, you may want to bring your phone. Be sure not to take photos though. There are plenty of Korean magazines and books lying around, but feel free to bring your own titles.
Asian body scrub
One of the most popular treatments is an Asian body scrub. Just don’t look too closely at what comes off your body during this treatment. Using a plastic pot scrubber (for real, no loofas here!), this Asian scrub will leave your skin in baby-like condition.
In both the women’s and men’s change rooms, section is where you get spa your spa treatments, but like the rest of the zone, you’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin and only your own skin. (This is where the naked part comes in.)
Just off the plunge pools lies the 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 fierce Asian ladies sporting only their undies. Within arms reach will be another gal, also getting pummelled.
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 its dismal, grey colour. This kick ass treatment is called the Buff Body Scrub and you really ought to try it.
Korean oil massage
At first I didn’t sign up for the Korean oil massage (referred to as oily massage). I was worried it would be one of those lame massages husbands give half heartedly. But as previously mentioned, the panty ladies take no prisoners.
Their powerful hands will coax those knots right out of your body and leave you begging for mercy. Definitely pony up for this oil massage after you get your Asian body scrub.
What is a poultice room?
Another thing you’re probably wondering is what is a poultice room? After leaving the men and women’s only section, you’ll want to venture to the co-ed area.
This is where you’ll find the poultice rooms – a series of dry saunas, each with its own specialty and healing materials. At Wi Spa, there are five co-ed specialty saunas.
I didn’t get the point of a few of them (what 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 the T-shirt and gym shorts you’ve got to wear all day. Pro tip: the hairdryers in the change rooms are used more for drying sweaty clothes than hair.
One of my favourite aspects of these poultice rooms are the flat screens inside the saunas, playing the latest Korean TV shows. There was one awesome drama I got hooked on in the clay sauna that kept me in there for way longer than I was intending.
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!
Exploring the Jimbilbang
The co-ed space is referred to as the Jimbilbang. It’s the traditional center of Korean spas and is the main community hub. 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. Double up your mats and spend the night. You can stay until 4 a.m., and for an extra $10 until 11 a.m.
There’s toys for the kids who got dragged along by their parents and grandparents and you’ll find little nooks filled with computers, a kids’ zone, a library and even a comic book collection. Feel free to bring up your phone or iPad as Wi-fi is free through the spa.
You may even find a restaurant on the Jimjilbang floor. At Wi Spa, you can tuck into healthy soups and succulent beef short ribs. Not exactly spa food, but delicious nevertheless.
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. It’s heartwarming to see old friends reconnecting, housewives gossiping and families sweating it out together. You won’t ever wonder about what to do at this kind of wellbeing facility. It’s all laid out for you.