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 in the private men and women’s areas, you bathe naked.) But 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.
What you need to know before your Korean spa experience
Tips before visiting a Korean spa
1. Expect to be naked or in a school gym uniform
Know this: You won’t be allowed to wear your bathing suit. 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. Don’t worry, you get used to it.
2. Don’t worry about waxing
You don’t need to. 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. 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. (This is where the naked part comes in.) 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 pummelled.
4. Don’t look too closely at what comes off your body during a Korean body scrub
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 its dismal, grey colour. This kick ass treatment is called the Buff Body Scrub and I reckon it’s the most popular one.
5. Get an oily massage
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. Pro tip: the hairdryers in the change rooms are used more for drying sweaty 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. You don’t need to bring cash to Wi Spa
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. Obvs, it’s connected to your credit card, so don’t forget to bring that.
9. Prepare to stay the whole day because there’s a restaurant at Wi 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. There’s even toys for kids who got dragged along by their parents and grandparents.
11. Wifi at Wi Spa
You can still connect at this Korean spa.Thank goodness! What a relief to find a spa that doesn’t freak out if your phone goes off! In the 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. Korean spas are a true community hubs
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 Korean spa. It’s all laid out for you.