Friday, December 31, 2010

A Korean Spa Adventure, part one

Background info - some of you will think we're crazy.

Trey said, "You're going to talk about this with your friends, and they're going to think we're nuts!"

"No way, man," I replied, "I'm blogging about it!"

On to the story:

Many, many years ago (okay, just ten years ago) we decided that for our anniversary we would not give one another gifts. Instead, we decided to always do something fun together. We've mostly taken random road trips -- to Houston, Fort Worth, the Gaylord Texan for the ICE exhibit, etc.

Another random fact applicable to this post is that we really, really love spas. A couple of years ago we decided to never go to a spa until the last day of a trip because we are too tempted to go over and over again while on a vacation. We may have done this in Mexico a time or two, but I'll never confirm it for sure.

And so, as our tenth anniversary approached, we began looking for affordable, yet enjoyable, road trips. Spas are not generally affordable, so I started researching other fun things to do. Trey, however, did not give up the spa idea and managed to find King Spa and Sauna in Dallas. Then the real research began.

We read reviews on yelp and tripadvisor and visited the web site about a million times, and I was still skeptical. Finally when Trey read that it is a family place - that kids are welcome and accommodated for -- I decided that it was probably not creepy. I was in, and we committed to The King Spa Adventure.

Here's what we knew: there are only two facilities of its kind in the US (Dallas and Chicago); you are only allowed to wear the uniform they give you upon arrival so that you don't disturb the balance of the place; no shoes are allowed beyond the entrance; it's open 24 hours so that families can vacation there (they are perfectly happy for you to stay the night); the spa is not for people who are modest about nudity, but men and women are never together unless it's in a uniformed area.

Are you wondering yet what on earth we were thinking?  Sounds pretty weird, huh?

While Trey and I love our routine and our calm life, we also really love crazy adventures. Reference the dune buggy exploits in Mexico a few years back. We were excited about this spa, even if a little freaked out. We felt comfortable that it wasn't a place of ne'er-do-wells, so off we went.

Thursday morning we woke up early at our hotel, had an impressive continental breakfast, and headed for the King Spa. We arrived at about 9:15 and scheduled massages and body scrubs for 10:30. Interestingly, you can get a body scrub only, but you can't get a massage without first getting a body scrub. We took off our shoes, picked up our short and shirt uniforms, found the "male" and "female" entrances, agreed to meet back after our massages, and jumped right into a place like no other I have ever seen.

I entered the female-only section of the spa and went straight for my locker. I opened it and realized it was about twelve inches wide and six inches high. It wouldn't hold anything other than my shoes. I looked at my purse and the comfy sweats I'd put on for my spa day, and I plotted how I was going to stuff them all into this tiny space. After I stared blankly for a full minute, I decided that the purse would never fit and that I would have to go put it back in the car. An employee of the spa (I knew this because she wore a red-shirted uniform instead of the spa-goer's pink one) noticed my bewilderment. She informed me that the locker I was staring blankly into was only for my shoes, and that I had another locker for my clothes so that they didn't have to be together.

Of course!  I put my shoes in the locker and decided explore the place a little to see what other etiquette I could figure out so that I didn't make a fool of myself.

To my almost surprise (I expected it, but can you ever really expect this?), there were naked women everywhere. Every age, size, shape, color (although 99.9% of them were Asian). They were brushing their teeth or drying off from the pools area or getting dressed or walking across the room, and all of them were in some stage of nakedness -- most of them in the completely naked stage.

Okay, so we're all naked here. Got it.

Then I surveyed the facility. The room I was standing in was huge. It had rows of lockers, many sinks with toiletries neatly packaged for guest use, places to sit and get dressed, a large water cooler, a desk where an employee sat working on a computer (she appeared to be scheduling massages and the like). Off to the side there was a smaller room with restroom stalls. Right in the middle of the immaculately clean large vanities there was a set of double shower doors covered in steam. I figured that had to be the spa area.

Well, the spa is what I came for, so here I go.

Sidebar: As I mentioned earlier, I have been to many spas, some of them quite expensive (at least in my book). The spas at Caesar's Palace in Vegas and Moon Palace in Cancun come to mind. In all of these places, there are spas shared by women who are naked. However, getting into these spas is incredibly awkward. Women enter the room covered in gargantuan towels or robes, position themselves right next to the water, turn away from any people in the room, and miraculously remove the robes or towels while simultaneously entering the water in order to cover their entire bodies up to their necks. I, myself, have taken part in this great ritual, and it is, in fact, the only spa experience I've known.

From the looks of things, the Korean spa has a much different take.

I was here for relaxation, so I...well...suited down and ran as fast as I could through the shower doors, trying to look confident and undisturbed.

I must have really looked crazy when I entered the spa area because what I saw left me in awe. I think I stood at the door with my mouth agape for a few seconds before I could compose myself.

The room was enormous. One entire side was covered in shower stalls, each stocked with soap, shampoo, and conditioner. There were standing showers and sit-down showers with hand-held shower heads, and signs everywhere indicated that you must shower WITH SOAP before entering any of the pools. One prominently displayed sign read "Please let employee know immediately if you uncomfortable because see someone enter pool without shower WITH SOAP."

A half wall partitioned off the room opposite the showers, and I could see massage tables lined up behind it.

In the center, there were three enormous spas, each with a temperature gauge reading from 104 degrees to 109 degrees. The back of the room held a smaller spa with jets that directed at your back if you sat on the ledge beneath the water, a cold pool with a temperature gauge reading 70 degrees, and a large steam room containing smooth rocks for you to sit on while inside.

It was everything you could want from a spa all in one room (or so I thought -- the place had more amazing facilities that we found later). There were probably twenty or so women there, from the very old to a few little girls who had to be around four or five. It was quiet and respectful and perfectly clean. Families were there together. A grandmother scrubbed her little granddaughter in one of the showers, women chatted and relaxed in the heated pools, and everything was, well, normal.

I spent the next hour and a half moving from one pool to the other with a sort of spa ADD. I stayed in the steam room until I couldn't stand it, and then I sat on the edge of the cold pool because I couldn't bare to do more than dip my toes in. Once I cooled off, I rested in the 109 degree spa. I realized about fifteen minutes in that I had forgotten  we were all naked. It was so relaxing that I didn't even care.

I could live here, I thought. This is the greatest place on earth, and I could live here. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to bring a group of friends and sit in the spas to relax and chat away the day. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better (or weirder), a nice young Korean lady came to get me for my massage and body scrub.


Erin Stutts said...

continue, continue! (please!)

teresa said...

what Erin said! How many parts does this adventure have?

April said...

How is it that I am JUST now seeing/reading this????? This is hysterical!

On to Part two...

Glenn said...

Loved reading your adventure. Japanese bathing is similar, and just as fun.