Friday, November 20, 2009

Busan, Centum City, Shinsegae Department Store - SpaLand

Unfortunately for them, Spa Land has no English website.  Unimaginable, I know.  I mean, after all Shinsegae is one of the world's largest department stores.  Whatever guys, don't worry about it...

Actually that's one of the few complaints I had about this place.  5 to be exact; shall we get them out of the way, in a classic bad-news-first way?
1.  The aforementioned lack of a comprehensive English website.
2.  Not enough showers.  Maybe 30 sit-down and only 12 standing ones.  Even on a Thursday evening, there was a short queue at times to rinse off.
3.  Sauna is well-lit...  A little too well.  It's like a doctor's exam room in there! Though I've heard this varies- some have had a similar experience, and I have friends who go often and report sometimes it's your normal dimly-lit bath area.
4.  A couple of times while in the jjimjilbang rooms, I heard water rushing through pipes somewhere.  Not so relaxing.
5.  Minor, but there's nowhere in the jjimjilbang to fill up a water bottle.  Get yours filled in the sauna.

OK, there.  The band-aid's off.  Now for the good stuff.  This place is (as expected) gorgeous.  What I didn't expect was for it to be so different from any other jjimjilbang I'd been to.  Instead of being just an up-scale version of a nice jjimjilbang, this is like stepping into a 5-star, ultra-modern hotel.  Cool, flat stone; glass partitions; restrained decorative appearance; and plentiful meditation areas distinguish both the sauna and jjimjilbang from others I've reviewed.  An open floor plan and high glass ceilings also lend themselves to the modern aesthetic.

At first, you'll notice the grand lobby welcoming you to buy a ticket.  It will cost you 12,000 won for a visit on a weekday, 14,000 on Saturday or Sunday (4 hour limit).  You may notice the lack of screaming, running rugrats.  The first real advantage of this spa: no children under 13 are allowed in.  This most certainly improves the overall peace.  As a side note, there's no sauna-only ticket option, so everyone gets 3 extra fluffy towels and a set of clothes. The locker room isn't really much different from another nice sauna's locker room.  The lockers are full-size, and have shelves and a jewelry rack inside.

In the bathing area you'll start to notice the stark beauty and opulence of the place: lots of small baths, each of a different temperature.  In the center of the room are the naturally-fed hot springs.  One is sodium chloride (salt, benefiting the muscles and joints, as well as other body systems), the second is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, said to "improve beauty of the skin").  Both have the added benefit of reducing the amount of water absorbed by the skin due to higher concentrations of salts in the water, so you don't prune up!  Now that's nice-uh!

There are also a massaging tub (around 38* with varied positions and a cave), a cool tub (~25*), a cold tub (18*), 2 dry sauna rooms, and an outdoor spa (women's sauna only).  Outdoors are two more naturally fed pools.  They are pretty hot - welcome this time of year, though.  The outdoor area is covered by a slatted wood dome to maintain privacy.  Hint 1: Next to the entrance from the locker room, they provide soaps and natural sea salt to scrub or soak your skin with, and all showers are stocked with shampoo and body wash.

Hint 2: You can pay for anything in the jjimjilbang with your locker key, so don't bother bringing any money up.  Once you venture down the hall towards the jjimjilbang you'll be transported to the hotel I was talking about before.  Let me just list the rooms available to you here, with some description.
Charcoal Room -참숯방
Ice Room - 아이스방 / 어름방
Yellow Ocher Room - Hwang-to / 황토방.  Hot, but comfortably dry.
Hammam Room - 하맘룸, meant to replicate a Turkish-style bath sauna.
Bali Room - 발리룸, an open area with soft floor-mattresses where you can congregate with your friends and loved ones and talk freely.
Pyramid room - angled walls for a relaxing mood, or something.
Roman Room - 로만룸, replicates the feeling of a traditional Roman sauna room.  Warm and very humid, like Korean summers.  Stand over the steamer in the center with your towel over your head for max effect.
Body Sound Room -raised platforms which vibrate with the bass in the calming background music.  Bonus fake bamboo along the walls.
Wave Dream Room - places to lay along the sides, and from the middle lights are reflected through water waves for a meditative, colourful view on the ceiling.
SEV Room - therapeutic ions emitted into semi-private, wooden 2-seater benches lit by dim coloured lights.
Relax Room - an amazing 3-tiered arc-shaped space with reclining leather chairs together by two's, each one equipped with it's own mini TV!
Outdoor foot spa - In the chilly months, don one of the quilted jackets at the entrance to this patio with various temperatures of walking- and soaking-foot-tubs with seats for small or large groups, singles, or couples.
Massage & Therapy, nail shop, cafe & beverages, restaurant, DVD, PC, business rooms.
Turkish Hammam Room - smells A-mazing in here

Yeah, that's all.  Ha!  I only got lost a couple of times.  The restaurant is opulent and offers some great cuisine other jjimjilbang don't (udon with fried Japanese things, bulgogi stew, even the simple Korean foods are high-quality) the therapy room looks top-notch, and the DVD theatre is also fitted with reclining chairs.  Premium.  I highly recommend this place for a special treat - best enjoyed with friends, guests, or in a couple.  Off you go!

                Below: Resting areas in the connecting hall              Relax room's individual TV chairs
Lounging beds in Bali Room                                  Steamy Roman Room                     

Shinsegae Spa Land - right outside the Centum City subway stop on line 2, exit 12.
부산광역시 해운대구 우1동 1495 센텀시티, 1-3층
Busan, Haeundae Gu, Woo 1-dong, 1495 Centum City, 1st-3rd floor
6:00 - 24:00  **Not open 24 hours - closes at midnight - cannot sleep overnight here!**

Basic: weekday - 12,000 / weekend* - 14,000
Early Bird (before 8AM): weekday - 7,000 / weekend* - 9,000
Night Owl: after 8PM Sun-Thurs -7,000 / after 10PM Fri, Sat - 9,000
* means Sat, Sun, & holidays

CNN article about SpaLand (updated 2015)
Sweet Forest: Korean blog entry about SpaLand (start from pic #6, then continue down to see photos of the jjimjilbang)
Shinsegae Department Store (Centum City location) - English, basic, but has a cute map.

Wikimapia of Shinsegae Spa Land

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daegu, Sinam-dong - Goongjeon Lavender (궁전라벤더)

This is a nice, big jjimjilbang near Dong Daegu KTX station (동대구역).  Just by the looks of the exterior I have wanted to go inside since I first saw it a few months ago.  Quite a few bus lines pass by this building including 156, 401, 414, 521, 618, 650, 708, 808, 937, 980, or the express #1 (급행1).  It's quite a walk from the subway, but would be a basic cost ride from either Sincheon station (신천역) or Dongdaegu station on Line 1.

The jjimjilbang entry fee is 8,000 (5,000 for kids 7 and under) then you head in.  Drop off your shoes then get your clothes and towels inside the sauna.  It's big, don't be alarmed.  Lockers to the left, sauna and counters to the right.  The lockers are in smaller coves to keep some privacy, and the prep area isn't too public.  Inside the sauna it was clear that the building is older, but well kept.  Some of the showers don't have hot water working, but even on Sunday afternoon it wasn't too busy to find one that did.  (There are 30 standing showers and even more sit-down style ones.)

It's a typical sauna: you can relax in various hot tubs, a couple warm massaging tubs, 2 dry sauna rooms or a cold-water tub.  Popular with children, the large cold tub runs the width of the sauna along the back wall and is surrounded in a dark, cave-like atmosphere.  It even has stalactites descending from the ceiling and odd rock formations on the walls (pictured at left).  Their website shows an ice room as part of the wet sauna area.  That's unusual and I didn't notice it while I was there, but I guess it might work.

On a special note, there's a dead sea salt tub (사해탕) that is separated from the main area by floor-to-ceiling glass walls.  Due to the high salt concentration, it's recommended you only spend 10 minutes at at time in the therapeutic, dark blue waters - enjoy it!

You'll have to step out into the cool hallway, uncomfortably barefooted, to get up to the 4th floor jjimjilbang area, but it's worth it.  Up there, the age of the building is less apparent.  The main area is warmly lit and cozy, with a couple of small rooms around corners to provide quiet places for rest.  The mens' and womens' segregated sleeping areas are separated by glass sliding doors, so it seems they may be a bit bright during the night.  All the heated rooms have a twist:  A heavenly-scented lavender room, open lounge-style yellow soil room (황토방), and the usual sleeping caves are instead a roomful of 4" high platforms which have adjustable under-floor(ondol) heating!  Genius, aside from the loss of cave-y privacy.  Even the need for an ice room has been mitigated by the existence of an ultra-cool passageway between the 5th floor lounge and the restaurant/PC room/DVD room/singing room wing.  The restaurant is big and has windows looking out to the smoking area, which is a large patio with resting places and vegetation to keep your mind at ease.  I think there may even be an artificial putting green up there!

궁전라벤더 - Goongjeon Lavender
대구 동구 신암3동 214-12
Daegu, Dong Gu, Sinam 3 Dong 214-12

Rates: 8,000 won for adult
          5,000 won for child

Wikimapia of Goongjeon Lavender Spa

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Busan, Haeundae, Jung-dong - Rodeo Jjimjil Town

I'm expanding the overview on Haeundae.  This entry will include a personal review and more details.

Rodeo Jjimjil Town (로데오찜질타운)
You can find this place in the Rodeo Outlet shopping area south of the Jung-dong subway station. Naver users rated this place 10.0 out of 10 (17 ratings)!

Rodeo is a great place to shop, there are a few good places to eat, and also this little gem.  On the top floor of the outlet stores, a large reception desk greets you.  The dressing room is a long hall with lots of little nooks for the lockers.  That keeps the place cozy and quiet.  It is overall a small place, but very nice and super clean.  When I walked into the bath area, I was greeted by an amazing woodsy smell.  Pine maybe?  Or cedar?  I'm not sure, but it was great.  There are 3 tubs, cold, warm, and hot, and a dry sauna room.  Lots of sit-down showers and 6 standing stalls.  The standing showers are those huge, rainfall shower heads - stellar!
So, like I said, the facilities are a bit limited but what's there was really done right.

To get to the jjimjilbang, you walk through a long skyway across to the other building.  There's an outdoor area with foot spas and doctor fish, but it wasn't open when I was there.  (More info on that coming soon.)  The main jjimjilbang area is a long rectangle with the TV positioned at one end.  Although things are packed in pretty tightly, it seemed to stay quiet - maybe the high ceilings help dissipate sounds.  Anyway, here you'll find the typical cafe, restaurant, rooms of varying temperatures, sleeping caves, and gender-segregated sleeping rooms.  There's a second level on each side of the hall; on one side the stairs go up to the sleeping caves.  Being up above keeps them very quiet.  The other side's stairs lead to the skin care & massage, PC room, children's play area, and the singing rooms.  Also, there were a couple rooms at or just above room-temperature.  I hate it when there are only hot or super hot rooms to choose from.  One room in particular was distinctive:  room-temperature, and the walls are lined with trees.  The outside parts of the tree, like a log cabin but with the bark on.  Surprisingly, it wasn't that uncomfortable to lean up against either, and this room smelled like your grandparent's lake cabin in the summer.

Probably the best part is the fact that this jjimjilbang utilizes the fact that it's on the top floor.  Just outside the entrance from the skyway into the jjimjilbang area there is a garden with platforms to relax on in good weather (pictured below).  Also, the smoking area is a lovely patio with picnic tables out on the other corner.  Because it's open-air and large enough, I could enjoy some time out there as well, without getting second-hand smoke.

I had a nice time there, and will definitely be going back.  Remember everyone:  if you take my advice and visit any of these saunas, please come back and comment or rate them for other readers!

부산 해운대구 중동 1775-7 해운대비치아울렛 401호
Map of Rodeo Jjimjil Town Haeundae

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Seoul, Itaewon (Hanam-dong) - Itaewon Land (이태원랜드) Jjimjilbang & Boolgama

Itaewon is a tough area for jjimjilbang or saunas.  I recently went out there and just resorted to the Happy Day spa near Hongdae.  I don't even care to try out the love motels in Itaewon, since there are so many seedy areas around there.  So, I vowed to search for some places you can utilize next time you're in this popular shopping and night-life district.

The first of these entries is Itaewon Land (이태원랜드) just south of the Itaewon station. If you walk straight out of exit 3, take your second right and you'll be staring at Hilltop Yeogwan (힐탑여관).  There will be a large set of stairs up to a traditional Korean building front.   The 5-story Itaewon Land houses basic jjimjilbang rooms (salt, yellow soil, charcoal, ice...) and a nice-looking sauna with wooden baths as well as tile ones.  You'll also find the standard PC room, singing rooms, DVD room, sports massage, restaurant, cafe, and sleeping rooms.  Finally, their website claims 13 small-group meeting or party rooms.

서울시 용산구 한남동 732-20
Seoul, Yongsan Gu, Hanam-dong 732-20
Open 24 hours a day

Rates: 10,000 won

Wikimapia of Itaewon Land Jjimjilbang