i've always been curious about the korean spa/bathhouse experience (찜질방), which i've only experienced through watching korean dramas. but the whole culture fascinates me. why does everyone have to wear a uniform in order to enter? how do you fold a tiny towel to make those Princess Leia buns on the side of your head? those boiled eggs look really tasty. can you really stay there all night? these were questions that were burning through my inner brain which had to be answered.
so when King Spa in Palisades Park, NJ offered a Groupon, i jumped on the opportunity. of course, there was no way i was going to do it alone. which posed a very crucial and serious question: who would i be willing to be completely nude in front of? and who would be willing to be completely nude in front of me? in moments like these, you really run through your catalog of girlfriends in order to assess who you're truly comfortable with. and Bubby and ND won the friendship lotto.
why the focus on nudity? if you're not aware, and it's definitely daunting as a first-timer who doesn't speak korean, but King Spa has private shower/hot tub/steam room areas that are separated by gender. and it's pretty much mandatory that you attend these areas completely bare-ass naked. we actually saw a girl who had chosen to wear a bathing suit be forbidden from entering the scalding hot cauldron/hot tub because she refused to wear her birthday suit.
Yelp reviews offer a great guide for how to approach and navigate King Spa if you're a first timer but i'll offer a rundown based on my experience anyway.
1. There is valet parking and a parking lot (valet service) directly across from the premises. No charge for parking if you deliver the car to the lot yourself.
2. Enter the premises and approach the cashier at which time she will ask for ID/credit card and then provide you and each person in your party with a wristband that contains your locker number and key. This also acts as your means for paying for services and food while you wander throughout the premises so don't lose it!
3. If you're a male, pick up your white uniform and head to the men's-only level on the third floor to change and enjoy some steamy hot/cold water time. if you're a woman, proceed directly to the right of the cashier and do the same.
4. Enter the locker room and change either into the pink uniform you've picked up and head up to the second floor to enjoy various dry sauna rooms to relax. interesting point: unlike the scene portrayed in korean dramas, there is no talking allowed inside the sauna rooms. however, there are many large spaces to sit with friends and chat outside of the sauna rooms.
5. After you've sufficiently tried out each sauna box, head to the water area. there you'll find standing shower areas or seated shower areas as well as complimentary shampoo, conditioner, and soap. if you're really comfortable with your friends, bring your loofahs and body scrubs and give it a go. before entering any of the pools it is mandatory that you shower.
6. there are 3 pools to try out: (1) filled with an herbal bag (it kind of feels like you're being brewed like tea) and is moderately temperatured to be bearable; (2) scalding hot and really stretches the bounds of human tolerance (if you're white/pale-skinned, get ready to look like a cooked lobster); and (3) freezing cold. although it'll try your fortitude, i highly recommend bearing down in the scalding tub and then fully immersing in the freezing tub immediately after. it feels amazing.
7. once you're too prune-y for comfort, head to the restaurant level for some decent korean food, drinks, and desserts.
ND, Bubby and i did all of the above (not exactly in that order). we'd made it a point to leave NY around 11:15 and stayed at King Spa until about 3:30, although the place is open for 24 hrs. when we'd arrived the place was at a tolerable capacity without seeming too empty or too full. however, when we left, it was a zoo at the reception area so i can't imagine the spa experience would be much fun with that many people. i absolutely want to do it again because it truly is relaxing once you've gotten the hang of it and gotten over the initial i'm-totally-butt-ass-naked awkwardness. plus my skin still feels really soft more than 24 hours afterwards.