EDIT: Recently Updated! (new material added + CAUTION!! section)
(Photo Credit: Suzon Fuks. Scroll over the photo for more photos and cite information.)
Sunday was just one of those days that had to be spent relaxing. Although I had yet to finish more than -"Oh, it's that time again"-85 progress reports for the end of September, I wanted to pamper myself and finally check out what the Korean public bath was all about.I woke up early thinking I would get a good head-start on my day. Near 6:30 I woke up, feeling the sun shining on my face, making me feel a bit dehydrated: so I grabbed a liter of water and chugged it, thereafter laying down for a quick rest.
Around 8 I came to again, which was still rather early for my sleepy eyes, and headed over anyway to the GoongJeoungLavander public bath close to 경북 (KyongPook) University. From what I had heard, it's a good place and one of the largest here in Daegu.
What a haven it was indeed! I felt a little out of place, walking up to the information window and paying my 4,000 Won to go take a bath---amid other naked Korean ladies, people I didn't know, doing what I had always believed to be a very private affair: that is, washing oneself, taking a bath, and cleansing the body in a fashion us Westerners are accustomed to doing (however, I'm still getting used to not being able to take a bath here, just the shower I have in my apartment, where everything gets wet within a foot radius.)
*** Read Carefully if you plan on going to a KOREAN PUBLIC BATH!! ***
When I entered the Women's section, I found the usual: entryway and place to lock your shoes, then the usual path to the women's locker room. Alas, I hadn't even entered the women's bathing area and I already found women walking naked everywhere. Strange.
I noticed a little convenience stand just across my line of site, so I bought a pumice stone, bathing body scrubber, a mango face mask and apricot body scrub: all for a whopping 8,000 Won. Ouch! But I felt like having a pampering session, so it was well-deserved. Next, it was off to my locker to remove my clothes, and gather my belongings to finally check out the baths.
Maybe it's just my Westerner frame of mine, but it was definitely a strange site to see Korean women and children so comfortable in their birthday suits; they showering, scrubbing themselves, laying around in the baths, conversing, laughing and simply, pampering themselves! I felt at ease, in my own skin that is, but I expected some wondering eyes looking my way---and there was, indeed. How could they not miss me? I'm the only foreigner with blinding white skin!
The baths were amazing, and there were so many, too. I didn't find out until later (since I can only read Hangul at this point, having absolutely no idea what they mean in English), I just pounced around, going from one bath to another, having an honestly good time and feeling very relaxed. There were even a few Korean girls that asked me in English what my name was, if I was a teacher and whether I spoke Korean or not.
There were several hot baths (about 40 degrees Celcius), a salt bath, a negative and postive ion bath section, a cold water pool, massage jets with varying degrees of strenth (boy did they feel SO good!), a steam room and a sauna room as well. There was even a little padio with heat lamps, where women could just lay down and feel the warmth of the heat lamp on their skin. When I visited the massage jets to give my myself a back rub, an older Korean lady asked me in Korean, "너무좋아?" ("Namu-jowa?" which means, does it feel good?) and I agreed, "내!" (yes!). She asked me in broken English if there were Saunas like this one in "Mee-guk"--America, and I said there wasn't like this one. There are Spas, but they're expensive.
The last and final bath I visited--AND LET ME CAUTION YOU HERE!--is the replication of the Dead Sea bath (Check out the link, it's got great info about the Dead Sea). It's blue, beautiful actually, and loaded with several minerals (like calcium, bromine, magnesium, etc) that is supposedly very similar to the Dead Sea. But here's the cautionary: you're ONLY supposed to stay in this bath for NO MORE THAN 10 MINUTES! If you stay longer, your skin may become sensitive, or there many be adverse effects. Let me explain.
I stayed in the bath approximately 15 minutes, and it was NOT until after I left the bath, that I half-hazardly read the sign at the entrance to the bath, to not stay longer than 10 minutes immersed in the "Dead Sea Bath." I did however, and by only a few minutes--so I thought it wouldn't make much of a difference: Well, I was wrong. Sorely-wrong.
After the Dead Sea bath, I went into the Sauna, then the cold-water pool once again, revisiting the hot bath at 40 degrees celcius, only afterward, heading over to the bathing section to exfoliate my skin, wash myself, and essentially, take a shower to clean up from the bathing.
GRAPHIC CAUTION: The next paragraph is GRAPHIC. So if you don't want to know the details of my anatomical mishaps, move along and don't read any further!
A few days later, I noticed that I was VERY sensitive in the pubic region: whether bathing, going to the bathroom, or simply wearing underwear. I was rather red and swollen nearly everywhere (and I mean, everywhere, folks.. the whole kitten caboodle.) My poor 질 (vagina) felt like I had been riding on a horse for 3 days straight, trying to cross a desert in the hot, blazing sun: my labia was cracked from top to bottom, and I could barely go to the bathroom without almost immediately dousing myself with cold water to relieve the pain. To say I was a parched horse is an understatement. What a vision.
So I just couldn't understand why it felt like the entire lower part of my body was about to fall apart-- until of course it dawned on me, like an instantaneous smack to my skull: could it be that Dead Sea Bath? No wonder. And I had felt dehydrated for days following my Korean Bath adventure. Let me tell you, I might just think twice about that Dead Sea Bath again... however, when Sunday rolls around, you bet you'll find me soaking in a local Korean bath near you! (And might I add, one should take it EASY in the salt bath, too. That might have added to the iritation, come to think of it.)
So cheers for the soothing, non-irritating Korean baths--and a word to the wise for those who choose to check out the Dead Sea Bath at your local Sauna: immerse your feet, folks, ONLY your feet. Seriously, don't immerse anything else, or else you might wind up replicating my anatomical mishap. You'll be thanking me afterward, I promise you!