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How To....

Bathhouses

by Colin Kangas

Getting naked in a room full of Koreans? No way! For my first year in Korea I steadfastly refused to go anywhere near a bath house. It wasn’t until my second year that curiosity got the better of me and I caved in. I prepared myself for the stares, the giggling and the pointing at the funny waygook. Almost disappointingly, there were none. .

After countless hours spent soaking in bath houses I’ve yet to chalk up a bad experience. Sure, as a foreigner you are noticed at first. But any initial curiosity soon subsides and you are left to blend in.If you’re nervous you could just use the old method of picturing everyone naked oh wait, they all are. So really, you have nothing to worry about.

All bath houses have pretty much the same set up. When you enter, ask for “sauna” and you will receive a numbered locker key. The price should be around 4000~5000 won. Ask which floor or door you have to go to so you don’t end up walking into the opposite sex’s area. Leave your shoes at the entrance in the racks or lock them in your numbered shoe locker if provided. When you enter, find your locker and get naked. The key is on a handy band that you can keep on your wrist or ankle. You don’t have to worry too much about committing any social faux pas because there are very few rules. Just watch the Koreans and see what they do. The one rule you have to follow is that you must shower before you do anything else.

There will be showers with soap near the entrance. The various hot tubs are for soaking, not for washing yourself. Girls, the one extra rule you have to follow is to tie your hair up. From here it’s up to you. Enjoy trying out the different pools and saunas. It’s a good idea to test the water temperature first before jumping in. Some are hot enough to cook you like a lobster. Others, I’m sure, could cause frost bite within five minutes. When you’re starting to resemble a prune it’s time to shower again and head out. Towels are kept at the door to the dressing room. This month I had the hard research job of trying out major bath houses around Ulsan. A tough job, but someone had to do it. Here’s a summary what makes each one good and bad.



Family Spa


Ulsan’s largest. The definite feature of this place are the individual hot tubs. There are also four small herbal hot tubs, water jet massage chairs and the usual saunas. If you bring a swimsuit you can join your friends in the mixed sex swimming pool area that’s reached by a staircase within the bath house area.
Getting there : Behind Chunggu Homeplus.

Geonguptop Rotary Sauna


This place is fairly new. It’s smaller then Family Spa but they’ve packed a lot in. On top of the usual hot tubs there is a herbal tub, water jet massage chairs and a strange area that lets you sit on the floor with your legs in a trench of hot water (I don’t get it but the Koreans seem to like it). My favorite part would have to be the cool room; a place where you can get out of the hot steamy main room and cool off on a pool chair.
Getting there: Take McDonalds exit from Geonguptop (towards Yaumdong Homeplus), its 200m on the left.

Aqua


This has to be my favorite of all. Aqua is fairly new and has many great features that make it stand out. As well as the usual hot tubs there is a medium temperature tub that you could comfortably stay in all day (the only one I’ve found in Ulsan). The TV facing it showing SBS Sports is great (the girls may get another choice in channel). Another great feature is the outdoor hot tub so you can escape the steam if you want. The saunas consist of the usual dry sauna and a wet “crystal” sauna. The latter has a bucket of salt so you can give yourself a good salt rub down (I have no idea why you would). For the smokers there is even an indoor smoking room.
Getting there : From Sinbok rotary in Mugeodong head towards the university.
Turn right after the Nike store, it’s 200m on the right.

 

ABS Sports Spa


The big neon signs outside seem to promise a lot but this is just a standard old fashion bath house. If you are just looking for a quiet place to sit in a hot tub or sauna then it’s perfectly adequate. I, on the other hand, like a few bells and whistles.
Getting there : It’s on the main street of Hwabangdong. Look up for the sign.

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