Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Spa Etiquette 101

Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Korean Mysteries

When you don’t speak the languge – and can’t read the signs – it’s pretty easy to make mistakes. My latest embarrassements were Spa related. The Kensington Resort in Sokcho is reputed to have one of the nicest Spa’s in the area – so naturally – I had to go. The cost was a measly 6000 Won – $6, clearly a deal.

I’ve done Spa’s before in various countries – Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Fez – so I’m not a complete idiot where Spa Etiquette is concerned – but somehow I manage to mess it up anyway.

In the case of the Kensington, I really only made a few major errors. But let’s start at the beginning.

My first Spa attempt was on Wednesday – I mention this because I think Wednesday must be a down day at the Spa – only about 5 people there – all in separate areas. Wonderfully private. My ‘oops’ – I wanted to wear my bathing suit. Heads-up people – Spa’s in Korea are ‘nudu’ – that’s nude. They have complete separate facilities for men and women – kids don’t count – so it’s not like you are suddenly visiting a nudist colony – but bathing suits are a definitely no-no.

Stripped to an approrpiate state – I could now enter the Spa. There were 2 large saunas – one labeled ‘Finnish Style’, the other called ‘Yellow Ocher’. There were also 4 large ‘pools’, each with a digital temperature display – 37.9, 40.0, 41, and 31.5. The 41 degree pool was hot sea water – and it felt great. The 31.5 degree pool was ‘cold’ water – and I ended up between these two. But first you must shower. Good news – been in Japan – know how to use a Japanese bath.

In the Korean version – you had 2 choices. You could do a standard Japanese bath – you sit on a low stool in front of a mirror, and use buckets of hot and cold water and soap to get everything clean. Or you could opt for a western style shower – which is what I took. The floor was particularly neat – it was made of large flat stones, with narrow sections that were deeper and led to the drains. So the flat stones, while wet, didn’t stay soapy and slick – all the soap was washed down into the narrow sections and from there to the drains.

After a good scrub down – I was able to enjoy the hot tubs. They weren’t very deep, just right for sitting in – and there were slabs that connected the sections that you could perch on to get out of the hot water. The view – despite the name – Ocean Spa – wasn’t much – the windows were frosted to maintain privacy.

Overall – a lovely experience. So of course – I wanted to do it again. This time on Sunday.
Well – Sunday is bath day amoung the local 20 to 40 year old crowd apparently – and the place was packed. I counted at least 40 women – plus 5 kids ranging from about 3 to 12 years of age. The 2 massage tables were filled, the saunas were in full use, and I had problems finding a quiet corner that didn’t get splashed when I was soaking in the hot salt water. Not that the noise level was high – but there was conversations here and there as friends caught up on the news (all in Korean) – and kids playing in the warm water pool. Quite the lovely scene – and easy to imagine it as a painting. Korean women are slim and have quite nice figures. The only older people were myself, and one elderly ‘auntie’ with a severe dowgers hump. The rest were young and very attractive. Most striking to me was the hair color – I know of course that Asians have black hair – but I guess I hadn’t really thought it completely thru.

I made two oops. One when I walked in. I had noticed that they had little plastic pads available – and I thought they were for people to use to sit on if they didn’t care to sit on the stones. I was right on the purpose – but I found out later that they were for sale. Oops. No money. I handed it back. The Spa lady gave it back to me. I handed it back to her – no money. She threw it in the laundry. Hope they wash it and put it back on the counter to sell.

My second oops was dress related. I knew that the Spa was ‘Nudu’ – so I wore my bathing suit and a largeish t-shirt down to the spa. I guess the gal running the spa didn’t notice when I walked in – but when I left – she got very concerned. Turns out she thought I was still ‘Nudu’ under the T-shirt. I had to show her my bathing suit before she’d let me leave!

I think this place should write up an English guide to Spa Appropriate Behavior. If they ask me – I’d be glad to help. But given the number of ‘foreigners’ I’ve seen – probably a non-issue. Or like the Leonard Cohen song – “Every one Knows”.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler (who refuses to go into Spas – I think she’s not into ‘Nudu’!)

PS: Sorry – no pictures for obvious reasons. Just use your imagination – you’ll be fine.