Seoul’s 24-hour luxury spas
After a scrub down, prepare yourself for a vigorous South Korean massage. (Austin Bush/LPI)
Do not leave Seoul without enjoying a sweat and a soak in one of the many spas, saunas or jjimjilbang (luxury spas).
Most spas are open 24 hours and offer body scrubs, manicures, pedicures and facials. Watch out though, the massages and body scrubs are usually more on the rigorous than relaxing side.
To begin, you must wash and clean yourself thoroughly at the communal showers before gently lowering yourself into a hot bath. The heat soaks into weary bodies, soothing tired muscles and minds. Relaxing and turning pink in a hot bath like a steamed dumpling is good therapy, further enhanced when you plunge into a bath of cold water.
Spas offer a variety of baths (maybe green tea or ginseng) and saunas (try mugwort, pine or jade). Soap and shampoo are supplied, as well as toothpaste and toothbrushes, and the ladies section usually has hairdryers, foot massagers, lotions and perfumes. You can have your hair cut as well as your shoes shined.
Men and women are always separate in the bath area when it Is time to strip off, but saunas, napping rooms and other facilities may be mixed.
You pay when you enter, and the more modern spas will give you a locker key that is also an electronic tag to keep track of your spending while in the spa. The basic entry fee usually covers up to 12 hours of unlimited use of all the different baths and saunas. Most spas allow patrons to sleep over for the night for an extra 2,000 won or so - you sleep side by side on thin mattresses in a communal area with a hard pillow.
Here are three of our favourite spas in Seoul:
Spa Lei is a luxurious, ladies-only spa providing excellent services in an immaculate, stylish environment. The décor is earthy tones of brown, grey and orange using a range of materials including stained wood, marble and rock. Joseon-era furniture, candelabras towering over gilt mirrors and winding vines add an antique touch. The saunas include the much-loved pinewood type, and you can hop from saltwater pool to ginseng, mineral and rose baths, plus there is a restaurant and café.
Popular with locals and Japanese tourists, Chunjiyun Spa is compact and cosy, offering the essentials - a pinewood, jade and clay sauna as well as green tea, ginseng and mugwort hot bath. For a few extra dollars you can get a body scrub, oil massage and cucumber facial. With salmon-pink walls and posters of Korean celebs, it can feel as if you have stumbled into a teenage girl's bedroom.
The new luxury Dragon Hill Spa is spread out over seven floors. In addition to outdoor baths, charcoal saunas, crystal salt rooms and ginseng and cedar baths, there is a golf driving range, cinema and rooftop garden with an Indian Barbeque Village. The outdoor unisex heated pool is perfect for families.
The spacious interior is a beguiling mix of gaudy Las Vegas bling and Asian chic – there is a sauna shaped like the pyramids but also a bamboo forest lit up with neon green lights. There is always a smattering of foreigners – Russian models, Filipino migrant workers and Western English teachers.