I originally wrote this story last January in an email to some girlfriends. I debated posting it due to some nudity but then figured that while it was a little bizarre, it was perfectly legal (I think) and so here goes…
January 7, 2013
So I’ve been up in Dallas working and was feeling a little worn out and beat up from the past few weeks. This afternoon I decided to look for a yoga studio or something to unwind and relax. I remembered a friend of mine talking about a Korean spa and sauna that her sister had tried so I Googled it and found King Spa & Sauna. Since there were tons of great reviews on Yelp, I thought, “what the heck, I’ll try it.”
Around 6:30 tonight, I drove up to North Dallas and as soon as I pulled through the huge entrance flanked by 30 foot tall fiberglass giraffes and into a packed parking lot in front of a mammoth building, I knew this was no Milk & Honey Day Spa. KING SPA & SAUNA (all caps seems more appropriate) had already made an impression. Of what, I wasn’t quite certain.
With a tiny amount of trepidation, I walked past a pair of life-sized bronze lions, up the steps and into to the reception hall. I was a little unsure of what to do but the Yelp reviews had informed me of a couple of things. For instance, the staff may or may not be friendly and helpful (may not, check). You must immediately take off your shoes (check). And they have a scrub/massage/facial package for $120 that everyone seems to love (where do I sign up!).
While the staff who greeted me were not friendly nor helpful (annoyed with another non-Korean speaking white girl seemed more like it), I did at least gather that I was to book spa services in the actual ladies locker room area. So I paid my $27 entrance fee, got my plastic bracelet with locker key, removed my shoes and found the ladies area. I also knew from the Yelp reviews that complete nudity was pretty much the game so wasn’t too shocked to walk into a large locker room full of completely naked women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities. I approached the young girl standing at a little table with a schedule book and mimed my request for a 9pm spa reservation. Ok, so two hours to kill….what next?
Since the schedule girl spoke zero English (or at least pretended not to), a nice naked lady told me where to find my bright orange t-shirt/shorts outfit that is the mandatory uniform for the entire facility (sans the locker room and wet room, of course). She gave me a few other tips and off I went. Or rather, off went my clothes.
After storing my things in a locker, I strutted my stuff into the wet room (there is a separate one for men). The big rule posted everywhere is that you must shower (basically high school-style with shower heads lining a wall) before entering any of the pools. I obeyed and then took a dip in one of the hot whirlpools. I’m not a huge fan of hot tubs so I moved to the cold pool next. After that shock (it was more like Barton Springs than just a cool-off pool), I tried the wet sauna. I liked that one the best. I immediately felt all the holiday booze pouring out of my skin. There was one other completely naked lady in there with me and at some point, one of the staff girls opened the door and said something to us in Korean….it seemed like a reprimand but we weren’t sure what we were doing wrong. I mean, sweating in the buff seemed to be the thing to do.
Anyway, after showering again, I put on the ridiculous orange uniform (I surmised that they make them so doggone ugly to prevent theft) and headed out of the women’s area and into the main hall of the spa. This is basically the co-ed part of the place and there were people everywhere. All in matching orange uniforms. It sort of looked like prison, except everyone was happy. There were couples (young and old), families, gaggles of teenagers, random people like myself. This place is actually open 24/7 so I guessed it was an overnight destination for many. Cheaper than a hotel, right?
Down the center of this hall were a series of very Ming Dynasty-ornate chairs (um, guessing maybe a Chinese reference is politically incorrect in a Korean story, but I don’t know any Korean dynasties), small little dainty tables with slightly less hugely ornate chairs, little tables and chairs for kids, and at the far end, rows upon rows of big leather recliners in front of an enormous TV screen with no sound. But don’t let the close-caption mislead you….this was not a quite place. To the right was the “cafeteria” with all sorts of Korean dishes, smoothies and teas….lots of clatter and chatter. But finally, on the left side of the hall were all the different saunas. I headed to the very end of the hall, thinking I would try them all and work my way back to the ladies wet room where I would get my treatments later. And also thinking I could get away from the throngs of people.
The first one I tried was the Infrared Room. Basically it was a room with some infrared lights. It was actually quite soothing and totally quiet but then I couldn’t remember if infrared light causes skin cancer and I got myself freaked out and left. Next I tried the Gold Pyramid Room. It was also very relaxing and quite a bit warmer than the first room. The gold plated walls and ceiling cleanse you or make your energy vibrate or something. It smelled good. But there were two girls in the corner whispering and playing an iPod through earbuds (which you can totally still hear) and so it was sort of hard to concentrate on my third eye and stuff.
Next I tried a larger and much hotter room (can’t remember what it was named) but there were so many people talking so loudly, I wondered why they were here and not at a bar. Nobody seemed to mind the “Quiet Please” signs and the staff was oblivious so I moved on. I entered the Salt Dome Room at the same time as a very handsome black dude who flashed me a huge grin and told me this was his favorite room. At first it was awesome…we were the only two in there and it was totally silent. It smelled heavenly and was pretty darned hot so the sweat started pouring again and I could feel the toxins dripping to the floor. But then a group of three girls came in, all with iPhone in hand, and just started chatting away like they had never learned English and so the “Quiet Please” sign clearly meant nothing (they were speaking English, by the way). The handsome guy immediately sat up and asked them to respect the quiet and then those damn girls continued to giggle in hushed voices (as if we couldn’t hear them from 1.5 feet away). Ok, deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Third eye. I’m in tune with my body. I’m not hearing about their boyfriends. But then the freaking girl sitting next to me starts scrolling through her phone (obviously she doesn’t know you can make it NOT click) and that was it. I sighed and left.
At that point, all the sweating had me feeling a little queasy so I went over to the cafeteria and got a green tea. My plastic bracelet was scanned and the tea charged to my account. I had brought a new book with me called Vortex that’s all about getting in touch with your inner self and drawing things into your life, etc…seemed like the thing to read at a detox spa. But for whatever reason, I grabbed an In Style magazine and read up on hair care instead. I do feel more enlightened, but maybe not in the way Vortex intended.
ANYWAY, after lounging in a recliner and learning a few hair tricks (spray dry shampoo on bobby pins to make them stay in place better!) it was time for my spa treatments. I made my way back to the ladies’ lounge and was instructed to go stand in the wet room and wait for my number to be called. So there I was, buck naked again, standing in the wet room waiting to be told what to do. Finally a Korean woman (maybe 50ish) wearing a black and white polka dot bra and matching panties called my number. She lead me to the far side of the wet room where a row of maybe a dozen massage tables covered in Pepto Bismol-pink plastic were lined up behind a low wall that was topped with glass etched with Bart Simpson’s image. Not kidding. Read that again if you need to.
Suzi (that’s what the sign on the wall above the table said her name was…she did not introduce herself) pointed at a table and motioned for me to lie on my stomach. I did what I was told and the next thing I know she was throwing buckets of warm water on me…what a cool sensation! But then the scrubbing began. At first it hurt like hell. I mean, this woman was wearing exfoliating gloves and rubbing the backs of my legs like she was scrubbing blood out of carpet before the police showed up. But my mind drifted to the Yelp reviews that gushed over how “worth the discomfort” was ‘cuz “your skin would be so soft,” so I relaxed into it and after a while, it actually didn’t hurt so much.
This went on for a while with Suzi flipping me this way and that, scrubbing the shit out of every square inch of my body. Oddly, when she had me flipped over on my back, all I could think of was, “I wonder how she thinks I got the huge bruises on my leg.” And then I thought, “I wonder how I got those huge bruises on my leg.” Oh yeah….NYE at Courtney Mountain Ranch. Makes total sense.
After all the scrubbing was done, Suzi doused me with more buckets of water and then told me to go shower off. I followed orders, making my way past the other women getting the shit scrubbed out of them by middle-aged women in lingerie. After I returned to my table, Suzi patted me dry and then started in on some serious Korean massage. Now this type of massage might be a little rough for some but I’ve had massages in Thailand, China and Bali and so am used to the technique. And Lord knows I needed some intense massage. But I have to admit I’ve never had the twisting and elbowing and pounding followed up with a woman straddling my bare butt and rubbing hot oil all over me. I was trying not to laugh as I pictured my mother seeing this whole episode. I mean, it wasn’t dirty or inappropriate…heck, at least six or seven other women where getting the same treatments just feet away from me…but still.
Next, Suzi began to rub the most delightful peppermint oil into my scalp….now that was amazing. And after wrapping my head in a hot towel, she flipped me over, slathered on more hot oil and then applied a super thick, incredibly cold mask to my face. Once Suzi was satisfied that I couldn’t open my mouth (yes, the crazy mask went right over my lips), she put a swatch of fabric over my eyes and then went to massaging the rest of me. “Maybe the massage will actually get rid of the bruises,” I theorized.
Now, you may be asking yourself if this story can get any more bizarre. Well, yes. Yes it can.
So I’m lying there on my back, covered in hot oil, turban on my head, lips sealed with a mask and my eyes covered with a strip of fabric. I have no idea, and I mean NO idea, what was going to happen next. That’s when Suzi pushes me to a sitting position and literally spins me around on the oily plastic table. It would have been funny (you know, spinning around on your oily bare butt) if I hadn’t been so surprised. Then she laid me back down so that my head was by the hose (yes, there was a garden hose at the end of each table) and began to wash my hair.
I’ll give you a moment to take all that in. It was a lot to experience so I’m sure it’s a lot to digest. I share this with you because many of you have traveled with me (or at least have read my past travel stories) and so I thought you would appreciate one that happened right here in Big D. In any case, that was the end of the treatment and after removing the mask in one fell swoop (I love those kind!), Suzi sat me up and nodded to me. I took that as my queue to smile, thank her and walk my scrubbed, pounded and oiled naked ass back to my locker. Thank gawd tip was included in the price….that could have been an awkward exchange.
I must say that my skin is indeed as smooth as a baby’s butt, my hair feels luxuriously soft, and the giant knot in the middle of my back is gone. Will I do this again? HELL YES. I know it must sound crazy, but honestly we’re the only culture I know who are so dang prude and modest. This place really was about healing and relaxing and using centuries-old wellness techniques. I would definitely prefer a spa like this for adults-only as all the kids (children to high school) were a bit annoying, but overall I was pleased with the five hours I spent there tonight. Oh, and the guy who checked me out at the reception desk was way nicer than the one who checked me in.