Busan’s Spaland: the Naked Foreigners, and the Ajumma Scrub

“Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.” A White Christmas.

When we get together….

This is what happens….

Oh dear, it can’t be helped. I blame it on our DNA. 

Merriam – Webster Definition
             spa: a place where people go to improve their health and appearance by exercising, relaxing, swimming, etc.

My Definition
             spa: a place where westerners go in South Korea to fully immerse themselves in the culture. The experience includes……  relaxing waters, nudity, plus inordinate amounts of staring.

I was fortunate enough to receive a visit from my sister while living in Korea. I see it as my job as the older of the two, to introduce her to new, and culturally diverse experiences. I decided an ideal way to accomplish my sisterly duties (in Korea), was to bring her to a traditional style Korean spa, a place where clothing is NOT part of the equation. 

Location: Busan, South Korea.

Step one:  Pay, get your key and deposit your shoes.

This is Korea, so of course everyone has their own special shoe locker.

This is not only a fashionable bracelet, it is also your locker key and the device on which they record any extra expenses.

After picking up your towels and little spa uniforms, the men go off in one direction, and the women venture towards the Ladies Bath.

Ladies to the right! And in case you were wondering, no one but a princess from Star Wars can actually pull of the ear-bun thing. Don’t try it!

Step two: strip down to your birthday suit.

All visitors receive their own clothing locker as well. Technically cameras are not allowed past the shoe locker area.  But seeing as there were no naked people in the photo, I thought maybe they wouldn’t mind my tiny infraction.

Step two is where many westerners have the most trouble. If you are unnused to being stared at by a bunch of strangers while unclothed, then it can be disconcerting at first. 

However, foreigners are stared at all the time anyways, so after the first few minutes it doesn’t feel much different than simply walking around on the streets in Korea.

Step 3: The Ajumma Scrub

This is by far one of the weirdest, yet most amazing things I have experienced while living here, therefore, I made my sister do it as well. (As I have established, it is my sisterly duty to make my siblings experience uncomfortable things).

Upon entering the main bath area (minus clothing), you take an immediate left and will find a little back room. In this room there are several tables where the scrubbing ladies work. 

Being naked in front of strangers is one thing, but why not take it a step further if you can? The Scrub is the way to truly test your capabilities for coping with cultural experiences.

All one must do is stand (awkwardly or not) at the entrance and one of the women will write your name on the schedule. There are a few different options, my favorite is the 35,000 won option.

My sister and I signed up for our scrub, our anticipation building. After waiting in one of the pools, we heard our number called, jumped out of the water and scampered to the entrance. 

(again, this is all happening in our birthday suits. Although, the ladies that perform the scrubs are allowed to wear a uniform that consists of a sheer black bra and panties set).

“Are you ready for this,” I asked my sister with a giggle. She was surprisingly zen about the whole situation, much more than I was during my first spa excursion.  

Upon entering the little scrub room, we were directed to our own tables. As there is a language barrier, any directions are usually given with frantic gestures, indistinguishable noises, and occasionally a slap to the rear.

For the next 40 minutes I tried to focus on relaxing and enjoying my scrub, but I was distracted by watching and listening for my sisters reaction. 

There were a few times I heard her trying to hold back laughter when an ajumma found a ticklish spot, and a few times an “eeh,” would escape her if the ajumma was being particularly thorough. There is nothing like lying naked on a table and being scrubbed from head to toe by a middle-aged Korean woman. 

It is amazing how much dead skin will come peeling off at the vigorous ministrations of the ajummas. I didn’t realize it was possible to lose that much skin and still have some left over to cover those important things such as muscles and bones. 

My sis, showing off our cute spa land uniforms.

Quick note from my sister: I had a few reservations about going to Spaland, but my curiosity for the place was much stronger.  Kaela and I checked in and all looked normal, just how I imagined a spa would look like.  

My main reservation was that part of the spa was nude!  and sure enough, Kaela and I walked into the locker room where I immediately saw skin…lots of skin.  I never thought I would see so many naked women all at once in my life.  But, in about 10 seconds I got over the shock and I myself stripped bare and fully embraced the spa.  Of course everyone starred at us, being the only foreign girls there, but then I quite enjoyed starring right back.  We skipped from one pool to the next, one hot, one cold, before we got called in for our ajumma scrub.  I loved it!  yes, granted it was strange having an elderly woman in lingerie wash and scrub every inch of my body, but I loved it.  I was sad when our time at the spa ended but so thankful for the unique experience.  I left wishing they had spas like that back in the states, sadly, I don’t see this happening any time in the near future.

Step 3: The Special rooms

When you have finished with the body-tingling scrub, and have had enough of relaxing in the bathing pools, you can put on the provided spa uniform and head to the common areas for various other treatments.

I am a sucker for foot baths and massages, and this sure felt wonderful. 

After spending an exhausting time relaxing in the baths and foot pools, you can recline for a peaceful nap before heading into the special “rooms”.

One of the many rooms you can enter for various unknown benefits to your health. 

The peaceful common area. 

By scanning your key bracelet, and getting charged 2,000 won ($2) you can spend 20 minutes in this lovely massage chair. I think we did it twice.

Although it can be awkward, initially, to undress and walk around stark naked in front of strangers, it can also be relaxing and refreshing.

A day at Spaland will wash away the stress of months of traveling or teaching, as well as provide one with some good stories to tell the folks back home. I am happy to have been able to expose my sister to this cultural experience.

Visit Spaland in Busan

Did you enjoy reading this post? Leave me a comment with your experiences, opinions, questions, or general thoughts about being naked with an audience. I would love to hear from you!

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8 thoughts on “Busan’s Spaland: the Naked Foreigners, and the Ajumma Scrub

  1. Ah, this is awesome! I am really looking forward to visiting one of these spas. Also, this reminds me of foot massages in Europe with Torrie and Kelly… I couldally hear Tor's “eeh” sounds as I read this post, haha!

  2. Yet another fantastic blog from you! 🙂 Being a Finn I'm quite familiar to spending time with naked people in the sauna, something foreign visitors find very strange and sometimes even disgusting. Foreigners tend to have weird fantasies of saunas being some kind of swingers' clubs. For us Finns the sauna is a place where we relax and wash ourselves and sometimes each others backs too. But I don't think anyone sees anything sexual about the saunas.

    I also once went to a Sauna world in a mega large spa in Austria. At first I was a little scared because of the massive amount of naked people of both sexes walking around between the different saunas and swimming pools but after a few minutes everything was forgotten and I started enjoying myself. It's amazing how we after just a few moments can lock out the fact that everybody is naked and just start to enjoy the experience. Nudity in the wrong places is offending or vulgar but at places like these it feels normal and you usually tend to stare at the few people who wear clothing in stead of staring at all the people in their birthday suits! 🙂

  3. Thanks! The spas here are relaxing and usually either a family affair or a place to go and spend some restful time with friends. It's quite lovely and peaceful. The Koreans also scrub each others back 🙂

    I was really nervous my first time going to the spa, but you are right, after a few minutes it seems like the most natural thing in the world to be walking around in your birthday suit with a bunch of strangers.

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