Last Friday, Leslie and Miuk introduced me to the wonders of the cheap, no-frills/no-nonsense Korean bath-house spa experience; initially, the spa's privacy-shunning policies probably tensed me up more, but by the end, I felt just as relaxed as I do after any spa visit AND I left with the fresh-looking, slippery-smooth skin of an 8 year old.
We headed to Korea Town's Century Sports Club & Day Spa on Olympic and Crenshaw. The $15 admission includes the use of the sauna, jacuzzis and steam room but Leslie and I also opted for traditional basic body scrubs ($30) and Hourig, my fellow non Korean Spa initiated friend, chose the scrub/massage combo ($70 with admission fee waived so essentially $55).
Slipping into our thin rayon robes, we walked out of the locker room into the women's spa area. Leslie forewarned me Korean style spas ain't no Burke William's cucumber-water, fuzzy slippers and robe niceties type of place--think more YMCA with spa services. However, I still assumed sea salt scrubs and a private room would figure into my body scrub treatment.
I opened the door to a rude, nude awakening. All the spa's facilities were all in one large room; everywhere, nonchalant, naked women (both Korean and non-Asian) taking showers in the stall-less shower area, slipping into large jacuzzi and tea detox pools, sweating it out in sauna and spa rooms and hanging out, chatting sans robe in the resting chairs...and to the right of me--along an assembly-line style row of massage tables each 2ft apart--more naked ladies being scrubbed and massaged by Korean masseuses in black bras and underwear (the whole scene may inadvertently sound way hotter than it was).
I'm not heaps prudish but the idea of sauntering around the room from amenity to amenity buck naked--like everyone else was except myself, Miuk and Hourig (nude Les was fully in her element)--took some getting used to.
I awkwardly tried to disrobe and sink into the Jacuzzi in one smooth and speedy motion. Clutching our robes around us, we hopped into the sauna room and minty steam room before heading back into the jacuzzi while waiting for our treatments. In Korean culture, going spa'ing with your friends is more of a social activity than a Zen indulgence, much like catching up over lunch.... except we were gossiping about boys and shoe sales in a giant jacuzzi. And naked.
My number got called to enter the treatment-side of the room. My bra'n'undie clad spa lady spoke little English but got the point across "UP! On table! No towel!" Once on the massage table, she started polishing away my back and legs with a pair of stimulatingly-scratchy mitts. Although more invigorating than calming, the firm, circular movements and intermittent floods of warm water poured over my body soon soothed me into a sleepy lull.
Suddenly, SLAP! Was I just butt-slapped? The slight sting on my left butt cheek confirmed that, yes; I was indeed just butt-slapped by my spa lady. "FRONT, turn FRONT!" Facing upwards and fully uncovered while being scrubbed pretty much everywhere (including the boob and nether region-adjacent areas) was a little weirder but I was too fascinated with the sight of my dead skin being exfoliated off like pieces of dirt to spend time feeling shy. Ooohh, I was getting so much smoother and cleaner with every slough!
A quick face rub and dreamy shampoo/scalp massage completed the 1/2hr treatment before I was sent away to shower off. By then, I was over it and decided 'when in Rome...’ I walked over to the shower stalls sans robe in all my smooth skinned glory.
Although not as tranquil in the traditional spa sense, my overall Korean spa experience still left me totally relaxed and my fresh-scrubbed skin feeling super-smooth. It was also a fun and social alternative for a girls' night out.
Century Sports Club & Day Spa,
4120 W. Olympic Blvd., 323-954-1020.
**If you feel like flexing your newly buffed body afterwards, there's also an indoor driving range in the same building for some post-spa golfing.