A World Away at Spa World, Part I

My wonderful sister got me a most awesome birthday present this year: a day pass to Spa World (home page here)! Spa World is a huge Korean day spa located off of Braddock Road in Centreville (part of Fairfax County). My sister got the passes at a discount rate through Groupon.

First, I must make two disclaimers. One, there are no pictures for this post, so you’re going to have to rely on my descriptive writing abilities. Um, so that means this post is long. Lucky for you, I divided it into sections. Two, I have no idea what an American day spa is like, as I’ve only had one professional manicure done in my whole life. I mention this because I have read that Korean day spas are way different than typical American spas, and after visiting Spa World, I have no doubt this is true. I spent 12 hours there feeling like I was visiting a different country. It was fabulous!

On with the story! Here’s what you need to know if you are visiting Spa World. I’m being very detailed because in my experience, people are unsure what to expect and want to know everything they can about it!

It is awesome. You will come out super relaxed and wishing you could stay longer. Spa World is open 24 hours a day and you can stay there overnight if you wish. The spa is less full during the earlier parts of the day, but picks up a considerable crowd on weekend evenings and late afternoons.

It is huge. Spa World is located at the end of a shopping center. It doesn’t look as big on the outside as it is on the inside. Take a look at the floor plans on the website (link in opening paragraph of this post.) You’ll see there are in fact two floors with a wide variety of amenities on each one. I’ll go into those in more detail in just a moment.

It has rules. Spa World has some particular rules in place that are there for the purposes of keeping the spa as clean and healthful as possible. These rules will probably take some getting used to – one in particular – but you will indeed get used to them pretty fast. You’ll figure out what these are as you read my posts.

The front entrance is quite beautiful and is a good introduction to the rest of the place. At the front desk, you will be given an electronic key with a number on it, attached to a stretchy band that goes around your wrist. This key goes to your foot locker and to your changing room locker. It also serves as your “charge card” for the remainder of your stay at the spa. Needless to say, you need to keep it on your wrist at all times so you don’t lose it. And if you have any questions about anything, now is a good time to ask. Not everyone you will run into later speaks English well. (The ladies at the juice bar and restaurant do.)

You will notice small cabinets with glass doors surrounding you from floor-to-ceiling in the front entrance room; these are the foot lockers. You are required to leave your shoes in your cabinet and then remain barefoot the rest of the time. The spa is cleaned frequently so you should not have to worry about catching any foot diseases. If you are concerned about this, you may want to call ahead to ask if there are any special slippers they can issue you to wear. (I have no clue if there are or not.) You’ll also be given an ugly uniform that you must change into and wear while using the spa. The uniform is made out of a burlap-like material but is not uncomfortable. It has pockets, and consists of long, loose shorts (ending just above the knee) and a very loose, short sleeved top. The colors: women get washed-out orange and men get washed-out mustard seed. It is like a gym suit, only far more unflattering. Just get over it, because everyone else is wearing one too! Once you have changed, you can move about the spa freely.

Locker rooms are down the hall, and of course there are separate ones for men and women. I can’t speak for the men’s, but the women’s includes a lounging area with comfortable couches, tables, and magazine racks. Televisions are mounted to the wall for your viewing pleasure. The lockers are small but do the job and each contain at least two plastic hangers. Hairdryers, a small assortment of beauty aids, and cold drinks are also available. Attendants are nearby in case you have any questions or need a clean towel. There is also a bin for you to toss your dirty towels and uniforms into before you leave the spa for the day.

The locker rooms attach to the separate men and women’s bathing areas. If you don’t feel like going into the bath area yet, you can head down the hall to the poultice rooms and restaurant area, which I will just call the common room. The common room is very large and co-ed, and here you can see what a large part of the Korean day spa is all about. In the center of the room are straw mats, pillows, and wooden pillow blocks. It seems the tradition is for Korean families to gather on a mat and play board games or cards, read, listen to music, watch one of the three flat screen TVs or the beautiful twin wall-mounted aquariums, or just nap and relax with one another. I think that is a wonderful idea. A bubbling fountain is at one end of this area and comes on periodically to provide some soothing ambience. The floor leading up to the fountain is surrounded by some hard stone bubble-tile looking things. I’m not sure what these are for unless they are supposed to be walked on for foot massage purposes. (That’s what I used them for, anyway!) The room also has free Wi-fi in case you brought your laptop and want to spend your time surfing the ‘net. I sure don’t. But this might be a cool place to work from “home” if your boss will let you swing that.

My sister and I hung out on a mat near the fountain reading for a good while and I also watched a bit of a Korean game show and then a Japanese baseball game. (I love the Japanese game announcers, by the way … very enthusiastic and awesome.) Note that guests do not have control over what is played on the TVs, so don’t come here expecting to watch your favorite show at a certain time.

The common room is not loud, but it is not quiet, either. You might want to bring a pair of noise-canceling headphones if you plan on resting here. You should also bring a towel from the locker room to place on one of the pillows or pillow blocks for comfort and hygiene purposes before putting your head down. There are also separate men and women’s sleeping rooms located upstairs. I didn’t tour the nap room, but it is supposed to be dark and quiet.

There is no smoking allowed in the common room or anywhere else on the premises except in the designated men’s and women’s smoking rooms, which are also upstairs. I don’t smoke so I don’t know anything about either of these. I did pass by the men’s smoking room and I could smell the smoke but just slightly. It did not appear to waft into other rooms.

Children are present at the spa, although restricted to certain areas. The ones I saw were mostly very well-behaved. There is a small children’s room with television and play tables located off the common room area, and there is also a little arcade upstairs with a very small game selection and some desks. So if you bring your child for a family day, you might also bring plenty of things for him or her to do for fun.

The common room offers many comfy chairs and foot rests as well as a wide selection of newspapers and magazines, and some books. There are other books upstairs that you can rent out for the day; most of these are in Korean, however. I recommend bringing your own reading material just in case.

So now let’s talk about the juice bar and restaurant that adjoin the common room. The juice bar serves smoothies, juice, and boba tea. Boba tea is what you might know as bubble tea, that delicious drink with the condensed milk and the tapioca balls in the bottom. Here the bubble tea comes frozen. I had green tea (okay) and mango (much better) flavors of boba tea, and a strawberry smoothie (very sweet). There is a small selection of snacks served at the juice bar, such as ramen and spring rolls. I didn’t sample any. All food and drinks are at a separate cost and are charged to your electronic key. You will pay the total charges on your key when you check out of the spa for the day. The juice bar lady was very friendly and sweet.

Around the corner from the juice bar is the restaurant with another nice lady. Meals are listed on the wall with pictures and numbers for easy ordering, are made pretty fast, and are traditional Korean as far as I can tell. Drinks are not served here (maybe a small canned soda selection) so you’ll need to bring something from the juice bar. You can also use the free water cooler and cups, or get a clean glass and ice water carafe for your table. Meals are separate charges to your key as well, and typically cost between 9 and 12 dollars. You get a lot for your money! I had the pork dumplings for lunch and my sister got a big stone bowl with rice, noodles, veggies, and egg. I tried that same bowl for my dinner with some beef in it and it was positively delicious and a huge serving. No way I could eat all that. We each got a bowl of miso soup with our meals too, and then in addition, we were given a HUGE tray with little dishes full of toppings to add. This included kimchi (pickled Korean vegetable), cabbage, potatoes, and various other veggies, spices and sauces for you to sample at your leisure.

Attached to the common room are several poultice rooms, which are your co-ed steam rooms and saunas and ice room. I’ll just give you a quick rundown of these. Digital thermometers appear above each sauna door with the current temperature, and there’s a plaque with the alleged health benefits of each listed. You just walk in and seat yourself. There is no additional charge added for any of these. Sometimes people crowd around a room they really like and you have to wait, but that is rare. (See: Red Clay Ball Room and Ice Room.)

The Amethyst Gem Room is a big domed hut at one end of the common room. You can’t miss it. It’s the second hottest sauna in the whole room. I believe the temperature was somewhere between 160 and 170 in there. It was so hot it was harder to breathe pretty soon after stepping in and I walked out covered in sweat. The walls and ceiling have designs made out of amethyst and quartz. I made the mistake of touching one and burned my hand slightly. That’s me and my curiosity for you. The room is said to increase your energy and health. Well, if you’ve ever wanted to sit in the Sahara Desert with your amethyst collection, this room is for you.

Right next to the Amethyst hut is the Red Clay Room hut. It’s even hotter with temps up to 188! And the walls and domed ceiling are indeed made of red clay! I only stayed in here a minute or so. The air felt really thick and hot. It was easily the hottest room in the whole place with the Amethyst not far behind. Not my cup of tea, but glad I tried it. The Red Clay Room was for general health.

Next, we have a long line of other poultice rooms that takes up a whole wall of the common room. The Oak Wood Charcoal Room is one of these. The walls were made of wood blocks and charcoal, as the name suggests, and it was a dark and fairly large room. It was said to help you out if you were feeling sick or fatigued. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the other two (but make no mistake, all of the rooms I’m describing are still saunas!) and I felt like I could’ve stayed longer.

The Blue Onyx Room was said to have some cosmetic benefits, so if you want to get rid of wrinkles and freckles, this may be your room. It wasn’t particularly remarkable to me, but the ceiling was very pretty to look at.

I’ve saved my two favorites for last! The Salt Room was aimed at the ladies. Made out of Himalayan salt, it is said to help with female diseases and disorders. The plaque also said that salt is supposed to help open your pores and purify your skin, thus helping with acne. I tried to spend a good five to ten minutes in this room. The heat was not unbearable, but I think I could’ve stayed in there longer than I did. Also, I just like this room because well, it was made out of salt and I love salt. No, I did not lick the walls!

So what’s my absolute favorite? That would be the Red Clay Ball Room! Yes, this room, which is slightly larger than some of the other rooms, is probably a favorite of many guests’. The floor of the room is a ball pit filled with many thousands of little red and purplish-colored spheres. You are supposed to step into the pit and lie in the clay balls, covering yourself with them if you like. If you want more heat, you can go around the corner in the room and lie closer to the heater. This room was more crowded than the others, but I didn’t mind. It was noisier as well because the balls make lots of noise as you roll around in them and get yourself settled, and there are a lot of people rolling around. The little clay balls are the same size and hardness of marbles, so when you step down into them you will want to be careful as it can be both slippery and painful. But once you lie down, it’s pure bliss. (I crawled on hands and knees to my place in the room and my sister laughed at me.) My sister noted that the clay balls smelled like feet, which is true, but you’re only going to notice that if you make a point of smelling them! (The clay balls closer to the wall did not smell like feet!) The little marbles get tracked out of the room sometimes and we got a good laugh out of seeing random ones elsewhere in the spa.

While those are all the sauna rooms in the common area, they aren’t the last of the poultice rooms: there is also a Blue Onyx Ice Room. The Ice Room has its own entryway with bench, and then the actual ice room itself is much smaller than the sauna rooms. There are six stones you can sit on in the room. The walls and ceiling are covered in a thick sheet of ice and you feel like you are in a walk-in freezer. Since the room is so small, the people in this room seem to be more social than in the other rooms; other guests were very chatty with us where they typically just did their own thing elsewhere. Kids also seem to come in this room more than the sauna rooms. (I would guess they aren’t allowed in the saunas.) Although you aren’t supposed to draw or write in the ice, this rule is obviously disregarded as you can see hand-etched graffiti all over the icy walls. The room is chilly (of course 🙂 and while I don’t recall the exact temp, I would put it at slightly above freezing. Make sure you take a towel with you to sit on in case all the stones are taken. The room does a splendid job of shrinking your pores and it feels good after being in the boiling sauna rooms. I was amazed at how my big pores were nearly invisible after coming out of this room!

The gift shop, massage rooms, and salons are all upstairs, as is the fitness room. The fitness room has a whole separate set of rules. It is huge and has plenty of machines, but there’s room for way more machines than are there. There is no additional charge to use the machines that I could tell; I used a few. I didn’t pay for a massage or any typical salon services in this area, so I can’t vouch for those. I didn’t buy anything from the gift shop, but there wasn’t that big of a selection. There was a plastic laundry ball being prominently displayed that looked kind of cool, but when I saw that it cost 40 bucks, I lost interest.

Wow, so there’s a lot to do at this place, right? Well, I’m not even done talking about it! The remainder of our tour will take you through Spa World’s giant Bade Pool room and the fabulous things you can find there. There is a LOT to tell about this area of the spa … so I’m going to save that for another entry. Stay tuned for Part II!

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4 responses to “A World Away at Spa World, Part I

  1. Sounds like a fabulous place. I can’t wait to try it out. How long can you stay once you’re in there?

  2. That’s quite a deal, I can imagine doing just that. Are the restaurants open around the clock?

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