Oh, it’s THAT KIND OF PARTY: Spa Lei, Seoul, South Korea

Returning to Seoul after our meeting-packed first day, we wanted to go to a spa, a can’t-miss activity said a Korean-American friend. We hadn’t shaken jet lag and needed pampering.

Lonely Planet‘s Seoul guidebook reported that Spa Lei operated 24/7, catered to a female-only clientele and offered an English-language menu. That last bit was incorrect. After a half-hour of earnest communication attempts, we dialed the free Korean-English translator hotline to order full spa access and body scrubs, mud body treatments and cucumber facials. I’d read in the LP guidebook that many women head straight to a spa after work or clubbing, spend the night relaxing, then drudge back to work/home in the morning. We can stay and luxuriate all night? Sounds amaze balls! 

Down the soundless elevator, through a darkened corridor to the lockers, our anticipation of the indulgence built. Just then, we walked past an anteroom filled with Korean ladies without a stitch of clothing on – nary a bathing suit, robe or hand towel in sight – preening in vanities, drying hair and alighting scales. Oh?! It’s THAT KIND OF PARTY. “Spa” means something different here. Oh.

I sized up my two companions from my master’s program. I wasn’t sure they were ready to see my bare brown ass. Well, one of them was.

“I wasn’t expecting to shower with anyone on this ‘field trip,’” we whispered between schoolgirl giggles.

If you haven’t been to a nude beach or colony, being naked around other naked folk for longer than it takes to change your sports bra will be disconcerting at first. But you’ll have to let go of your self-consciousness to really enjoy the experience. You are supposed to RELAX.

And relax you will. Slowly your legs won’t cross as tightly, your arms will fall more to your sides and less in front of your lady parts, you won’t flutter as quickly from pool to sauna to pool. Because you’ll start to realize that everyone else is naked too. Boobs, booties and everything else come in different shades, shapes and sizes. Everyone has a different notion of hair-scaping. There’s no makeup, no Spanx, no illusions. Letting go of the anxiety and self-consciousness, for me, was liberating and critical to this unique, relaxing experience.

Spa Lei’s facilities are a playland of pampering. We tried pools with saltwater, freshwater, cold and heated; and Jacuzzis. Our tired muscles and blocked pores loosened in the saunas, one of which was a giant stone oven where a whole chicken egg was cooking in the middle. We found more veg time on the open-air rooftop deck and on the giant body pillows in the nap room. Other future detox spots include rooms for massages, a snack bar, tanning booths and something called a “hip bath.”

While most of Spa Lei was lowlit with soothing new age instrumentals, the tiled scrub room was a pupil-dilating space built for the sole purpose of inspecting every crevice, curve and pore. Our aestheticians appeared to be of my mom’s generation, clad in “uniforms” of black bras and panties. And around the room, their tools: gurneys covered in plastic, spray hoses and garbage-can-sized vats of water.

Once I laid gingerly on the slippery gurney, the loofah mittened aesthetician lathered and scoured my skin near-raw, my dead skin collected in disgusting grey-green masses, rinsed away with a quick ladle of water or a flip of the hose. No pain, no gain, right? After growing accustomed to the abrasiveness and letting go of the awkwardness of seeing ladies like my momma in skivvies, my mind accessed infantile subconsciousness and I felt strangely at peace as this older lady scrubbed me, then slathered me in cucumber and in mud. Ambien be damned, I tell you: my skin never felt so soft and I’d never felt as relaxed post-trans-Atlantic flight.

Spa Lei is at Leimong Town 8-22 Cresyn Building, Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Korea. During the day, it’s accessible by metro, nearest to the Shinsa station (exit 5). If you stay past midnight, it’s easy to catch a taxi home in the wee hours across the street at the Riverside Hotel.

5 thoughts on “Oh, it’s THAT KIND OF PARTY: Spa Lei, Seoul, South Korea

    • So relaxing!! I’ll be checking out the Korean Spa in a north suburb to see how it stacks up to Seoul…

      I honestly thought someone was cooking the egg for a midnight snack, but I can’t be sure. The heat was so intense in that stone sauna that even walking was belabored, much less attempting to inquire in non-Korean about the egg!! I couldn’t take that particular sauna for very long🙂 Had I stayed, my fate may have been similar to my little oval friend.

  1. Yes, the facilities are nice but there are many problems with this spa. I started going there last year. At first I was taken in by the facilities, the convenient location, and liked that it was for women only. As I began going there more I noticed more problems which all culminated into someone breaking into my locker and stealing my wallet and iPad. A lot of the women who work there are unfriendly and downright rude. Several of the women who worked as masseuses didn’t want me using a sink right next to their room even though it was a public sink that anyone could use to wash up or brush their teeth. Another time, a woman started cleaning the showers with mop and soap and didn’t care if it splashed on me while I was showering.

    Finally, my wallet and iPad were stolen from my locker while I slept. The following morning when I discovered what had happened, I went to the front counter. The woman there did not care. She even had the nerve to ask me to pay for the drink and food I ordered the night before even though I had just told her that my wallet was stolen and I had no money on me. Luckily, a Korean customer who knew English and overheard my situation was willing to help direct me to the nearest police station. I filed a police report, but the people at Spa Lei should have been more helpful in calling the police or sending a translator with me to the police station.

    Within the five minutes I stood at the counter, two Koreans came up to report that their smartphones were “missing”, i.e. stolen. The woman at the counter also told them was that Spa Lei isn’t responsible. If you visit again, you will see signs up that state Spa Lei isn’t responsible for missing cell phones. Those signs are very recent and were not up last year which says to me that the place has had some incidences of theft and rather than trying to solve the problem, they are simply telling their customers that they aren’t responsible. I asked the woman if they have CCTVs and she said that no cameras are in the lower level where the lockers are located. There is no supervision of the lockers and honestly, I wonder how someone was able to go into my locker and lock it again. Either they: 1) work at the spa and these thefts are an inside job or 2) the thief is a master pickpocket or is able to unlock the lockers with another tool. Either way, I no longer find Spa Lei safe and it is disheartening that the people who work there aren’t willing to solve the problem or help their customers who lose a large quantity of items. I was also told by a Korean friend that lots of prostitutes work in Gangnam and she has seen these women go in groups to places like Spa Lei. I don’t think most foreigners realize that some of these facilities are frequented by people who would steal and break into lockers.

    I’ll be posting my story all over the internet. This is just a warning to those who plan to visit to always keep your important items close to you. Don’t trust that your items are safe in their lockers or next to you while you sleep. Better yet, don’t bring anything of value when you go to these spas. Leave your laptops and iPads at home; take a small quantity of cash with you. A lot of cell phones go missing because people charge them out in the open while they sleep and it is so easy for someone to steal these items since there are no CCTVs in any of the areas other than the front counter. Keep these items under your clothes while you sleep.

    • That’s an awful experience. Sorry you went through that and that whoever was staffing the desk wasn’t more helpful or empathetic to your hardship. At least there was a kind stranger who helped you get to a police station.

      I personally would not want CCTV on in the locker room, I’d rather have staff monitoring or “cleaning” every 20 minutes. I don’t know what the laws are around this sort of thing in South Korea, though.

      I agree with your tips to keep the valuables and cash to a minimum when k-spa’ing. Better safe than sorry, especially while traveling… Thanks for reading and for your helpful comment.

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