On Saturday morning, I tossed The Man and three of our friends in my car for a road trip to Dallas’s King Spa & Sauna. King Spa is a jjimjilbang–a Korean-style bathhouse–that has been operating in Dallas since 2008.
In case you’re not familiar with the history of this particular style of bathhouse, here’s the gist of it: a jjimjilbang is a gender-segregated, public bathhouse containing hot tubs, showers, and “Kiln” saunas, and offers other spa services like massages and scrubs. The physical spaces incorporate aspects of traditional Korean medicine through textures of wood, crystals, and metals. Many of the areas require you to be nude (yes, nude) as it is believed that the hot water in each bath can pull out toxic chemicals from the dyed fabrics of swimsuits, thus contaminating the bath water.
King Spa carries on these traditions in Dallas, perhaps the last place I would have thought to look for a traditional bathhouse. The jjimjilbang approach is fundamentally at odds with a few western values, like covering up your sensitive areas. That didn’t seem to stop the hundreds of people who were there on Saturday as we checked in, took our shoes off, and separated into our gendered locker rooms to stash our bags and get naked.
After we nuded up in front of dozens of equally-nude strangers and took the mandatory quick shower, we dunked in a series of three gradually warmer tubs: warm, uncomfortably warm, and oh-god-I’m-suddenly-lightheaded hot. The tubs are kept spotlessly clean (attendants even require you to tie your hair back) and fresh hot water pumps into them every few minutes to ensure you are evenly boiled. After twenty or so minutes of soaking in various hot tubs, or, in my case, once you start to feel light headed enough that you know your body needs a break, you scamper over to the cold tub.
Sweet relief! I walked into the cold tub and somehow felt…extinguished. The contrast of the hotter-than-hell third tub and the icy cold tub allowed my muscles to relax. My body began to tingle from the contrasting temperatures. I felt a strange sense of muscular nirvana.
If you’d like, you can repeat the tub process. You could spend hours doing so, jumping out every once in a while to rehydrate at a nearby water cooler or to receive a full-body scrub by a spa attendant. The scrubs are horrifying and satisfying: you can watch all the softened dead skin just slough off your body as they push and pull with a coarse scrubbing glove.
Or, if you’re not interested in a mostly-naked spa attendant scrubbing all over your totally-naked body, you can get your vagina steamed.
That’s right; I had my vagina steamed.
Tucked away in a corner of the women’s locker room is a row of five chairs which are constantly occupied by women draped in pink sheets who are fanning themselves with their hands. They are undoing what King Spa so politely calls a “V-Steam.” The service costs a little extra ($25), but I was willing to try it.
A V-Steam is essentially a modified sitz bath; rather than submerging your hips into warm water, you sit on top of a chair with a hole cut out of the seat and a bowl of boiling water and medicinal herbs underneath it. (You can request a rare species of dried, crushed up centipede be added to the mix. I did not.) Once the water is boiling, an attendant drapes around you a tent that reaches all the way to the floor and cinches gently around your neck to trap all of that herby steam. And there you sit, with your head poking out of this baggy pink tent and steam rushing up towards your ladyparts.
As the herb steam rises, your–ahem–muscles start to relax. The heat and steam disinfect the area, and the sweat pouring from your body helps to purify you of toxins. There is a lot of sweat coming from all parts of your body–you are essentially trapped in a boiling-hot-steam balloon, and your pores begin expelling moisture as quickly as they can in a futile attempt to regulate your body temperature. It’s hot as hell in that pink tent, and no amount of sweating or fanning yourself is going to help. You just have to suck it up and sit there. So I did, chatting with my friend who was a good enough sport to try a V-Steam with me.
I called an attendant over to help me out of my tent forty minutes later and made my way back to the showers to scrub all the sweat of. I felt…rejuvenated. Sanitized. Refreshed. Energized.
Happy with the status of my clam, I donned my spa uniform. For ladies, this uniform is a one-size-fits-all pair of shorts and top in prison-break orange; for men, the same in gray. I made my way out into the common area, which functions as a relaxation concourse.
Boasting a series of opulent saunas, a dining room, dozens of oversized recliners, and thoughtfully arranges ornate, French royal chairs and couches, the concourse is the hub of all activity in King Spa. The area is bustling but calm. Some eat while others take advantage of the free wifi. Others snore deeply in a recliner. Most are ducking in and out of the adjacent saunas, zig-zagging between the Pyramid Room and the Fire Sudatorium, the Pine Salt Room and the Oxygen Room.
There are half a dozen other sauna rooms, each a varying degree of hot and each more iconic than the last. The Pyramid Room is plated in 24 karat gold while the Ice Room is decorated with a winter landscape. Bags of herbs and salts hang in each room. Some rooms offer mats upon which guests can lay/nap/snore loudly, while the hottest rooms specifically disallow laying down or limit the time you can spend inside. You can sauna-hop for hours because time seems to melt into a puddle around you.
I lasted a solid five minutes in the Sudatorium, the hottest of all the saunas, and The Man fell asleep in their Bulgama, a room featuring super-heater Elvan stone said to absorb common pollutants and bacteria. You can take or leave the Eastern-medicine aspect of each sauna and not lose any of the experience; the hot and cold treatments work wonders for your muscles and skin regardless of what you belief stone is capable of absorbing.
If you need a break from the heat, movies are constantly shown in their mini movie-theater and free wifi runs throughout the common areas. The dining hall has an impressive menu of well-prepared food and desserts, and you’re welcome to bring books, games, or computers/phones with you to help pass the time.
King Spa is open 24 hours a day, so people often spend the night in a recliner or on a mat in a quiet corner. Regardless of how long you stay, the experience is certainly unique. If you’re new to bathhouses, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you get comfortable with nuding it up with your friends. The over-the-top furnishings and decorations are beautiful, tranquil, and inspiring. Between the hot tubs and the saunas, you can get utterly lost in the experience if you allow yourself to do so.