An unexpected day off gave me an opportunity to visit ISLAND SPA & SAUNA in Edison NJ…if you’ve never been to a Korean Spa, stop what you’re doing, google the closest one to you, and GO! I don’t know why I am not making this a weekly thing because it’s so relaxing and energizing and we could all use a little bit of both right?
Upon arrival I was given a uniform, bath towel, and key for the shoe lockers located at the entrance. I locked up my converse in a cute little box and headed to the women’s area. I wisely scheduled a body scrub (more on that in a bit) so I planned to enjoy the bathing area before my service. This is when ALL modesty is thrown out the window! If you are averse to being completely naked (swimsuits are not allowed) or averse to seeing other women naked (mostly older Korean women), then this is not the place for you. At this point you can put on your uniform and head to the dry saunas in the other room; just know that you are missing out on what I think is the best part!
Before you partake in the bathing circuit you must shower. Koreans take this ritual very seriously – old timers can be found on the other side of the wall sitting on a stool meticulously washing their hair, body, and even brushing their teeth! They often bring their own bucket and scrub brush but the spa provides a disposable pink strip of rough fabric for you to use. Gallons of body wash, shampoo, and conditioner line the floor in the shower corridor – they say it’s organic but it’s written in Korean and I have serious doubts, ha! After showering I went straight to my favorite spa feature, the steam room. A steam shower would be my number one splurge if I ever became a homeowner! After about 10 minutes and a quick pull on the freezing cold shower I slid into one of the hot tubs, starting in the medium hot, followed by a dip in the cold plunge which has a very refreshing cascade of cold water falling from the ceiling, back to the hot herbal tub (134°), and again in the cold tub. It was then time for my body scrub. The glorious Korean body scrub. Not for the faint of heart, nor the modest. Here’s the deal…
An older Korean woman wearing a black bra and underwear grabs my wrist to check my locker number to make sure I was her next guest. I always wonder why they wear underwear and not a bathing suit – is it because the underwear dries quicker and it’s more comfortable to wear than a bathing suit? Anyway, I was escorted to her table, 1 of at least 6 in the partitioned off section of the bathing area. She gestures for me to lay face up (completely naked btw, no draping here), covers my head and eyes with a cloth, and douses me with a wonderfully warm bucket of water. What follows is a meticulously choreographed sequence of scrubbing with some sort of body wash and the roughest scrub mitts on planet earth. I smirk as I think of all the scrubs I’ve done in spas where guests request disposable bikinis and get nervous when I adjust the draping to uncover their body parts and here I am completely exposed while a very sweet woman who barely speaks English scrubs every square inch of skin on my body. Yes..Every. Square. Inch. After 40 minutes of scrubbing (face up, on each side, and face down) she gave me a brief “massage” with more body wash, finishing with a few buckets of water to rinse. Once I get up she squirts some face scrub into my palm, smiles, and motions for me to go shower. I comply.
Next I put on my uniform – a huge t-shirt and shorts that come to my knees, both of which are 5 sizes to big, and head to the co-ed saunas. In a large open room sit 5 domed structures that look like igloos. They are varying temperatures with a jute rug covering the floor and wooden blocks on which you rest your head (very comfortable despite what you may think). Each sauna gives you a slightly different experience, all with the idea of purification. Some are a little more humid, some are REALLY hot and each has its own ‘element’; salt island has Himalayan salt bricks along the wall and on the floor, charcoal island has large chunks of natural charcoal circling the room, clay island has mineral rich earth, treasure island features large agate gemstones embedded in the wall, and a forest room which is lined with cedar planks. I like to experience every room and even though I think I’m lying there for a long time, in reality it’s probably only 5 minutes! New to me on this visit was ice island which is a cold room. For a short time, ice rooms were trendy in spas and for a “wow factor” they had ice chips falling from the ceiling or a spout on the wall and they were unbearably cold. but this was unlike any I’ve experienced. It was beautifully done with small lights dotting the ceiling, cedar planked walls and benches, and what looked like ice covered radiators hung on the wall. Most importantly it was a very comfortable temperature yet did the job of cooling me down…so much so I decided on one more round of hot tubs before showering off the sweat!
There are comfy recliners and lounge chairs surrounding the saunas, with little circular seating areas so I brought my FLOWEREVOLUTION book and read for a while. There’s also a café serving standard Korean fare plus a juice bar making smoothies, juices and Korean shave ice.
Here are my tips for getting the most of your Korean Spa visit:
- Always book a body scrub
- Plan your visit during the week and mid-morning to avoid the after work/weekend crowds
- Bring your toiletry kit – especially moisturizer since all of your skin will be scrubbed off and also because the hot water is drying
- Try everything! Even if you can’t sit for more than 2 minutes. Make a day of it, enjoy a meal, and bring a book, go tech free.
- Stay hydrated. There are water coolers but bring your own bottle to sip in between saunas.
- Check Groupon or the spas website for deals