Winter, though still about, is slowly winding to a close. Now is the time to prepare for the activity that comes with throwing open the curtains. After months of hiding indoors, the muscles may be stiff and inflexible but there’s no better way to loosen up than a nice hot bath. For those of you (I’m assuming most of you) that don’t have a bath tub in your house, this could be a bit difficult, unless you can contort into a kitchen sink. Though not as cozy as squeezing into a square foot of water, this week’s journey takes us to BigSpo sauna.
One of the great traditions in Korea is that of visiting the jim jil bang or public bath. Though I’ve known many people who grow a bit skittish at the idea of being nude in front of a group of strangers, but most folks, after giving it a try, find the experience to be very relaxing. After having been to a number of saunas across the country, my new favorite is one in our city of Gwangju named BigSpo.
I have been to larger spas but this spa is quite unique in that it holds some of the older traditions of earlier jim jil bangs in high regard, adding a unique quality that’s rare to find. In the common area on the second floor of the complex, the amenities are pleasantly surprising. The standard sauna rooms, which are heated to around 60 C as stated via signs posted outside the room (which was quite comfortable for an extended seating), have a curious floor made entirely out of loose mineral rocks. This feature has two facets that I found extremely appealing. First, it makes for seating that conforms to your frame and posture making it more comfortable than a flat floor. Second, these heated rocks are great for heating joints and sore parts of the body. After hiking and walking around town as often as I do, the ankles can get a bit worn so this is a fantastic feature.
The second room of interest up here is the cold room, a quaint ‘igloo’ that is internally lined with ice and offers lawn chairs for about 8 people inside. After a solid sweat in the sauna, the sense of refreshment and exhilaration that comes from suddenly stepping into what is effectively a walk in freezer is a great way to recharge. Sitting in this frosty enclosure with some friends for a chat and a cool down is as close to entering a private world as I’ve ever found in such a large complex.
One more interesting room in this common area is what I can only refer to as the extra hot sauna. This room doesn’t have a temperature gauge on it, but I can tell you it’s hot. Anyone who can last more than 5 minutes in this room has a far greater constitution than I. Most people in here are found sitting on burlap sacks set outside the entrance and their towels over their faces to cool the air, making it surprisingly easier to breath. Though pleasant for a short sitting, I would urge anyone who overheats easily or has breathing issues to avoid this spot.
The final feature of the common area that was as impressive as the rest is the 24 hour restaurant. The offerings are mostly soups, such as kimchi jiggae and mandu ddeok guk, but there is enough variety, with prices similar to many chain restaurants, that most anyone can find something they’ll be happy to have for dinner. If you’re not in the mood for a standard entrée, there’s a variety of soft drinks, snacks, and alcoholic beverages on offer as well. One last piece of advice: bring a 1000 won note for the massage chairs here. Absolutely fantastic.
Finally, I’d like to quickly mention the gender exclusive spa area in the basement. This space, like most other public baths, has a variety of pools, ranging from toasty to absolutely frigid. The area here is quite spacious, even having a pool exclusively for very young children so parents have a comfortable place to take their children without bringing them into the larger pools. My favorites happened to be the cool tub and the jet stream massage tub. The cool tub also has powerful water jets controlled by a switch that can be used for a massage or for swimming in the limited space. Lastly, this area has sauna rooms with medicinal herbs for promoting better breathing. Though I can’t vouch for the physical benefits of this, I can say it added a refreshing scent to the room.
BigSpo is located in Namgu near Daegwang Girls’ High School, this spa is one of the easiest to find in the city. Buses that go to this location are as follows: 07, 17, 28, 31, 70, 73, 75, 77, 78, 79, 95, 99, 170, and the 177. With that many buses, you should be able to find one that passes near you. The cost to enter BigSpo is 7000 won giving you full access to all the baths and amenities. Meals range in the restaurant from around 6-8000 won.
Whether you’re stressed from over activity, sore from an invigorating hike, or wanting to get a boost from lounging around too much, BigSpo is the perfect place to recharge or recoup. After a long walk on the crooked trail, pretty much anyone can use a hot bath.