Winter Spa Trip

It is the height of winter in Korea these days, with temperatures dipping below zero on many days. As I was researching a timely topic for Discovering Korea, I thought this time of year would be perfect for a nice, warm spa trip. There’s no need to go to neighboring Japan, which well known for its spas. And that’s good news, because these days, the won-yen exchange rate is particularly unfavorable for Koreans. There are many facilities in Korea that can make for an affordable and close trip for couples, friends and families. Today, I introduce four of the best known spas nationwide, recommended by the Korea Tourism Organization.

Spas are a great place to relax our fatigued bodies in warm water while our faces enjoy the fresh cold breeze outside. It’s hard to think of any other experience as refreshing to the body and mind. Did you know that ‘spa’ is also the name of a famous town in Belgium, which is of course know for its spas? The spa experience is more than simple bathing. It also implies a healing process.

If you happen to love sushi, this first place may suit you: the Seorak Waterpia spa in Sokcho, Gangwon province. The spa is adjacent to the stunning Mount Seorak, so you can imagine the majestic natural scenery. Waterpia is known for its well-equipped modern facilities, including an aqua dome. Also, port city Sokcho is a great place to eat fresh raw fish and other seafood to your heart’s content! Start out early in the day and head to Daepo port where you can find a string of fishing boasts coming in during the early dawn hours after a night catch. Fish purchased here are the freshest you can find.

The second destination is Icheon, Gyeonggi province, which is much closer to Seoul. It’s said that Joseon kings Sejong and Sejo often came here to bathe—giving the spas here a great reputation for quality. Of course the facilities have greatly improved since the old days. Spas in Icheon take after German style spas. After a good bath, we need good food. So what is Icheon famous for? Many things, but one is certainly rice. Koreans have a delicate palate for rice, since it is our staple dish. Icheon rice immediately stands out in its taste and quality. Icheon is also famous for ceramics. Visitors can also try their hand at making pottery while they’re in town.

The third spa of choice is the Jukrim spa in Wanju, North Jeolla province. This area boasts the best alkaline sulfur spring in the country. The sulfur content makes the water slippery, which you can feel immediately as you go into the water. Sulfur springs help to extract heavy metal residue from your body and heal skin diseases. Some scholars rank Jukrim spa higher in quality than the famed Beppu spa in Japan. Wanju is famous for its tofu dishes, and it’s also close to the Jeonju folk village.

The last choice is the Uljin spa in Uljin, North Gyeongsang province. Apart from the spa, Uljin is a great winter travel destination and a site for the New Year sunrise. Uljin is the top spa resort of the east coast. Only 58 thousand people live in Uljin, but it has two spa resorts that are both hundreds of years old. One of them, the Deokgu spa, is the one and only natural spring spa in Korea. Spring water shoots up five meters high year-round at an average temperature of 41.3 degrees Celsius. And the other Baekam spa is one of the few sulfur springs in the country. It’s also very historic, as it was first discovered in the ancient Silla dynasty era.

So, to recap the four spas, they are Seorak Waterpia in Sokcho, the Icheon spa, the Jukrim spa in Wanju and Uljin spa in Uljin county, North Gyeongsang province.

And many more spa resorts have sprung up across the country, so Koreans have plenty of options for a winter spa trip.