Kary and I were excited to check out Jeju Sauna – the Korean health and wellness spa just north of Atlanta in Gwinnett County. It wasn’t that long ago that we’d been to South Korea; Jeju Island was our favorite spot so many happy memories flowed to the surface as we planned our day of pampering.
Jeju Island, off the south coast of South Korea, is nicknamed the “Hawaii of Korea.” It’s a volcanic landscape, with gorgeous beaches on the north coast. Inland, you’ll find centuries-old lava cave tubes, Hallasan Mountain where you can hike to stunning panoramic views at the summit, and Loveland – a quirky adults-only sculpture park. Jeju was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in a 2011 global poll. Exploring the island was a highlight of our trip. If you go (and I highly recommend that you do!), here are some places to stay in Jeju.
We couldn’t wait to experience an authentic Korean spa – something we hadn’t had time to experience during our time on Jeju Island.
Jeju Sauna & Spa is cavernous 35,000 square feet, 2-level building with an abundance of services and amenities – some come free with your entrance pass, some a la carte.
The building was renovated in 2005 and opened in 2006. All workers came from Korea with housing provided during the entire construction process. One of the owners is Korean, specifically from Jeju Island, hence the name Jeju Sauna. According to her, “The sauna was opened to show people what Korean bathhouses are about and to help people live healthier.”
At the entrance, we’re greeted by an authentic harubang, or grandfather stone. On Jeju Island in South Korea, these large rock statues are scattered around the island and are considered to be gods, providing both protection and fertility. The stones were traditionally placed just outside of gates to shield against demons traveling between realities.
After paying our $30 admittance fee we are handed our “uniforms” (rather unflattering faded shorts and T-shirt) and a hospital-style wrist bracelet. Not because of fear of injury, but it has a scanning code so you can easily purchase services or food. We were then temporarily separated and guided into gender-segregated locker rooms. Here, you can either put on the issued clothing or…..
That’s right, if you’d like to partake of the three hot tubs you must first shed your clothes and take a shower. While a bit intimidating to Americans, public bathhouses are common throughout Asia. Oh, and don’t plan on hiding under towel they supply – it’s roughly the same size as a kitchen towel.
You can choose to immerse in one or all of the Goldilocks pools – one is very hot, one is very cold, and one is warm aka just right. In this bathing area, you can choose additional treatments such as a Korean demandi (body scrub shampoo to exfoliate dead skin) or a hip bath (yikes, vagina steam).
Because it’s just us girls, and because I’m vain and noted that most of them were thankfully heavier than me on this day, I shed my clothes and headed for the hot tubs. I’m social, do I try to make eye contact to start a conversation, but most eyes are averted. There’s definitely a relaxed, judgment-free, communal vibe which makes me feel at ease with my two foot-long scars in plain view (in truth, I’m proud of them and what I survived). I soak for about 10 minutes, then get bored and get out.
Full transparency: I am basically a hedonist fraidy-cat when it comes to being uncomfortable so I only do the warm tub and forgo the scrub. The thought of sliding around on a wet, slippery table while disgusting chunks of dry skin are invasively sloughed off my sensitive body by a non-smiling, no-nonsense, middle-aged Korean woman and then fly discarded through the air is just too much for someone who’s been known to whimper on occasion. I’ve heard people actually lose a pound or more during this procedure, which would be great if I had not seen those scrubbing instruments of torture. But that’s just me. There was an endless line of women waiting for their turn for the hardcore skin-polishing.
About purifying my privates with organic herbal steam in the hip bath… Um, no. They say it helps hemorrhoids, yeast infections, infertility issues, hormone imbalances, menstrual disorders, and hot flashes, but since I don’t have any of those issues, I’m good.
Not to worry, if you’re modest, you can bypass the nudity experience in its entirety.
After drying and dressing, I head out to the common area to meet Kary at our prearranged meeting time. We study the various sauna rooms, which look like big igloos, each with different temperatures and lined with different elements to promote specific health benefits. So many choices!
In the Rock & Salt Sauna, you are surrounded by pure crystal rock salt to strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase blood circulation, flush out impurities, and release dead skin cells.
The Gold and Silver room is lined and covered with gold and silver, claiming to have positive effects on nerve stability and neurosis.
The Jewel Sauna surrounds you with semi-precious stones and crystals said to have great healing and calming powers.
After soaking in a hot sauna, the Rock Ice Room will lower your body’s temperature contracting your skin pores and leaving your skin healthy and resilient.
In the Charcoal Sauna, you’re surrounded by toxin absorbing charcoal which eliminates toxins and wastes increasing perspiration and your resistance to diseases.
The Baked Clay Sauna helps dilate peripheral blood vessels, bring relief to tight muscles, increase blood circulation, help to eliminate waste products.
The Thermal Jade Room is made from imported Korean jade stone providing the benefit of dry heat, heated jade, and infused Chinese herbs to increase metabolism, improve circulation and relieve arthritis pain.
Steam Jade Sauna helps to reduce stress, raise your metabolism, improve your complexion, alleviate pain due to sports injury, prevent injuries, and can also ease the symptoms of a cold.
The Wood Sauna is a standard traditional sauna that helps reduce muscle tension, promoting relaxation and general well-being. The heat helps improve circulation and, of course, promotes sweating, which opens up the pores and cleanses the skin.
We choose the Thermal Jade kiln because anything that helps increase metabolism is worth a try. I’m not a big fan of suffocating saunas, but this room is comfortably warm temperature, dry, and smells like herbs, not sweat.
We skip the Olympic size lap pool, enticing though it looks because we’re hungry.
In the food court, we have oodles of Asian choices. I chose the beef teriyaki with rice.
The seating is limited, so after we pick up our places, we scan the dining area but find no free tables. Immediately, a mother/daughter duo signal for us to come and sit with them, continuing with the communal theme. They are simply lovely and we enjoy a pleasant conversation while we devour our lunch.
Now for the pièce de résistance… We both love massages, especially when they are side-by-side. Kary chooses a deep tissue massage, while I opt for the Swedish-style (did you forget I’m a wimp?). It’s not ultra-private in that it’s one big room and we were only separated from other clients by curtains, but it will do. The massages are fabulous and the hour goes by very quickly.
Tanzi Nails is on the second floor and not actually part of Jeju, so keep in mind that you can’t pay for treatments here with your wrist band.
Kary was so excited about getting a pedicure. Me, not so much. You have probably guessed that my feet are sensitive and ticklish. This will only be my fourth pedicure, ever. But I give in.
All goes well until I hear Kary say, “Ut-oh.” I look and see my male manicurist with the dreaded “cheese grater” in his hand. You know what I’m talking about. That rectangular metal instrument of torment that scrapes dry skin and callouses from your tootsies. He clenches my foot firmly in his hand and starts swiping. First I’m laughing uncontrollably then almost screaming. He won’t let go, and I swear he’s enjoying it, as is everyone else in the salon.
The other foot now. I keep jerking it back and saying enough, but he won’t stop. The crowd is loving every minute of it. Finally, the manicurist next to him tells him to stop, so he does. Applying polish is much more civilized.
If you’re thinking I’ve exaggerated a lot on this page, you’re probably right, but not this. I swear this is the truth. You can ask Kary.
Korean spas claim that frequent visits can help improve blood pressure, fatigue, stress levels, and chronic pain. Some of these claims are backed by science, with studies showing that some saunas can detoxify and improve circulation and cardiovascular health.
Your entrance ticket gives you access to the spa for 24 hours, and you can even stay overnight and sleep on mats, pillows, and blankets which they provide. Who’d want to sleep overnight, you ask? Consider this…your connecting flight in Atlanta is delayed or canceled and you have to stay overnight. You could choose a $25 spa or a $225 hotel in Atlanta.
A day at the Jeju Sauna isn’t a luxurious, glamorous spa experience with fluffy robes, candlelight, and herbal tea, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s much kinder on your wallet than a traditional spa. Putting my faux horror and over-dramatization aside, you’ll love it!
If You Go
3555 Gwinnett Place Drive, Duluth, GA 30096
Gift cards available
DAY PASS: $30
- Hot Tubs
- Indoor Pool
- Body Massage $100
- Acupressure Massage $100
- Foot Reflexology $60
- Hip Bath $35
- Korean Demadi (Body Shampoo) $50
- Pedicure $20 and up
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Disclosure: The author and photographer were honored to be the guest of Explore Gwinnett during their visit to Jeju Sauna but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are their own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. Patti has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.