Star Treatment: Escape to Ancient Korea

Wi's co-ed area, or jimjilbang

Los Angeles’ Wi Spa offers more than a therapeutic escape from the pressures of fast-paced city life; it’s an eye-opening immersion into the bathhouse traditions of ancient Korea. A beloved import serving L.A.’s sizeable Korean-American population, Wi, located in the heart of Koreatown, in recent years has also become a hotspot for professionals, families and Hollywood types.

Once curious but perhaps a bit modest (no clothing is allowed in gender-separate areas), guests of diverse backgrounds have come to appreciate Wi’s communal atmosphere, endless amenity options and affordable services, all of which reflect the deep-seated cultural attitude that spa-going is a regular necessity, rather than a luxury. This notion stems from thousands of years ago, when most homes in Korea did not have bathing facilities. So, friends and families would gather at bathhouses on a regular basis to relax, recharge, soak and scrub one another.

“In Asian culture, spa-going is a way of life,” explains Wi Spa president Alphan Tsoi. “Those more accustomed to the European spa model are embracing this more regular approach to relaxation and, in the process, reaping extraordinary wellness benefits.”

Facilities encompass 48,000 square feet over three floors. A jungle of hot and cold pools, five specialty saunas, a coed common space known to regulars as the jimjilbang, a peaceful “sleeping zone,” rooftop terrace and restaurant serving healthy Korean cuisine all lend Wi the air of a spa-oriented theme park. And guests are welcome to linger all day and all night—it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Time seems to slow down when there’s a Jade Rom, Clay Sauna, Salt Room, Ice Sauna and more unique stops to experience before checking out!)

Treatments, too, are rooted in ancient tradition—Korean scrubs, shiatsu massage and reflexology are popular choices. Body scrubs, in particular, are a key component of Korean culture. Rather than salt, therapists use water and mitts made of a slightly scratchy viscose material—“It’s gentler on the skin,” Tsoi explains. Dead skin cells typically start forming in thin ropes that are washed away. (In recent years, these body scrubs have developed a cult-like following among spa-going insiders in cities with sizeable Korean populations.)

To offer the best of this tradition coupled with a luxurious massage, Wi has developed the Buff & Massage Treatment (70 min./$70). At Wi, this service is performed by Ajuma (middle-aged Korean women) wearing black bras and panties (as they do in Korea), or swimsuits. Here’s how it’s performed:

Buff & Massage Protocol
1. Prior to the service, have the guest indulge in a long soak in a warm or hot tub to soften the skin and open up pores.
2. Guide the client, naked, to a wet treatment area. (Wi’s is a communal chamber.)
3. Using the mitt, exfoliate every body part, constantly rinsing away sheets of dead skin with buckets of warm water.
4. When the guest’s skin is entirely hydrated and velvety smooth, which may take some time for first-time scrub recipients (think 40-60 min.), have the guest rinse off in the shower (no soap!), then return to the treatment table.
5. Apply a fresh cucumber mask to her face.
6. Allow the mask to set while you thoroughly massage the guest’s scalp and wash her hair, wrapping it into a tight bun when finished.
7. Perform a full-body Swedish massage using essential oils.

—By Katie O'Reilly

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