Busan is quite an exciting place that never seems to run out of things to do or eat, no matter which season you visit. You might only know the seashore city as a summer destination for beach holidays. But if soaking in mineral-rich thermal water is your thing, you would be delightedly surprised that Busan has many of the best hot spring spas in Korea.
Without a doubt, a trip to these spas would be one of the best things to do in Busan in winter. When I visited the city last November, I decided to cozy up at Spa Land Busan. I did have many choices of hot springs in Busan, but I wanted to check out if this said-to-be the best luxury jimjilbang in Korea would live up the hype.
Jimjilbang (also spelled as jjimjilbang) is a Korean sauna and spa. If you are a fan of Korean drama, you most likely have seen it. And you might think, oh, Spa Land is just one of many dozens in Korea. How different a jimjilbang really can be? Is it really worth to pay extra to have the luxury bathhouse experience? Am I even comfortable to get naked with strangers?
All your doubts might get washed away at Spa Land Centum City Busan. Even the most jimjilbang-jaded Koreans, like me, would be wowed.
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Spa Land Busan at a Glance
Location: The first floor of Shinsegae Centum City [Open Google Map]
Nearest Metro Station: Subway Line 2, Centum City Station (underway passage to Shinsegae Department Store)
Hours: 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Last entrance at 10 p.m.)
- Adult | ₩17,000 (weekdays) or ₩20,000 (weekend)
- Students | ₩13,000 (weekdays) or ₩16,000 (weekend)
- Entry before 9 a.m. or after 8 p.m. | ₩12,000 (weekdays) or ₩15,000 (weekend)
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Why visiting Busan Spa Land?
Experience the Essence of Korean Culture
You are not comfortable getting naked with strangers. Yes, it’s awkward. Is it even hygienic to soak in the shared pool with them? Hmm…let’s cross our fingers.
I get it. But no worries. I have never heard anyone blame jimjilbang for their illness. Quite the contrary, Koreans, as well as Japanese, Roman, and so many others, have done it for healing since ancient times. So put your concerns to rest. Plus, you can wear provided bathrobes in the co-ed heated rooms. If you really don’t want to be naked, skip bathing.
In Korea, jimjilbang is so much more than a public bathhouse. It is the epicenter of health and beauty for Koreans of all ages and genders; the facility usually features a public bath, kiln saunas, food court, and other entertainment amenities. Koreans love to go jimjilbang with families and friends to unwind, eat, bathe, and scrub, as well as get massages and beauty treatments. It is so popular that every neighborhood of Korea has at least one, small or large.
Jimjilbang is at the essence of Korean culture. If you shy away, you are missing out. I encourage you to experience it at least once.
Cozy up the Chilly Days at Korean Jimjilbang
Busan in winter has mild and pleasant weather. Although you might not experience many snowy days like the rest of the Korean Peninsula, it won’t be tropical warm, either. Some days will have sharp ocean wind and chilly weather.
The day we decided to take a sauna happened to be Suneung Day (Korean College Entrance Exam Day). In Korea, November is the time when the weather gets unpredictable. It can get freezing for one day then sunny the next day. However, no matter which date the exam day falls, no matter where you are in Korea, you will experience winter chill like no other that day. It is historically proven that Koreans even have coined the term, the Cold Wave of Suneung.
Can you think of any better ways to warm yourself up than sweating off at a sauna and soak in a hot tub? We couldn’t.
Luxury Jimjilbang Like No Other
Spa Land is located inside Shinsegae Centum City, the largest department store in the world, as recorded on the Guinness Book.
Although Shinsegye no longer owns and manages the spa, the luxury spa measures up to the scale and caliber of its mothership. The 22 bathtubs and 13 themed rooms sprawl over three floors.
When it comes to jimjilbang, Koreans care a lot about water quality. Spa Land uses two different types of hot spring water pumped from 100 meters underground and sterilized 36 times a day (that’s once every 30 minutes!).
One type is sodium bicarbonate water, referred to as the Beauty Bathtub. It claims to remove dead skin cells and make your skin and hair shiny.
The other type is sodium chloride water, referred to as the Hot Bathtub. It is similar to ocean water and good for blood circulation, as well as for pain relief from neuralgia and muscle ache.
I admit that all jimjilbangs in Korea would tout their natural thermal water for some beauty and therapeutic effects. Some of them even go out of the way to get certified or back it up with some scientific evidence.
Do I really believe it? Maybe not. It is definitely not a cure for all. However, speaking from personal experience, I do think that soaking in hot spring helps relieve occasional, minor ailments from a long day of walking and traveling, and fight off a common cold before you catch on. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
>> Spa Land Busan is the perfect last stop at the end of the day to relax and unwind. Visit scenic spots of Busan with a professional photographer and head straight to Spa Land at Centum City, the last stop of the tour. This Busan East Tour also takes you to see the highlights of East Busan and drop off at Haeundae, only 10 minutes away from Centum City. Or, take this full-day private tour and ask to be dropped off at Spa Land.
Unlike other Korean jjimjilbang, Spa Land decidedly has a few policies in place to maintain its reputation as a luxury spa:
#1. Children under 7 are not permitted.
In Korea, Jimjilbang is often a family staycation destination. On weekends, families with children visit the spa together to relax, hang out, and eat. While guests are asked to be quiet, sometimes it is impossible to reinforce this etiquette with many kiddos crying and running around.
#2. Children under 13 need to be accompanied by a same-sex adult.
In the past, it was not uncommon to see elementary school boys accompany mom in the female bath at neighborhood public bathhouses. I don’t know if it still happens these days as it is frowned upon. Nevertheless, you will not have to worry about the uncomfortable incidents at Spa Land.
#3. Your time is limited to 4 hours (or 6 hours max).
Many Korean jimjilbangs operate 24 hours. At night, jimjilbang serves as a cheap alternative to renting a hotel room. You may see the intoxicated or partiers come in to shut their eyes and sober up before catching the early morning train. Some travelers use the place to crash one night.
Spa Land closes at 11 p.m. And even during the day, there is a 4-hour limit. No luggage storage service, either. These policies eliminate the possibility of turning the facility into an inexpensive crash pad.
Insider Tip: If you choose to stay longer than 4 hours, you can earn the extended stay for up to 6 hours by spending ₩10,000 (USD 8.50) inside the facility. It will be super easy to achieve this as you will want to get some snacks and massage anyways.
#4. No tattoos allowed.
If you have any tattoos, sorry, you won’t be allowed inside. While the perception of tattoos is gradually changing in Korean society, there is still a stigma. That’s because only gangsters used to get tattoos in the past. If your ink is small enough, you might be able to use a bandage to hide.
What to Expect at Spa Land Centum City
Whether it is your first time at Korean jimjilbang or not, it’s good to know what to expect ahead of time. Each spa has a slightly different setup. And whatever you imagine, Spa Land Centum City will go beyond your expectations.
Note that I did not document every single room and facility. I tried to be as discreet as possible, so I don’t disturb other guests who are relaxing.
First Step: Grand Entrance
Spa Land is on the first floor of Shinsegye Centum City. Once in the department store, look for Dior. The entrance is hidden behind Dior.
At the reception, you will pay the admission fee and receive a ticket. (Check out my money-saving tips below.)
Proceed to the shoe lockers. When you find the one that matches your ticket number, lock your shoes in and take the electronic wristband key with you. This e-key serves as your locker key and e-payment for additional services, which you will pay at the checkout later before exiting.
Insider Tip: Put the e-key around your wrist at all times. For any lost key, not only will you pay for a replacement, but also take the risk of your belongings being stolen. (I have seen so many people frantically look through a pile of towels and bathrobes to look for a lost key!)
Tap your e-key on the machine that looks like a subway entrance.
Then, you will be checked into another front desk where you receive two towels* and bathrobes to change. (*Gentlemen can pick up their towels inside the men’s sauna.)
Men and women will go into the separate locker rooms and sauna areas. Find your locker with the number that matches your key. Change into the provided cotton T-shirt and pants.
Insider Tip: Bring one of your towels with you to jimjilbang (a.k.a. co-ed communal area). You will need it to protect your face from overheating or wipe the sweat off.
Outdoor Foot Bath
Once you are in, you might want first to check out the outdoor foot bath. It is a large heated pool for soaking your feet. The pool is pebble stone-lined, which helps to put pressure on the foot for the massage effect. The water is shallow enough for wading around. I don’t know how ajummas (middle-aged Korean ladies) do it, but it hurt my feet!
In winter, Spa Land provides a thick tufted jacket, so you don’t have to shiver outside.
The outdoor foot bath also has a row of private booths with stone stools. Couples or families can huddle there more privately.
Indoor Themed Saunas
Spa Land has 13 impressive theme saunas that feature traditional Korean heated rooms and other saunas from all over the world.
There is no right or wrong way to do jimjilbang. Generally speaking, I tend to go from low to high temperature, with a break in-between at the Ice Room and snack bar.
Temperatures indicated here are from my visit and only provided as a reference. I noticed that these temperatures seem to be lower than other typical jimjilbangs, which I guess is foreigner-friendly.
Yellow Ocher Room (67.6℃): Yellow Ocher Room or Hwangtobang (황토방) is a classic Korean kiln sauna built with the yellow clay. It emits far-infrared radiation and is said to be good for detox and cancer prevention.
Hardwood Charcoal Room (61.3℃): Koreans have used hardwood charcoal or Chamsut (참숯) for a long time as a natural air filter, dehumidifier, and food preservative. It has also been used to soak in a bathtub. Chamsut emits far-infrared radiation and anion, which help to eliminate body wastes and improve your skin’s elasticity.
Fomentation Room (73.2℃): The Fomentation Room, or Bulgama (불가마), is Korean’s most favorite sauna in any jimjilbang. The yellow ocher fomentation stones emit the far-infrared rays. Typically, the temperature inside Bulgama goes above 100℃. Although the room in Spa Land was not as hot as other facilities, it got me profusely sweat in a few minutes.
Insider Tip: If you are not used to the high heat, you might experience difficulty breathing. I cover up my face with a dry or wet towel.
Salt Room (53.4℃): Salt Room or Sogeumbang (소금방) is built with the Himalayan pink salt blocks. Feel free to lie down and soak in the steamy salty air. It is supposed to be good for rheumatism and sterilization.
Roman Room (37.9℃): Roman room recreates the ancient Roman bathhouse. This steam spa helps to sweat off body wastes. For me, it was slightly uncomfortable to breathe here, which explains why this room was not very popular.
Wave Dream Room (35.7℃): This room, equipped with European technology, looked similar to the Roman Room. The ceiling of the room reflexes waves from the steamy fountain in the center and helps you de-stress.
Pyramid Room (53.8℃): Pyramid Room is designed at a tilted angle of 52 degrees to receive universal energy at maximum. Unlock the anti-aging secret of Pyramid here as they claim.
Body Sound Room (38.7℃): The floor of the room is designed to apply the principle of bone conduction system with soothing music. This green room is a great space to take a quick nap or meditate.
SEV Room (35.7℃): The patented technology in this funky room compounds natural ore and metal to generate electron. Emitting these electrons to your body activates cell functions while promoting metabolism; therefore, it helps to recover your tired body. Interestingly, the neon colors of the room change from pink to blue to purple.
Hammam Room (33.8℃): Hammam Room features the ancient Turkey public bath. Sweat off body wastes on the marble floor to keep your skin clean and increase immunity.
Ice Room (21℃): After sweating in Bulgama, you will like to visit this Ice Room. Unlike typical ice rooms in other jimjilbang, the temperature is set much higher here, and no frost radiator is in the display. Instead, the walls are covered in blue tiles resembling aquarium. The tiled bench reminded me of Gaudi Park in Barcelona. Fancy!
Bali Room: The room-temperature area with ergonomic leather beds is an excellent place to take a break from all the sweating.
Steam Hall: Steam Hall is another room-temperature area with a lightly heated ondol floor. Spa Land offers a complimentary yoga class here on Fridays.
Note that cell phones are not allowed in the heated sauna because of the dangers of an explosion. Near the entrance on the first floor, you will see a complimentary cell phone charging lockers. You can plug in your phone here while in the sauna.
Besides the heated saunas, Busan Spa Land also offers substantial entertainment options, including a game room, DVD room, etc.
The relaxation room with recliner chairs is quite impressive. Each recliner has built-in monitors and speakers, so you can watch TV or movies. But others will not hear any sound from the speaker. (I need one in my bedroom!)
Health & Beauty Zone
The second floor of Spa Land offers many health and beauty treatment options.
The body massage chairs did wonders for us, and only cost ₩3,000 for 15 minutes. (Tap your e-key twice.)
But if you want to get professional massages, you can check out Shim Spa on the same level. Shim Spa offers facials, body massages, and scalp treatment as well. Prices may change:
Facial exfoliation: ₩30,000 (~40 mins)
Facial moisturizing: ₩60,000 – ₩80,000 (~50 mins)
Luxury Package: ₩90,000 – ₩120,000
Full body treatment: ₩118,000 (1 hr), ₩150,000 (1.5 hrs)
Facial with full-body packages: ₩150,000 and up
Also, you can treat yourself with lots of fresh air at futuristic Oxy Spa.
For anyone who wants to work out, you can take a pilates class at Zion Fitness.
Restaurants & Snack Bars
Spa Land has a snack bar on the first floor, a cafe, and a restaurant on the second floor.
The snack bar serves jimjilbang classics such as shaved ice (Bingsu), sweet rice punch (Sikhye), baked eggs, skewered sausages (Hot Bars), coffee, and soft drinks.
The upstairs cafe also offers a similar menu. Your order comes with a complimentary board game rental.
The upstairs restaurant features hanok-style floor seatings with the outside view through glass windows. The tasty menu here includes Korean food created by chefs from the Westin Chosun Hotel. You may also drink beer, although alcohol consumption is limited to 500 ml per person for safety.
Spa Land Busan has a sizable, gender-segregated public bath. The bathing area features sitting or standing showers, as well as numerous hot tubs.
The protocol to follow here is to take a shower first. Feel free to grab a plastic stool to sit and leave your toiletries in the booth.
The water in the pools has different temperatures from cold to warm to hot. With your hairs all tied up, go back and forth between hot and cold. Spa Land also has a few jacuzzi tubs where you can lie down in individual enclaves and turn on the water bubbles for a massage. Also, you can enjoy Finnish saunas and a female-only outdoor bath. (Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the outdoor area was temporarily closed.)
Once you soak in water enough to loosen up the dead skin cells, you could get a professional scrub service called Seshin (₩25,000 for full body, ₩15,000 for the back only). Ajummas in black underwear will scrub your body down to squeaky clean skin. Embarrassment aside, I think the process is uncomfortably painful. However, many Koreans swear by it. If you want to see what it is like, you can watch this hilarious video by Conan and Steven Yeun.
Insider Tip: Spa Land Centum City Busan did not offer any toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. You can buy travel-size toiletries from a vending machine. Or, better yet, bring your own, like how Koreans do. (I brought ones from my hotel room.)
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If the student or early morning/late night discounts don’t apply, see if you can purchase Spa Land gift certificates. Some gift certificate sellers inside the Centum City subway station will have them available. We paid ₩14,000 per certificate valid for ₩17,000. To redeem on weekends, you can pay the difference (additional ₩3,000) at the front desk.
Note that the supplies of these certificates are limited. And for non-Koreans, it might be challenging to find a shop or communicate with the seller.
The next best thing to do is to book through Kkday for a 5% discount. This is a limited-time offer.
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Do not go to jimjilbang if you:
- Are sick, caught a cold or flu, or have a fever
- Are pregnant
- Have lost blood (applies to the ladies on their period, too)
- Have skin or infectious diseases
- Have medical history such as high pressure (180mmHg and above), cataracts, heart conditions, etc.
- Have consumed alcohol within the last two hours
Do not bring cell phones (danger of an explosion) into the heated rooms.
Keep quiet. Remember that others are there to rest.
Do not bring food inside the saunas. You can only eat in the designated areas.
Shower before jumping into the public bathtub. Also, tie your hair up. No one wants to see your hair floating or clogging the tub.
Part of me hopes that Spa Land Busan is not your first Korean bathhouse experience because it may set the bar too high. And the other part of me believes, if you want to experience jimjilbang only once in your life, might as well let it be at Spa Land.
Do you think all the advertised benefits are a bit gimmicky? Maybe. You don’t have to believe the claims to try jimjilbang, though.
The bottom line is that relaxing at Spa Land Centum City Busan will re-energize the body and rejuvenate the skin during your trip to Busan. It will be a great cultural experience to remember. Don’t you think?
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