South Korea’s most outrageous sauna: Spa Land Centum City

Story highlights

Spa Land Centum City offers refined, upscale spa experience

Even spa-jaded Koreans are awestruck by this state-of-the-art spa

Water in Spa Land's baths comes from hot springs 100 meters underground

Walls of pyramid room are set at a 52-degree angle to "collect energies from the universe"

CNN  — 

Here’s a tip for traveling in Busan, South Korea: whatever time you’ve allotted for a venue or attraction, triple it.

No, quadruple it.

Everything in South Korea’s second largest city (after Seoul) is better than you think it’s going to be, and you’ll want more time to explore and enjoy.

Case in point is Spa Land Centum City, a gigantic, modern jjimjilbang (Korean-style sauna/spa) located inside Shinsegae Department Store Centum City.

Before seeing Spa Land, I had set aside an hour for a visit – the usual amount of time I allot for soaking and scrubbing at a Korean bathhouse.

Coming from Seoul, I was skeptical about how different one jjimjilbang could be from any other. The capital, after all, is well known for its extravagant spas.

Boy, was I mistaken.

A spa like no other

Centum City’s Spa Land takes the jjimjilbang concept to an entirely new place.

While Seoul jjimjilbangs tend to be mobbed 24 hours a day with families and groups of friends, Spa Land presents a more refined, upscale and leisurely experience.

Despite state-of-the-art facilities, admission fees are reasonable – ₩12,000 ($10.50) on weekdays and ₩14,000 ($12.25) on weekends. Students get a slight discount and – here’s an interesting kicker – children under 13 aren’t allowed inside, an unheard of concept in South Korea, where families often make weekend rituals of jjimjilbang visits.

Another unusual feature is the four-hour limit on stays.

Most South Korean jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours and often serve as a crash pad for over-indulgent partiers, many of whom prefer to sleep off the effects of the night in a spa rather than face the repercussions of coming home late and smelling like the inside of a brewery vat.

How to do Spa Land right

The first thing South Koreans want to know about a jjimjilbang is whether the water is special enough to bathe in.

The water in Spa Land’s baths and pools is pumped from two types of hot springs that lie 100 meters underground, and which are sterilized 36 times a day.

The “sodium bicarbonate hot spring” is the “beauty bathtub,” said by the spa to “remove your dead skin cells and make your skin and hair shiny.”

The “sodium chloride hot spring” is “similar to seawater” and has a “heat-preservation effect” that is “good for blood circulation and helps to relieve pain from neuralgia and backache.”

The spa ritual itself is familiar. Visitors change into cotton shirts and pants handed out at reception. Then they head to communal areas.

There’s a tarot card reading station set up near the entrance, but most people beeline past this and head straight for the outdoor foot bath area.

Here there’s a large heated pool for wading back and forth, as well as private booths where couples often play games on their phones while perched precariously above pools of water.

Theme rooms