Finding serenity in a Korean public bathhouse—no passport required
Growing up in suburban Atlanta, I’ve often taken my surroundings for granted, neglecting the hidden gems around town. As someone who regularly travels to far-flung locales, I tend to save local activities for “another day,” or opt to visit other states and countries for cultural experiences.
But there’s one local spot whose allure I just couldn’t resist—Jeju Sauna, a traditional Korean public bathhouse in Duluth. It’s a 35,000-square-foot wellness oasis comprised of steam rooms, a heated saltwater swimming pool to promote health, a nail salon, kiln saunas, a food court, sleeping quarters and services ranging from scrubs to massages for those needing a little extra “oomph” in their wellness routines. Open 24/7, Jeju is the place where many go to soothe achy muscles, detox and escape from the bustle of everyday life. So on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon when my own stress levels were at a record high, I decided it was time to escape up I-285 to give this massive spa a spin.
Upon arrival, I paid a $25 entry fee that granted me full access to the steam rooms and saunas. I was also given a pair of tan cotton shorts and a shirt to wear around the co-ed areas, and a numbered bracelet. This number would track my purchases if I chose any a la carte spa services or dined in the cafeteria featuring traditional Korean fare. As I made my way to the women’s locker room, I was met with a room full of naked ladies and an overwhelming dose of culture shock. I quickly remembered that nudity is the name of the game in Korean bathhouses, and after a few minutes of hesitancy, decided to go with the flow.
Stripped down to nothing, my first order of relaxation was to shower, then head straight to the wet steam jade room to jumpstart my detoxification process, relax my tight muscles and reduce my stress levels. Next, I put on the linens issued to me upon entry and made my way out into the clothing-required co-ed area. There, an assortment of saunas lined the heated marble floors that soothed my aching arches with each step. I slowly walked by every sauna, carefully reading about the health benefits that each provided: The rock-salt sauna strengthens the cardiovascular system; the gold-and-silver sauna facilitates nerve stability; the jewels sauna offers healing and calming benefits; and the charcoal room removes built-up toxins by stimulating the sweat glands. Feeling like a kid in a candy store, I decide to try them all. After all, at the always-open Jeju, running out of time is never an issue.
I chose to start in the jewel room, where I was surrounded by an assortment of colorful stones such as amethyst and crystal. I spent quite a bit of time in each igloo-like room, often drifting in and out of sleep as sweat trickled down my face.
By the time I emerged from the final sauna, five hours had gone by. My skin felt smoother from all the detoxification, and I felt lighter, with a sense of calming energy throughout my body. I lingered around a bit longer, partaking in a bowl of vermicelli noodles floating around in a spicy broth served up from the Korean restaurant. I slurped away as I thumbed through the pages of the meditation book I brought along with me to further ease my mind. Walking out of Jeju that evening, I felt recharged and finally at peace again. Mission accomplished.
3555 Gwinnett Place Drive, 30096
STORY: Jaimee Ratliff