Monday, April 09, 2012

Wi Spa offers family friendly environment and cultural experience

Jim Jil Bang at Wi Spa
How do you review a spa for a blog that focuses on Los Angeles cultural experiences? If you're at all familiar with Korean spas, you'll know they're nothing like a traditional western spa. The Korean spa concept is based on a cultural component that was a part of life for many Korean and Asian immigrants: a bath house. This is what attracted me to a recent request to review Wi Spa on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown. That, and the fact that Wi Spa bills itself as the only 24 hour service spa in Los Angeles that also happens to be family-friendly.

If you're reading this expecting to learn about whether or not I got my money's worth, if I thought my therapist's techniques were effective, and if I enjoyed the amenities, let me first state that my initial visit was entirely complimentary with the exception of gratuity. Secondly, I arrived at my appointment a little apprehensive, uncomfortable and uneasy, but I left feeling relaxed and happy. Wi Spa now has my family's patronage.

A couple of other notes: all modesty is checked at the door if you choose to utilize the massage, pool and bath/shower areas, which are separated by gender. Absolutely no clothes are worn in these areas, but you may bring your own sandals for walking around. Lockers (with magnetic keys that are attached to you as a bracelet!) are available for your use. A co-ed space (known as the "jimjilbang") is available, where patrons are fully clothed. This is also where you'll find the kids' play space. Wi Spa provides the shorts and t-shirts, and clothes must be worn outside of the gender-restricted sauna/pool areas. Strict cleaning and health guidelines are observed on a frequent and regular basis.

On my visit and tour of the facilities, I was impressed with the size and inclusiveness of the amenities. Everything from what you would expect at a spa (hot/cold baths, showers, massage treatment areas), to a full workout gym, quiet sleeping areas, accupressure rooms, salons, a mini library with computer and Internet access, cafe and rooftop terrace are all available. I recall thinking to myself, "wow, I could literally spend an entire day here." A small, extra fee is due if you choose to stay overnight after 4AM. And Wi Spa even provides the mats and pillow blocks for sleeping.

I learned that, as described earlier, the concept is built on a former way of life for Koreans, when most homes did not have a bathroom. My guide explained that it was common to see entire families going to a communal bath house to bathe. She also described bathing as a social event as often neighbors and friends were encountered at the bath. Wi Spa tries to replicate this experience with large open spaces, sofas and televisions for people to gather together, such as in the jimjilbang.

In the jimjilbang, I observed entire families in different modes of rest and relaxation. Parents were playing with kids, while grandma or grandpa was sprawled out beside fully asleep (or attempting to sleep). Some folks were reading. A few were utilizing the different features available in the jimjilbang area: heated jade room - which is said to be good for aching joints; clay sauna; salt sauna; ice sauna; Bulgama room, which is heated up to 231 degrees and is also known as the "oven"; cafe. And a small group of women were even gathered by the television. A children's playroom is also located here with a monitor found just outside so parents can keep an eye on their kids. Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times outside of the play area, as Wi Spa does not provide childcare services. Tip for parents: take turns with your treatments so that the kids remain supervised while one of you enjoys your treatment.

My guide also pointed out to me that often times, Wi Spa receives out-of-town visitors who actually use the space as their "hotel." For approximately $25 day entry fee (various special rates are available), you can access the saunas and bath amenities, as well as the multiple areas for sleeping and jimjilbang. Keep in mind the extra fee for full 24 hour access (still, not a bad deal!). Special treatments are at an extra cost, though if your visit is over $90, the entire day entry fee is waived. Food at the cafe is an extra fee, and the menu offers a variety of Korean fare and kid-friendly cuisine that are reasonably priced. I learned that there are five basic items that are staples for every Korean cafe: roasted egg, seaweed soup, a spicy bean soup, shaved ice with red beans, and rice water. The rice water is slightly sweet and delicious. Highly recommended!

Lastly, there is a rooftop terrace where patrons can get some sun and fresh (?) air.

"Wi" for those who are curious, is not a Korean term. It is a play on the name of the street on which the business is located - Wilshire Blvd. - and the pronoun "we" to reflect the communal nature of the spa experience. Wi Spa offers special rates for kids on Friday nights, and also hosts a variety of events.

It's certainly not going to be for everyone. If you prefer the traditional serene, calm western spa, this is not the place for it. That's not to say you can't find a peaceful and calm space at Wi Spa, but there is much more activity going on. Even if you're not interested in the massage treatments, the jimjilbang area is worth a visit if you're looking for something new to do with your family or to take out-of-town guests. I think you'll find the experience to be fun and stress-relieving! My deeper understanding of the entire experience and the cultural significance gave me a better appreciation for the spa's intentions. Oh, and the massage definitely helped :)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went with a girlfriend and we loved it! After soaking in the women only section, we donned our T-shirts and shorts (provided by the spa) and headed for the Jim Jil Bang room. There are a variety of choices there. My favorites were the salt room and the clay room. The ice sauna was a great relief after the heat of the regular sauna. A great thing about the Jim Jil Bang room is that there is no pick up vibe.