British eyewear brand Specsavers gives us a cautionary video of what can happen if you don’t read the signs on the doors carefully at your hotel. A hotel guest thinks he’s heading into the hotel’s sauna for a relaxing steam. Instead he ends up eye to eye with a rather irate Gordon Ramsay.
He also demonstrates Sauna Rule #2: Always sit on a towel, because you never know what was on that bench, and people don’t want to touch the wood your bare bum touched.
Watch the 40 second video and see: Sometimes what looks like a sauna isn’t. If you’re concerned about making this mistake yourself, make sure you consult our database of hotels with saunas when you book your next trip.
Korean-style public saunas, also known as jjimjjilbangs, have become the mega-stores of public bathing. New construction is taking place the world over, as Koreans emigrate from their homeland and want to take a piece of home with them. Each new jjimjilbang is built larger than the last.
Several companies have established themselves as name brands in the budding Korean bath house industry. One of the leaders is the King Sauna brand. At the moment, they have jjimjjilbang locations outside New York, Dallas and Chicago. All are large facilities. Each one has a gender-segregated bathing area, where clothing is forbidden. When you have washed yourself clean in showers, rested in the hot tubs, and enjoyed the steam room and sauna, you can don a simple, unflattering uniform and enter the co-ed facility. In the co-ed area you can enjoy traditional Korean sauna domes built from rocks, minerals, even gold; each gives a unique benefit. Among the saunas is a Korean restaurant and several different styles of comfortable chairs. All three are open 24 hours.
So, after a marathon business trip a few weeks ago put me at Newark airport at 5pm on a weeknight with a morning appointment in Massachusetts. There was bad weather in New York. 1010 WINS had little time for other news because the traffic was so snarled, I headed the short distance up the New Jersey Turnpike to the Pallisades Park and King Sauna to relax while I waited out the rush hour.
After spending the first hour soaking and steaming away the stresses of the trip so far in the naked area, I grabbed a uniform and headed down to one of the TV rooms to catch a traffic report. The chairs in there are huge overstuffed recliners. I settled in, listening to whatever celebrity gossip was the breathless headline of the day, and leaned back in the chair.
I woke up, and the news wasn’t on anymore. It was now a baseball game — In the bottom of the 7th inning. I found a clock. It was nearly 9. I napped for about 3 hours! It was at that point that I realized just how worn out I was from my trip so far, and I shouldn’t be driving anywhere that night.
I walked over to the restaurant and ordered a bowl of Korean noodles with a variety of toppings. After that I cooked myself in the Bulhanjeungmok for a little while. The Bulhanjeungmok is a wood-heated dome sauna in the style of the traditional Korean charcoal kiln. Outside the entrance, they show the overnight preparations of the room, and when the fire goes out around 6am, they use it to bake eggs. Signs caution visitors not to wear anything except for the cotton uniform inside. Right outside the door is a basket of heavy burlap blankets. The norm seemed to be to grab two and duck inside the small door.
I grabbed my two blankets and ducked through the door. It is the hottest sauna I have ever been inside. The sauna was lit by a single bulb, recessed deep in one of the walls. Hanging from another wall was an oven thermometer. I checked it out, and in the dim light and the buckets of sweat already pouring down my face, I could only tell the needle was somewhere between 400-450°F (205-230°C). Wow.
I took one of my blankets, and folded it and laid it down on the floor. I then knelt down on it like many of the others were doing. I laid the second blanket beside me instead of draping it over my head like others were doing. Most of the others in the Bulhanjeungmok were middle-aged Korean women in what appeared to be a meditative trance. I managed to stay in for about 10 minutes. Most of the women who were in there when I came in were still there when I left.
Right across the room from the Bulhanjeungmok is the ice sauna, which is basically a walk-in freezer. I sat in there until I stopped sweating. Tried out a few more of the lower temperature dome saunas, leafed through a paper, and cooked myself one more time in the Bulhanjeungmok. By then it was about 11pm. I went back to the men’s area, discarded my sweaty uniform in the laundry bins, rinsed off in the shower, soaked in the cold tub for a few more minutes, brushed my teeth with a complimentary toothbrush, donned a fresh uniform and found another recliner to spend the night.
I had a reasonably restful night there (but I can have a reasonably restful night on an airplane, in coach). I woke up once around 2am and took a walk to see what was going on. There was a large number of people who also spent the night. There was an equal mix of men and women. Most were of Korean descent and in their 40’s to 60’s. Even the men’s bath was still a hive of activity. And for those of you who hear bath house and think of something seedy, there was absolutely nothing untoward going on there.
At 4:30am my phone alarm went off and I headed up to the men’s bath again, just as the cleaning crew was finishing their nightly scrub of the place. I headed first for the sauna, then drenched myself in the icy shower right outside, then took a round in the steam room. After that I headed for one of the shower stalls, showered off, shaved with a complimentary razor, used their ample supply of complimentary toiletries to freshen up, and headed downstairs to pay my bill: $48.00. Not bad for a pretty restful night’s sleep, several hours of sauna, dinner, overnight parking and toiletries for the morning. To get that price, you need to ask the parking attendant for a coupon when you arrive, but now you know.
I grabbed a cup of coffee at a nearby gas station, and was across the George Washington Bridge by 5:30, heading up I95 into the rising sun.
If I got stuck in the area again, I would definitely spend the night here again. For the money and relaxation, it can’t be beat. If course, if I planned better, I would have found a hotel with a sauna along my route.
There are four saunas being built for this festival:
The Hot Cube is a minimalistic sauna in a cube shape that sits over a river. Sauna bathers can look through the open floor to watch the river flowing below.
The Solaris-sauna is a transparent sauna that has been installed in the town square.
Sauna Obscura allows you to sauna inside of a camera. Special optics on this floating sauna project the surroundings onto the walls and bathers in the sauna.
The Sounding Dome Sauna is shaped like a garlic bulb and has its own sound scape that changes with the temperature and humidity inside of the sauna.
The saunas will be open to the public from June 1 through August 21 of this year. All of the saunas except the Hot Cube can be used individually for about €10 per person. Groups can reserve a sauna for 50 minutes for € 60 €100. Advance tickets may be purchased via the Sauna Lab website.
If you plan to use one of the saunas, the organizers are requesting you wear a swimsuit. You need to provide your own swimsuit and towel.
Additional sauna related art works are on display throughout the year, including several photo exhibitions. The full list of what is happening and when is available on the city’s website.
If you are planning to go, Turku is about two hours drive from Helsinki. You can book a hotel with a sauna for your stay on our website.