By Amy McCarthy
We’ve extolled the virtues of the Korean spa plenty of times before. They’re the most budget-friendly way to deeply relax in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area. King Spa is one of our favorites, but its not-too-far-away neighbor Spa Castle is quickly taking the throne. Basically, it’s the Kanye West of Korean spas. It’s gonna let King Spa finish, but Spa Castle is the best Korean spa of all time.
You probably already know the deal with Korean spas, but here’s a little refresher for those who don’t. For centuries, Asian bathhouses have been a place to detoxify, socialize and promote overall wellness. Once you enter into the building, you’re presented with a bevy of dry and steamy saunas, therapeutic hot tubs and specialized spa services. The spa services will cost you extra, but for just about $35, you can experience Dallas’ best place to get naked for less than the cost of even one service at a trendier, Western-style spa.
The feel at Spa Castle is a little more Americanized than King Spa, but plenty of those thousands-of-years-old Asian traditions are still pervasive. You’ll still take off your shoes before getting into the locker room, store them in a separate locker from your clothes, and be required to shower before entering any of the gender-segregated hot tubs and pools. In those gender-segregated rooms, be prepared to be buck-naked for the duration of your soak time.
Compared to King Spa, though, Spa Castle requires less nudity. In fact, you can quickly change into your bathing suit, jump into the shower, and head outside to the co-ed pools, skipping the indoor tubs entirely, without worrying about anyone seeing your junk. But that wouldn’t exactly be taking advantage of the full Spa Castle experience — you’ve got to soak in those hot, herb-infused pools long enough to open your pores if you want to fully experience the “detoxifying” benefits of sweating it all out. Just leave your inhibitions and drawers at the door — literally no one here is interested in judging you.
Once you’re finished soaking, you can stop at the massage-jet-packed co-ed pools if you’re so inclined, or wander upstairs to try the dry saunas. Each of these steam-free saunas is lined with materials with purported health benefits ranging from cardiovascular strengthening to body purification, like activated charcoal, actual gold and Himalayan salts. They’re then heated to temperatures peaking at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit, though there are much cooler rooms for the faint (literally and figuratively) of heart.
The idea here is to open the pores, get the blood circulating, and of course, induce a whole lot of sweating, which means wandering from one hot room to an even hotter room until you feel exhausted. You can also cool off (and tighten the pores) by taking a break in the Ice Room, an actual ice-lined, refrigerated room that feels like the breeze of an angel’s wing once you’ve been sitting in a hot-ass room for 15 minutes. By the time you’ve wrapped up an hours-long sweat session at Spa Castle, you’ll be thrilled that they provided you with that dumpy uniform. It’s going to be totally drenched in sweat, and you don’t even have to worry about laundering it, which may be the most relaxing thing of all.
Should you choose to indulge in a spa service (they range in price from $50 to $200), there’s really not a better spot to do it in town. This fall, the aestheticians are slathering a vitamin-rich pumpkin concoction on the faces of those who pony up the cash for a facial, or you could just stick with a traditional deep tissue massage. Be warned, though — this ain’t your usual, gentle, Western-style massage. Expect knees in the back, elbows down your spine, and the best goddamn massage you’ve ever had in your life. It’s gonna hurt, but you’ll feel like you’re living on a cloud by the time your therapist has wrapped up.
There is also a generally-agreed-upon culture of serenity here, meaning no talking, no cell phone conversations, and most important, no harshing anyone else’s mellow. Signs reinforcing these rules are posted throughout the saunas. Of course, some patrons (rude-ass white people) often ignore these admonitions, favoring annoyingly loud conversations over peace and quiet. Which brings us to perhaps the most important point of all about this experience — how the fuck you should behave in a Korean spa.
These are culturally significant places where people go to relax, and interlopers shouldn’t come and ruin the experience. Sure, plenty of socializing goes on at Spa Castle, but if you’ll notice, the regulars generally keep it to common areas and the spa’s restaurants. In the bathing areas, chatting isn’t verboten, but you’ll frequently notice women (in my case) slinking over to chaise lounges in the corner to avoid the noise. In the dry saunas, though, there’s a strict rule of “shut the hell up,” and you should adhere to it. Otherwise, expect to get the side-eye from a lot of very pissed off Korean grandmothers.
By the time you’ve wrapped up your visit — your stay should last at least four or five hours, longer if you want to experience maximum benefits — it’s surprising how good you actually feel. The science behind these “detoxification” methods is at best dubious, but there’s no disputing that rush of endorphins that leaves you feeling floaty for hours after your visit is over. And be prepared to take a nap once you get home. You’d be surprised how draining detoxification and relaxation can be.
In all, Spa Castle has a lot of chic upgrades and amenities that make it feel a little more relaxing and homey than King Spa. The outdoor pools add an extra point of interest, especially in months like these when the weather is temperate and the pools are heated to just the right temperature. If you’re a serious Korean spa devotee, you’ll probably end up going back and forth between them both, but Spa Castle is the place where newbies will find their most comfortable home.