How do I even begin to describe SpaWorld? I spent 3.5 hours by myself in this 50,000 square-foot bathhouse and relaxation Mecca, and all I can say is that I am wowed and will be back!
SpaWorld, located in Centreville, Viriginia, about 45 minutes from downtown DC, is the largest Asian-style “spa resort” in the country, according to its website, and as far as I can tell, one of only a few in the U.S. (other big ones are in Queens and New Jersey). Known as a “jimjilbang,” the phenomenon is certainly very Korean, but not traditional, as jimjilbangs only started popping up in Korea in the early 2000s. The idea of this kind of spa is to not only provide a location for relaxation, beauty treatments, and communal bathing, but to be a place for families and friends to spend many hours socializing. (This Washington Post article has more details).
When you walk into what appears to be an unassuming office building or retail space, you are handed a set of canvas shorts and T-shirt jumpsuit (orange for ladies, yellow for guys), and directed down a hallway. You are also given a small key on a wristlet that will later be used to charge further expenses (salon, massages, food, etc.)
The first part of the SpaWorld experience is single sex, beginning with a locker room where you can either change into your jumpsuit or stay naked and head into the pool. The “bade pool” is a 3-foot deep pool that consists of 10 or so jets designed massage different parts of your body, from the neck to the calves. Surrounding the bade pool are wet and dry saunas, hot tubs, and public massage/exfoliation tables. And yes, in this section, you are naked. I wasn’t taken aback by this, as I had visited a communal bath in Central Asia, but I could see how the experience would be unnerving for the casual spa-goer. You will find that it doesn’t matter in the least, as there are so many women (or men) that you are very quickly lost in the crowd!
After your bath, put on your jumpsuit and head into the communal “rest room.” Here, dozens of mats are laid out on the floor as a comfortable spot for families and friends to just hang out (in the jumpsuit of course!) Magazines in Korean, Russian, English, and other languages I didn’t recognize were strewn about, and people slept, read, typed on their computers (free WiFi!), or just chatted with friends and acquaintences. The rest room is connected to a snack bar and little cafeteria, with 27 Korean dishes on the menu.
Around the edges of the rest room are about 8 different co-ed and clothed saunas and heat rooms, all with healing and medicinal properties. Reed mats are on the floors of each, so you can rest in the rooms for as long as you like. My personal favorite was the red clay ball room, where you can sink into marble-sized clay balls a la those glorious days a Chuck-E-Cheeses (although smaller balls and fewer children). Also of note is the ice room, where large blocks of ice line the walls—I was told that entering a cold room after so much heat is the best way to end the healing processes that the bathing and sauna experience provide. SpaWorld also boasts a fitness center (I actually worked out before going into the bade pool!), hair and nail salon, and an arcade, just in case you are in the mood for pinball.
SpaWorld makes me feel as if I have fallen asleep on a round-the-world flight and woken up somewhere hard to believe and foreign, a rare and delightful experience in DC! While a bit pricey at an entrance fee of $35, the ticket is good for 24 hours. Go by yourself and bring a book, go with friends and bring a card game, but go to SpaWorld soon and catch some good vibes!
To get there: 13830 Braddock Road, Centreville, VA 2012, 703-815-8959. A bit of investigation tells me that it could in fact be possible to take the 630, 631, or 632 Fairfax Connector from the Vienna/GMU Metro station, but I would call first. Automobile wheels are definitely your best bet.