Random Ephemera

Five Things I Learned Spending the Night at a Korean-Style Spa

When was the last time you slept in a room full of strangers? I'm not talking family strangers, like the cousins you haven't seen since you were six, or friend-of-a-friend strangers, like when you're invited to a sleepover where you know some of the people in the room. Summer camp maybe? That time you spent the night in jail?

Prior to a few weeks ago, I would struggle to think of any situation where I had slept in a room full of strangers, other than that semester I fell asleep in my weather and climate class twice a week for a month before I finally dropped it. And I was thinking about this as I lay in a recliner in a half-dark room at 4 a.m. in a Korean-style spa in Dallas, because when you add up all the individual elements of that sentence, it's hard not to find yourself wondering just how you got into this mess.

It was an absurd situation that came together as naturally as an absurd situation can, a combination of overbooked hotels, dead cell phones, and my love of warm baths all resulting in my ending up in that room of strangers trying to catch some sleep.

Now, if you've never been to one of the Korean-style mega spas that are popping up all over the country, you're missing out. They are delightful. The focus isn't so much on pampering – although that is an option – as it is on relaxing with your friends, sweating in interesting rooms and killing a few hours.

Or a lot of hours, if you're so inclined. The first time I went to King Spa in Dallas, I was miffed at a sign that mentioned an extra charge if you stay longer than 24 hours. “Who stays at a spa for more than a day?” I asked myself. “Why would you sleep at a spa?” Oh, silly, silly me.

As it stands, Houston does not have a Korean-style mega spa, although there are plenty of fine locations to relax in Chinatown if that's your jam. But I hope, in time, that we do get one. Until then, if you ever find yourself without a hotel room in a city that does have one, here are five things you'll learn if you decide to make one your home overnight.

5. A Spa Is an Excellent Replacement for a Hotel Room

If you're traveling solo, what do you really need out of a hotel room? The spa covered everything on my list; there were multiple places for me to sleep; there were showers so I could clean up; there was a locker room I could change in; there were food and drink options in the morning if I got hungry; there was even free wi-fi so I could get some work done in the middle of the night. The only thing it didn't offer was privacy, and I'm willing to sacrifice that if it means not sleeping in my car.

4. You Will Not Be Alone

You want to know how many people spend the night in these places? Enough that King Spa bans spa guests from bringing in pillows and blankets. I didn't do a full head count, but I estimate there were in the neighborhood of 50 people sleeping in the different parts of the facilities, and unlike me, all of them seemed like naturals at it. There were people of all races, men and women and at least two children, some folks more prepared than others; at least a couple of people had eye masks to block out the light, and more than a few were using beach towels as blankets. Truly they are the pros at spa sleeping.

3. Spa Uniforms Make Excellent Pajamas

Spa uniforms are pretty much the most comfy things around, although it's hard to describe why. They're baggy short-and-shirt combos that just feel relaxing to wear. Nothing fancy, just some sort of cotton blend – I checked the tags for more information and couldn't find anything – but they kind of vaguely remind me of scrubs. Every time I've ever been to a spa, I've thought about stealing my uniform so I can lounge around my apartment in them. At the end of a long day, a spa uniform is kind of like a hug for your tired body.

2. Don't Go Expecting Any Sexy Time

The main question I've fielded from people who've heard this story concerns whether or not I saw anything sexual going on. I understand why people would ask; when people hear about overnight spas, it's easy for the mind to jump to certain conclusions, especially if you've heard about what goes on at other places with the word “spa” in the name. But on this night, at least, I saw nothing remotely sexual. At 3:30 a.m., no one is dropping the cash to hit King Spa for some undercover loving when, let's be honest, there are cheaper and more efficient ways to find a random hookup. I mean, I'm sure people have made connections at these places before, but not in the middle of the night when everyone just wants to catch a few hours of sleep.

1. You Know What Makes Waking Up in a Strange Room Tolerable? A Hot Tub

I woke up from my four and a half hours of sleep in a recliner on a quiet Sunday morning with sore clavicles, which is weird because I had never woken up with sore clavicles before. I took my shower/dealt with the reality of nude strangers first thing in the morning, finished up my work from the night before, and then pondered how I would spend my day. The truth was pretty simple: I was at a spa, and by gawd I'm going to make the most of it. And so I capped off my experience at King Spa by sitting in a hot tub, watching a Friends rerun by myself. And if you've never done that before, much like spending the night at a spa, I highly recommend it. 
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia