Miranda Hotel & Spa Plus

December 21, 2008 at 2:29 pm (Uncategorized)

Jocelyne’s birthday was on November 27th, so we decided to plan a little girls’ adventure to celebrate.  We’d heard lots of great things about some of the hot springs spas (called jimjilbans) in this area, so I did a little research and found one about an hour outside of Seoul that has a connecting hotel.  The Miranda Hotel (http://www.mirandahotel.com/new/hotel/eng/index.asp) is by far the nicest hotel in Icheon, which is known for its hot springs and has quite a few spas to choose from.  We decided to head out to Icheon on Friday night for a sleepover party, then indulge in a full day at Spa Plus (http://www.mirandahotel.com/new/SPA/eng/index.asp – check out the picture of “Dibo, the gift dragon” on the background…so Korean)  on Saturday. 

Jocelyne and I met up at the South end of Seoul at about 7:30pm on Friday, and we were both really excited to get down to the hotel and start our spa weekend.  Unfortunately the bus gods were not with us, and the next available shuttle to Icheon wasn’t leaving Seoul until 8:40pm.  Bummer.  We twiddled our thumbs for the next hour, then jumped on the bus for the 50 minute ride to Icheon.  We arrived at about 9:30pm, and luckily just as the bus pulled into the city we looked out the window and saw the sign for the Miranda Hotel.  If we hadn’t looked out at that very second I don’t think we would have had a clue how to get to the place, and cabs were non-existant. 

We walked about 10 minutes from the bus station and quickly found the hotel – my first real hotel in Korea!  The interiour was very Western – hard wood everything, huge chandeliers, marble floors, etc., etc., etc.  It was really beautiful.  We checked in with an English-speaking receptionist – woo hoo! – and headed up to our room.  The picture you see on the website for the “standard” room is exactly the room we had – one queen, one double bed with amazingly soft pillows and down comforters, a huge flat screen tv and a really nice bathroom to boot.  I debated reserving the Korean-style room, but that would have meant sleeping on the floor, and I just couldn’t resist a night in an ultra-luxurious (raised) bed. 

We dumped our things and headed back downstairs to scout out the best food options.  The hotel has three restaurants, so we assumed we’d have our choice of food considering it was Friday night.  Nope, not a single restaurant was open by the time we moseyed around at about 10pm.  No food in a hotel with three restaurants?!?  Ridiculous!  So we grabbed our coats and braved the cold to find a restaurant somewhere in downtown Icheon.  The biggest issue once you leave Seoul (at least in terms of eating) is that you find less and less English on menus, and the food seems to become more indistinguishable.  Is that raw pork, or kimchi?  Couldn’t tell you….it all looks the same in a picture blown up to the size of a billboard, situated at eye-level. 

We wandered around for about half an hour, trying to find some place that looked at least semi-inviting, and where we could hopefully figure out what, and how to order.   We settled on a place called Fox Rain, who had a menu outside that showed pictures (a HUGE bonus for non-Koreans).  As soon as we entered we were bombarded by clouds of smoke – most Korean men smoke, and smoking in restaurants is all-too-freely permitted.  It’s extremely taboo for women to smoke, although many do, and they are forced to hide in alleyways and to duck behind buildings to indulge in their habit.  Cigarettes are phenomenally cheap here – about $2.00 for a pack of 12 – which explains the massive nicotine addiction, but I personally can’t stand coming out of a restaurant reeking of an old ashtray.

Anyway, we sat down and were given the completely Korean menu, so the guessing game began.  “What do you think that is?  It looks like chicken….or maybe sausage.  Maybe we should go with these skewer-type things?  Hmmm…I don’t know, I’ve been to places that serve some pretty dubious “meat” on skewers.   What about this thing that looks kind of like potatoes?  Do you think it’s potatoes?  I think it’s fish, or maybe octopus.  Is that a tentacle?”  On and on it goes.  The waitress came over with a hot plate, and proceeded to crack open an egg and fry it right at our table – we just watched and stared, not really sure what was going on.    Apparently that’s the free appetizer before your meal.  Wacky. 

Jocelyne speaks a little Chinese, and luckily the waitress also knew a few words, so they were able to string together enough of a conversation to order a couple of dishes.  She ordered one that the waitress said “many foreigners like – not too spicy”, and another that looked like potato wedges.  A few minutes later we’re sitting with a plate of fried chicken, and something that looks absolutely nothing like potato wedges.  Unfortunately the fried chicken was all bones and fat, and the mock potato atrocity was some sort of seafood omlette covered in liquid smoke and something that looked like mayonnaise.  Not very impressive.  Jocelyne made good work of the chicken, but we left most of the omlette and soon headed out. 

Oh well, at least we had our fantastic hotel room waiting for us.  We snuggled into our beds and watched some “America’s Next Top Model” on tv.  I know, Tyra Banks is ludicrous, but sometimes we need a good dose of crappy American television.  The little bit of chicken I did have gave me some serious stomach upset, so I didn’t enjoy my cosy, down-covered bed as much as I would have liked, but it was still a bed room none-the-less.  The one downside to the room, as Jocelyne found out just before having a shower, is that little niceties like shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel are not included.  For shame!  We had to pay $4.00 for a couple of teeny tiny bottles that barely made it through two showers.  Double shame!  I figured we’d paid enough for the hotel room to have a little soap thrown in, but noooo…..

Anyway, the next morning we woke up and headed downstairs to the Rendezvous restaurant for the buffet breakfast.  Wow, this was the most amazing breakfast ever.  Although there were the usual Korean specialties like kimchi and bulgogi (for breakfast, I know), we also had heaping hot trays full of scrambled eggs and bacon, plus croissants, pastries, lots of cereals, fresh fruits, smoked salmon, cheese (although it was Kraft-style processed cheese, it was amazing to see, considering the cost of cheese here), orange juice and coffee.  It was absolutely delicious.  They actually had little individual serving containers of jam and butter – butter! – which I haven’t had since leaving Canada.  Butter will generally run upwards of about $10 for a stick, and jam is about $6 or $7 for a small jar.  Oh, the things that amaze and delight a person after living in a foreign country for a few months. 

After noshing for a good while we decided it was finally time to hit the spa.  Our hotel stay included a discount on the spa entrance fee, so we redeemed our coupons and headed inside.  First, we got wristbands, and were directed to remove our shoes and store them in small lockers just inside the reception area.  Then we moved into the womens’ change room, where we put on our bathing suits and stored our over-night bags. 

I was getting a little giddy with anticipation as we headed towards the spa entrance……and was completely blown away by what I saw.  The change room opened onto the women only hot tubs and saunas, which were in a massive two-storey room.  My eyes almost fell out of my head when I realized that absolutely every single woman there was completely naked.  Young, old, it didn’t matter – there was not a piece of clothing to be seen.  Here Jocelyne and I were, in our apparently prudish Western bathing suits, while 70 year old Korean ladies watched us and chuckled at our attire. 

We decided to check out the outdoor area first, since it seemed to be a little less busy, and to escape the many looks we were getting.  The first tub we got into was a huge wood bath with a dragon’s head for the water spout – it was beautifully hot, considering how cold it was outside, and it felt fantastic.  Then we walked (quickly!) into the unisex area and found another grouping of outdoor tubs.  Bathing suits are required for the unisex and the family areas, so we didn’t feel quite as self-conscious any more.  There was a mineral bath the exact shade of vibrant lime green you see in a can of Mountain Dew, so we hopped in there for a few minutes and floated around.  Some of these tubs were big enough to swim around in, and others were around the size of a normal backyard hot tub. 

We headed into the indoor family pool and decided to check out the water slide.  I definitely forgot how much fun water slides are!  I honestly laughed and screamed the entire way down the tube.  We were the only two people there without kids, but we didn’t care – the water slide was too much fun. 

Then it was back outside and into another super hot hot tub, where we relaxed and let our skin prune up a little.  I dared us both to go into the underground cave pool, which was about 15 degrees celsius, just to get our blood flowing a little.  It was in a large cave right underneath the first wooden tub we went into, so we ran back to the womens’ area, then literally ran around in circles in the cave pool for about 30 seconds, then jumped into a hot rock pool.  Not one to be shown up, Jocelyne then dared us to go into the “cool” pool next to our hot rock pool and dunk our heads under the huge fountain.  We psyched ourselves up for it, then ran into the incredibly not “cool” pool, where I dunked my head in and Jocelyne slipped on the rocks and did a full body dunk.  She definitely got more than she bargained for.  We then ran screaming into the wooden tub where we let our body temperatures rise a few degrees before deciding what to do next. 

We figured it was high time to join the ladies inside and experience the indoor hot tubs, so we made our way inside and headed towards a large hot tub that was about 40 degrees.  We were about to stick our toes in, when a couple of older Korean ladies motioned to us that we couldn’t use the pools if we were wearing bathing suits.  Okay, this was the moment of truth – would we dare go naked in front of dozens and dozens of strangers??  Well, you know the saying, “when in Rome….”.  We stripped down and hopped into the pool, feeling quite happy being bathing suit-free.  No one cared that I was completely naked, and it was great!  It was definitely a liberating experience.

We jumped around from tub to tub for about an hour or so, and then decided to head upstairs to the huge unisex sauna complex on the third floor.  We were given a pair of sweat shorts and a t-shirt, then we walked up to the third floor where we had to decide between the seven large saunas, and several other small saunas.  We headed into the Amethyst Room first, where the floor was covered in round, white pebbles, and the walls and ceilings were packed with huge chunks of amethyst.  Apparently the body absorbs the minerals from the stones when the room is heated to a certain temperature, but all I know is that we worked up a nice sweat in only a few minutes in there!  All of the saunas had built-in tvs, so we laid down and relaxed for a while watching some Korean soap operas.  Coming out of the saunas was always challenging, since the temperature change and suddenly being upright often made me very dizzy, but the Koreans are prepared for this!  They have large areas right outside the saunas with mats and ample floor space to stretch out and lounge, or even sleep if you so desire. 

Next we checked out the Furnace Room, which looks like a huge wood-burning oven.  You open a small door at the front, get down on your hands and knees (being careful not to touch the walls or the ceiling, since they’re piping hot) and crawl through into the actual sauna.  I felt an awful lot like a turkey sitting in a huge oven – the heat was more than I could bear, even though I find most saunas quite enjoyable.  It wasn’t the typical dry, sauna heat, but a stifling “I can’t breathe” kind of heat.  We only lasted about 5 minutes in that one. 

One of the big reasons we chose Spa Plus was for a special treatment called Doctor Fish.  The fish are bred specifically for use in spas, and are extremely effective at removing dead skin from the body.  The whole premise is that you stick your feet into a large pool, and the fish swarm your feet, nibbling away at all the dead skin.  A yummy picture, I know, but we’d heard that they left your feet feeling pedicure-smooth and we had to try it. 

Well, we searched the spa for a good half an hour trying to find these blasted Doctor Fish, but we couldn’t find them anywhere.  The stupid things were supposed to be a main attraction, but we couldn’t find a sign or anything to point us in the right direction.  Jocelyne tried using a little Chinese on the receptionist, but ended up asking her where were the fish that ate shoes, not skin.  We felt like complete buffoons, trying to describe fish that eat skin in pantomine to a woman who obviously had no idea what we were talking about.  Unfortunately neither one of us remembered the name of the treatment, but out of the blue the receptionist said “Doctor Fish?” and we both yelled “Yes!  YES!  Where are they?!?”.  Third floor, she said.  The same place we’d just spent the last 15 minutes wandering around aimlessly.  Oh boy. 

We headed back upstairs, and retraced our steps yet again.  We opened every door, looked in every possible area.  There’s a large food court beyond the saunas, and we walked through it into the Kids Zone.  We had briefly scanned the area before, but this time did a more thorough sweep.  At the very back of the Kids Zone, far away from any main thoroughfare, was a sign that said “Doctor Fish”.  It was like finding gold at the end of a rainbow. 

We headed outside (yep, the pool was outside, in the freezing cold) and walked into a large tent.  A long, low pool stood in front of us, and the lady in charge of the area gave us mats to sit on along the edge of the pool.  At first it looked like the water was empty, but we looked closer and saw hundreds of little grey fish swimming around.  Jocelyne immediately stuck both feet into the pool, but I waited to see what her reaction would be like once the fish attacked.  Her legs were soon swarmed with the little creatures, and she shrieked and yanked her legs out of the water.  She said it didn’t hurt, but that it felt like a thousand people were tickling her feet and legs at the same time. 

Oh, did I mention that I have the most ticklish feet in human existence??  It took me fifteen minutes to work up the courage to keep my feet in the water longer than about 10 seconds – I just couldn’t stop laughing!  Every time more than two fish swam up to my feet I just couldn’t hold still, so eventually I planted my feet at the bottom of the pool, closed my eyes and chanted “Mind over matter.  Mind over matter.  Mind over matter.”  Until I was able to stop laughing for more than a few seconds.  The feeling was similar to tiny electric shocks running up and down my feet and calves.  It was amazing, and well worth the extra $5, even after the enormous crusade required to find them.

After the Dr. Fish we basically went through the whole spa again a second time, jumping from super hot tubs into super cold tubs, and into mineral, charcoal, fruit and ginseng baths.  It was awesome.  We probably could have spent a couple of days just going from pool to pool, then to the saunas, then back to the pools.

We decided to end the spa day with a professional scrub down.  Oh boy, I’d heard about these, too, and the stories lived up to the experience.  For an extra $15 we were led behind a curtained off area just beside the main baths, where several older ajumas dressed in bras and panties stood beside massage tables.  The obviously spoke no English what-so-ever, so we said “Scrub-scrub?” and imitated the wax on, wax off move from Karate Kid.  We laid down on the tables, and the ladies immediately threw an entire bucket of boiling hot water across us.  Wow – what a way to start.  Jocelyne bought a charcoal facial mask, so they poured it all over our faces, dousing us with thick, black goo.   

Then the scrubbing began.  Think of the strongest loofah you’ve ever used, and multiply it by about 100.  These ladies put on super abrasive mits, apply some kind of solvent to them and just go at your body like you’re a dirty pan and they’re a steel wool pad.  They literally scrub every, single inch of your body over and over again.  When she wanted me to turn over she would just slap me nice and hard – no conversation needed.  The best part was when she tried to have a go at my feet.  I started shrieking and laughing hysterically every time she even came close to the soles of my feet.  She literally held my leg down with all her strength, and I still couldn’t stop flailing around like an idiot.  All the massage ladies got a good kick out of that.  So after the removal of massive amounts of dead skin, she applied a super hot towel to both my front and my back, then gave me a brief but strong massage.  Then it was one last bucket of boiling hot water, a good slap and I was ready to go!  I won’t forget that experience any time soon.

Although we really didn’t want to leave, we were beyond pruney and getting pretty tired, so we decided to call it a day.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but spending a whole day at the spa was surprisingly exhausting.  We both went straight home and collapsed into a deep, restful sleep.  This is by far one of the most enjoyable and relaxing ways to spend a day, or even a whole weekend.  It’s a uniquely Korean phenomenon that I wish we had back home.  I watched whole families of girls and women spend hours bonding in the pools and saunas, helping each other scrub their backs, wash their hair – it’s definitely an intimate experience that brings people closer together.  I love the Korean jimjilban!

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2 Comments

  1. Freaky Deaky Lesley said,

    I would like to go there please, when I come to visit.

    Thank you.

  2. earnestin said,

    I bookmarked your blog, thanks for sharing this very interesting post

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