Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Late Winter Staycation at King Spa in Niles

You know how it goes with wasting time online - one link leads to another that leads to another, and so on and so on. So one Saturday in March, I was reading an article about Korean baths in the New York Times travel section, and it mentioned that they were becoming popular in the U.S. In fact, there was one in the Chicago area. I was so excited! Not only am I fascinated by Asian culture, but I love trying new trends. I decided it was time for a staycation, and I started to plan my day of total relaxation.
Here is the exterior of the spa; photo taken from the parking lot.
As everyone knows, this past winter-going-into-spring has been pretty brutal in Chicago-land. Some days, I just couldn't shake the chill in my bones, or urge to hibernate until it was all over. I read about King Spa and Sauna, and learned that for one low admission fee, guests could stay as long as they liked (it's open 24 hrs!) and use the baths and all the sauna rooms to soothe whatever ailed you. The place was a little bit hard to find because the entrance is off the back of a large strip mall. But once there, plenty of free parking was available. I entered the lobby and paid $30. I received a bracelet to keep on while I was there, and was told to pick out a uniform. The uniform consisted of a tee shirt and shorts: pink for women and girls, and grey for men and boys. (I did however take the grey version, since I am plus-sized and it fit comfortably. Then a staff member took me on a tour of the facility so that I could be familiar with all my options.
This is the room with the pools. Everyone, children included, is naked in here.
My guide took me down the hallway, then stopped me at a line on the floor, where I was instructed to remove my shoes, and put them in a little locker. Then we moved on to the ladies' locker room. My eyes were immediately accosted by a bevy of naked bodies of all shapes, sizes and ages. Uncomfortable! I was told that cellphone use was prohibited inside the locker area (for obvious reasons) and shown to my locker. The room was nice, but no frills. Off to the side were the toilet facilities, a couple of counters with beauty products for sale, an area for people to fix their hair, set up with blowdryers, etc. and then the entrance to the pools. I was told that the pools were in different temperatures. I had to take a shower first, then I would enter the pools, going from coolest to hottest. If I got overwhelmed with the heat, I could hop back in the shower and cool off.
Inside the ladies' locker room.
My guide extolled the various supposed benefits of hot pools, and also recommended I try the V-steam (for an extra fee), which is where you steam your lady parts. The claim is that the steam will cleanse, deodorize, and cure you of any women's issues you may have. But I know enough about the human body to know that those claims are false and that the hot steam could even be damaging to the natural balance of good bacteria present. I passed on the V-steam. There was one poor woman partaking while I was there, and she didn't look very comfortable or happy about it. I felt bad for her.

Next, we walked into the co-ed area of the spa which was a large, cavernous open room with several little huts inside of it. The main room was decorated with chairs and sofas in a faux fancy Marie Antoinette style. It was both tacky and pretty at the same time. There was free wi-fi in this main area and several people were on laptops, tablets or their phone, relaxing in slippers and their uniforms. I could imagine lazing here all day. In fact, I did see a few people napping.
The center room, from which all the mini rooms branch off.
The mini rooms included a movie theater which showed "G" and "PG" rated movies at various times throughout the day. This place was family friendly and children were welcome and encouraged. The movie theater was touted as a place to park the kids if they got bored with the saunas, but parents weren't ready to leave.
After the tour, I got started trying out the different sauna rooms. I skipped the pool area because, frankly, I don't really enjoy being naked around strangers, and I don't really want to be around other naked people. I wished that swimsuits were allowed, because I do love pools in general. But communal bathing seems kind of gross to me. The sauna rooms were co-ed and everyone wore their uniforms and carried a towel to sit or lay on. I tried all of the rooms except for the two that were very humid, like a traditional sauna. I tried to walk in to them, but I was immediately overcome by the feeling of not being able to breath. I much preferred the rooms that were dry heat.
The Base Rock Bath Room contains amethyst crystals, yellow soil and slabs of a Japanese mineral called Siraka.

I started with the Amethyst Room. It was so pretty! Amethyst lined the walls and there was a large rock of it standing in the corner. All the rooms were dim and quiet. People walked in and out at their own pace, and either sat or laid down on their towels. It was very soothing. I could only stay for a minute or two in each room before the heat overcame me and I had to cool off in the Ice Room.
The Ice Room.
The Ice Room was like a walk-in refrigerator, and I was so grateful it was there because it was easy - at least for me - to feel overheated in the hot rooms. I also loved the Pyramid Room. The exterior of this little hut was more angular, not rounded like the others. Inside the room was painted gold. It felt very luxurious and indulgent to lay in there. The gold color was also very cheering.
The Pyramid Room.
Another favorite room was the Ocher Room. On the outside, it was decorated with what resembled Native American petroglyphs. The inside was a warm ochre yellow color and it did not feel as hot as the other rooms. Just soothing, sunny, dry warmth.
The Ochre Room.
The Salt Room was also let hot than the others. I had been to salt rooms before (there are two others that I know of in the Chicago area), and had loved them. I don't necessarily subscribe to all of the health claims attributed to these rooms, but it does feel really good to breath the dry, warm air and get that tang of salt on your tongue.
The Salt Room is lined with salt rocks and has a mat floor. It just makes you feel all glow-y and toasty.
As I said, I didn't use all of the rooms, because some were just too hot and humid for me. I actually can't imagine coming here in the summer, but in the winter, it was wonderful. My body felt very loose afterward. Upstairs, there were nap rooms. There was one for men, one for women and one for families/co-ed. It was a little odd to see people sleeping in public. I also tried the Korean food court, which costs extra, of course. The items I had (a smoothie and some soup) were just okay, but it was nice to have the food there. I also bought a reflexology foot massage. The massage was given by a little old man in a tiny side room, decorated very plainly - not really spa-like. Again, it was just okay. He didn't ask me anything about any ailments or aches I might have, so I don't know how he decided what I needed. Anyway, I was glad I tried it.

Each of the little huts had a plaque on the outside that posted the temperature of the room and what diseases or complaints it would "cure." To be honest, I don't really believe all the hype and the health claims, but I would go again next winter. The price seemed like a good value, and the warmth and peacefulness was very soothing. Next time though, I will bring an ice-cold bottle of water to carry around with me, and a pair of slippers. Both were available for purchase, and there was a drinking fountain, but why spend the extra money?