January 29th, 2013
Nadine Kam photos
By the end of Herbal Spa & Saunas special treatment, I was happy to retreat to the salt cave.
After reviewing Ngon Vietnamese Cuisine this week, I thought, why not multitask? The restaurant is inside the women's building at Herbal Spa & Saunas in Kakaako, so I wandered over to the spa counter to study the menu and the owner explained the three-hour, $100 special (usually $120) she was offering that included Korean-style body scrub, a massage, cucumber and milk and yogurt facial, head massage and hair wash, and unlimited use of hot and cold Jacuzzis, sauna and the spa's Himalayan salt cave sauna. Deal, right?
I was sold and made an appointment right away. If I had thought about it longer, I may have reconsidered. I'd heard from second-generation Korean women how much their mothers love the communal Korean bathhouse tradition and exfoliating scrubs, but they've found it excruciating.
I think most pampered Americans tend to think of the spa experience as being geared toward relaxation, but here, it's geared toward the fix, pain and loss of dignity be damned. Screaming in pain will not deter the non-English-speaking women—stripped down to bra and panty due to the liquid mess and workout this all entails—from their mission to pummel you toward perfection. And, you pay for all of this in advance lest you take up two hours of their time and they find you didn't have the money in the end.
They do have private massages here, but if you go with the package, everything is done in a public area where everyone is naked and the most relaxing moment is sitting in the heated Jacuzzi before "treatments" begin. (more…)