Hot spring season in full swingWinter is a popular time for a visit to hot springs. Last year alone, hot springs around the peninsula saw 52 million people, according to the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, with many of them as repeat visitors.
As devoted hot spring enthusiasts, Koreans can sing the praises of the miracles of the water. They all know that it isn’t holy water or a fountain of youth, but that does not stop them from thinking that there’s no ailment that hot springs cannot heal. “Now I can sleep soundly at night,” says an 82-year-old man with ectopic dermatitis who is undergoing treatment at a hot spring in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province.
Some people not only bathe in the water, they drink it. A woman in her 50s at Baekam Hot Spring in Uljin, North Gyeongsang province swears by the water. “Only after I started to drink Baekam hot spring water, my constipation problem, which had been haunting me for 30 years, finally went away,” she says. No wonder there is an old Korean saying, “A good bath is better than medicine.”
This roundup gives you a guide to a selected number of hot springs around the country. Medical miracles aren’t guaranteed, but it should be a nice respite from the cold outside.
In Korea, there are now 275 registered hot springs, and among them, 181 are in operation, according to the administration ministry.
Hot springs are legally defined as having “water that is not harmful to the human body and over 25 degrees Celsius (77 F).” When a certain amount of water is guaranteed and after the local council certifies the hot spring, it can open for business.
The “well-being” trend has added to the popularity of such springs and parks, making it a lucrative business. About 80 percent of hot springs now in business were developed after the 1990s.
Most hot springs go down at least 500 meters (450 yards) or even 1,500 meters to meet the temperature standard.
The country has recently seen a boom in various water parks that claim they have “the best-quality water” or “miracle water.” These are simply not hot springs. If you don’t see the words “hot spring,” it’s just a public bathhouse with a lot of hot water available.
Each hot spring tries to attract customers by claiming that its waters contain certain minerals. According to medical science theory, an alkali hot spring is good for the nervous system, carbonic acid for the skin and heart-related ailments and sulfur for rheumatism ― but only after more than four consecutive weeks of bathing.
The right hot spring must meet a number of criteria. First of all, water temperature counts. Some people say the hotter the better, but this is not necessarily true. The average temperature of 40 degrees Celsius would be just right.
When it comes to the number of minerals contained in the water, the more, the better. Many patients with ectopic dermatitis find “sea water hot springs” attractive these days, but there is no scientific proof that salinity heals this skin condition. The disinfection effect of the salt is thought to help soothe the ailment.
Nearby tourist attractions should be considered as well. You don’t want to drive a few hours only to spend a whole day doing nothing but bathe. If you and your family can enjoy mountain climbing together, it would make for a better trip.
Nowadays, however, hot spring compounds offer their own attractions that don’t necessarily involve water. Now that more people consider a trip to the hot springs as a waterside vacation, “water parks,” like Ocean Castle, Aqua World and Caribbean Bay, have become very popular. If you’re looking to get away from it all, be sure to avoid these places.
1.Sinbuk Hot Spring, Pocheon, Gyeonggi province
If you want to find a place close to Seoul, this is the one for you. This year, the hot spring added a water park facility. You can also enjoy a traditional massage using hot charcoal.
10,000 won ($9) allows access to both the hot spring and pool. 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and to 8 p.m. on weekends. 1577-5009
2. Spa Plus, Icheon, Gyeonggi province
Another good hot spring near Seoul. Last year, it had the most customers, some 1.2 million, among its competitors in Gyeonggi province.
20,000 won allows access to both the hot spring and massage room. 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. (031) 633-2001
3. Spavis, Asan, South Chungcheong province
When it comes to facilities, this resort is second to none. The resort also keeps its own Chinese medicine hospital.
15,000 won. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (041) 539-2000
4. Onyang Hot Spring, Asan, South Chungcheong province
This was a place fit for a king in the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910). Kings came here when they got sick. In the 1960s and the 1970s, it became popular among honeymooners.
5,000 won for the bath and 10,000 for the sauna. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (041) 540-1500
5. Yuseong Hot Spring, Daejeon
About 65 hot springs are available, making the place the biggest hot spring compound on the peninsula. It also has a very active nightlife.
4,000 won, but 7,000 won after 9 p.m. Open 24 hours. (042) 825-7878
6. Seokjeong Hot Spring, Gochang, North Jeolla province
One of the few hot springs in Korea that contain germanium. Mount Naejang and Seonun Temple are nearby.
4,000 won for the bath, 6,000 for the sauna. 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (063) 564-4441
7. Damyang Resort in South Jeolla province
As a place that has recently become popular among families, this resort takes pride in its small tubs that are designed only for one family unit at a time. Around the resort is a group of cultural remains.
6,000 won. 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and to 9 p.m. on weekends. (061) 380-5111
8. Hwasun Resort, South Jeolla province
The water has ground herb leaves added. Unju Temple and Soswaewon, a garden from the Joseon Dynasty, are nearby.
5,000 won on weekdays. 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (061) 370-5070
9. Mount Jiri Hot Spring, Gurye, South Jeolla province
When hiking enthusiasts first heard the news that a hot spring would be established at the foot of Mount Jiri 10 years ago, they weren’t happy. These days, however, mountain climbers make up the bulk of the hot spring’s customers.
What surprises first-time visitors is the size: The outdoor spa is about 100 meters wide (90 yards), with 1,500 lockers for men and women, and has 10 accommodation facilities. On weekends, it’s hard to get reservations. 6,000 won. 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (061) 783-2900 to 2910
10. Seorak Waterpia, Sokcho, Gangwon province
This place always tops the list of hot springs, meeting every desired condition from the quality of the water to the nearby attractions.
25,000 won on weekdays. 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. 1588-2299
11. Osaek Hot Spring, Yangyang, Gangwon province
Its rather lukewarm waters are reputed to be rich in carbon, and the air bubbles are said to be good for skin problems. Close to the shortest trail to the Daecheong Peak of Mount Seorak.
7,000 won. 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (033) 672-8500
12.Baekam, Deokgu Hot Springs in Uljin, North Gyeongsang province
These hot springs’ reputation for healing dates from the Silla Dynasty (B.C. 57 to A.D. 935). Deokgu Hot Spring is notable for being the only kind in the country that wells up naturally from the ground. Both springs have extremely hot water. Mount Juwang and Bulyeong Valley are nearby, as is the East Sea.
Baekam Hot Spring: 6,000 won. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (054) 787-7001. Deokgu Hot Spring: 9,000 won on weekdays, 10,000 won on weekends. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (054) 782-0677
13.Suanbo Hot Spring, Chungju, North Chungcheong province
Visitors can also enjoy Mount Worak and Chungju Lake.
6,000 won. 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (043) 845-3500
14. Mungyeong Hot Spring, North Gyeongsang province
Named for the mud yellow color of the water, which comes from the iron.
6,000 won. 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (054) 571-2002
15. Bugok Hot Spring, Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang province
It once was considered an exotic place, dubbed “Bugok Hawaii.”
9,000 won. 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (055) 536-6331
16. Dongrae Hot Spring, Busan
Heosimcheong, the biggest public bathhouse in Asia, gets its water from Dongrae Hot Spring, whose history dates back to the Silla Dynasty.
8,000 won. 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (051) 555-1122
17. Hae-undae Hot Spring, Busan
In terms of the number of customers, this resort compound is the biggest in Korea, with 30 hot springs. Last year alone, the resort saw about 1.2 million people.
33,000 won. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (051) 742-2121
1. Caribbean Bay, Yongin, Gyeonggi province
This place was originally a swimming pool for people who didn’t mind the heat in the summer, but it’s great in the winter.
25,000 won. 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and to 7 p.m. on weekends. (031) 320-5000
2. Aqua World in Danyang, North Chungcheong province
Perfect for families, with many tourist attractions nearby.
15,000 won. 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (043) 420-8376
3. Ocean Castle, Tae-an, South Chungcheong province
The most popular spa in the nation at the moment, where reservations must be made two weeks in advance for weekends.
Visitors can enjoy a heated co-ed outdoor seawater pool that overlooks the beach. The Paradium, which has indoor whirlpools, offers some peace and quiet away from the hordes in the bigger bathing areas. Don’t forget your swimsuit.
17,000 won for outdoor spa; two-person only spa, called Paradium, for 30,000 won. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Paradium closes at 9 p.m.) (041) 671-7060
by Son Min-ho, Kim Pil-kyu, An Chung-ki