Butt Naked in a Korean Bath House in Shanghai

New Star Bathhouse Shanghai

When my vacation in Shanghai is met with a roaring downpour of miserable rain, my immediate reaction is to google the closet spa. What comes up at the top of my search results is some Korean bathhouse that is nowhere near my hotel, but people on the internet are raving about it. Yes, I absolutely do trust and live by online reviews.

With very little convincing, I enrol my 2 travel mates to make the journey to an area well off the tourist trail, to Shanghai’s Minhang district. I arrive still soaked from my rainy day of sightseeing with my shoes and socks filled with water. As soon as I enter, the warmth of the spa greets me. I’m instructed to take my shoes and socks off, which they take and hand me a spring bracelet with a number and key attached instead. I’m directed with no english to a door on the right for the womens’ area.

Me being from North America, I’ve never actually been to a bathhouse before, let alone know what a bathhouse is. I hear they have massages and some tubs to soak in, and that’s about all I know of this place.

Having had a fair amount of massages in my life, I figure I’ll probably have to strip down to disposable underwear for the massage where they’ll keep me covered with a towel for most of the time, but I’m not 100% sure how these hot baths work, I didn’t bring a bathing suit… In my locker I find a towel and robe so I strip down to my bra and underwear and put the robe on. I figure it’s better to start out with more than needed than less.

I see a lady working there and gesture to my robe and underwear “clothes ok?” She smirks and replies in Chinese gesturing to take my clothes off. “Take robe off?” I ask, she nods. “Take bra and underwear off?” I ask tugging at my bra strap. She nods furiously ushering me back to my locker to change. I take a look around me, and yes everyone is naked. Fully naked and enjoying it.

With a deep breath I tell myself “I can do this”. Clothes off, chin up, shoulders back. I figure if I’m going to be naked, I might as well embrace it.

As I round the corner, I find myself in a large floor to ceiling tiled room that resembles what one might picture when thinking of a roman bath, but with much more modern touches. On my right are two long rows of showers filled with women bathing. I check to see if anyone is looking at me. No one seems to care that I’m naked but myself.

After a quick shower and rinse, I head to the main pool area with baths ranging from cold, to hot and super hot. Starting in the regular heat pool, I warm up my cold bones on the water jets. In the pool are women of all ages, grandmothers, young women in their late teens to twenties and even a couple of young girls maybe 4-6 years old. I can already see the appeal of a bathhouse. It’s a decadent experience. To have the luxury to spend hours just bathing is truly indulgence.

After switching from hot bath, to cold bath, to rain shower experience, I wait for my turn for a massage in the wooden sauna. When my number is called, which I get help with to translate, I proceed to the open massage room with padded tables covered in plastic. I’ve already spent over an hour in the buff, but a room of women laid out being massaged while fully exposed is another experience. I have to say, it’s very liberating and the massage is amazing.

Now I hope I’m not getting too graphic here. This is not supposed to be some erotic thriller. So if there are any men out there reading this and getting the wrong idea, please keep your hands above the table where everyone can see them.

After drying off, brushing my teeth just because I can, (they include tooth brushes) I put on my spa loungewear set and take a tour around the grounds in the co-ed areas. There’s a Korean restaurant on the main floor, then in the basement is a gym as well as a long row of foot massage beds with individual TVs.

Upstairs is very much the family area with board games, video games, and lots of different areas to lounge out and chill. For those that want to spa some more, they can relax in small heated “hobbit holes” that have TVs in them that range in temperature from 50C, 54C, 60C and 76C or cooled to 0C. My favourite part of the upstairs area is the movie screening room with again lots of comfy chairs.

If I were to sum up my visit to a Korean bathhouse in one sentence, I would describe it as a country club meets spa retreat. Or maybe it’s country club meets nudist colony. Either way, get out there, take your clothes off and let your inner exhibitionist out.

Details

I went to New Star Bathhouse in Shanghai’s Minhang district, but New Star has several locations in Shanghai. The entrance fee during my visit was CNY88 ($14 USD) which gives you unlimited access to the facilities. Massages, treatments and food are extra and still very reasonably priced.

For more ideas for travel around China take a look at Lonely Planet Discover China Travel Guide

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