Palace Spa, Federal Way, Washington

In the surreal car-centric suburban morass that is Federal Way, Washington (just south of Seattle) is Palace Spa. Palace Spa is a full feature Korean bathhouse spa in the fine tradition of Korean jjimjilbangs. I know of nothing similar in the Pacific Northwest. This facility is big, well thought out and designed specifically for those who have an appetite for serious bathing.

The entire building is segregated, with separate areas for men and woman. I didn't see the ladies' section but I expect that it's more or less a mirror of the men's. Since there are separate areas for men and woman, nudity is de rigueur in the segregated bathing/massage areas. Bathrobes and cotton shorts (provided) are required in the areas where everyone can mingle. 

Upon entering, customers are given water-proof locker keys on an elastic wrist band. You can wear the key without concern about the heat of the sauna or water hurting it. 

The first room is for your shoes, of course.

Here are the ample and secure lockers. The same key works for both your shoe and clothes locker. I looked closely and the lockers are made in Korea. They were probably conceived to support the Jjimjilbang industry in the country. It's a pretty nifty system.

After disrobing, the next step is to wash up. There are two options: The traditional western-style shower.

Or the Japanese/Korean squatting shower:

With this style of shower you squat (good luck if you haven't done this your entire life!) or use a little plastic stool. There's a shower head on a hose or, if you want to be even more traditional, you can wash using the tub spout and a plastic wash basin. Notice in the photo the specially-constructed ledge for placing the wash basin to be filled up. Once it's full, dump it over your head. Use the basin for dunking a nylon scrubbing cloth (a stack of itaeri tawol are provided at the entrance to the spa area) in the wash basin. Soap up the scrub cloth and scrub yourself into a soapy lather monster.

Palace Spa provides a complimentary tooth brush and razor. I suppose the mirrors in the showers are for shaving if you are one of those water-wasting types who selfishly chooses to leave the water running while shaving. Tinygogo public service announcement: Fill up a wash basin and turn the water off while you do this!
Have you scrubbed yourself clean sufficiently? Probably not. Repeat the process. Once clean, you can move on to the heat. 

In the men's area there are two options: On the left is the steam room. On the right is a Finnish-style sauna. Both are your standard fare. They are ample and in good shape and they do the job because they are righteously hot.

There are three soaking pools: cold, medium and hot! During my visit there were bathers in the other two pools so, out of respect, I didn't get to take any other photos. Suffice to say they do things right here! Really. Why don't more sauna facilities have a cold dunking pool?

One of the primary services Palace Spa offers are scrubs and massages. This is a Korean jjimjilbang specialty. Pictured is a vinyl-covered and padded massage table in an alcove just off of the main room where the pools and showers are. For $120 Palace Spa offers a sauna/soak, scrub and massage package. This service is intense but heavenly. 

The spa asks that you arrive at least a half hour early for the scrub and massage appointment so you can loosen up muscles and skin first with soaking and sauna. It makes sense. My experience is that a long sauna is the ultimate preparation for proper exfoliation. As part of the package you have unlimited access to the facilities. I recommend that you arrive a fair bit earlier for an appointment. Half an hour isn't adequate time to loosen up dead skin.

This is a photo of the stand next to the massage table. We see the masseur's swim trunks. (He's wasn't completely naked like me but there's too much water splashing around to wear clothes.) There's also his tooth brush and tooth paste and some nylon scrub clothes. I guess a fringe benefit of working here is that employees get to use the facilities. So he just does his morning grooming here.

With no English and just hand gestures, I was motioned to lie naked on a table. Yes, I was bare naked, upright and exposed on clam-y wet vinyl. The masseur dipped a plastic wash basin in a large tub of warm water. He slowly poured the water over my entire body. After four or five dousings, a nylon mildly-abrasive scrub cloth was soaped up and I was thoroughly scrubbed all over. At times this was a little uncomfortable, an odd mixture of pleasure and pain. Certain areas can be sensitive. Hey, that's not a wash cloth. That's sand paper! Or it was embarrassingly ticklish. My masseur was completely nonchalant about accessing almost all areas of my body. No, my genitals weren't scrubbed but he got close. The casual (but still vigorous) rote quality of the work made scrubbing near my junk a completely normal part of the procedure.

Here's the tub of warm water and the wash basin that was repeatedly filled and doused over me.

After the scrubbing comes the massage. Nothing in me was broken but I certainly felt like it might have been. The massage includes deep pressure and pulling and bending of limbs. At one point my sadist attendant was actually on the bench squating over me. He had one of my legs bent back. I was pinned like the bad-guy loser in a pro-wrestling match. In my head the audience was wildly cheering him on.

It was intense and at times painful but enduring the sensations had its rewards. I was left with a final wonderful dousing of warm water. I was so relaxed I could have easily melted and flowed down the drain in the floor with the rinse water.

After my manhandling I was freed to relax further in the saunas and soaking pools. Later I donned my cotton shorts and terrycloth bathrobe to go downstairs to a co-ed area. Here there is a lounge with cooled and filtered water, a TV (with Korean variety shows playing) and various lying rooms: a salt room, jade room, clay room and a cool room. 

For kicks I sampled all four. Each room is supposed to impart certain healthful qualities. What exactly each on does, I don't know.  A couple of the rooms were hot enough to keep me sweating. In one room, I somehow managed to have a righteous nap. After my working over upstairs (and salt, clay and jade aside), the nap was probably the most rejuvenating spa therapy I could have asked for.

There's an alcove room (next to the shoe locker room) for grooming before you leave.

 Hot or cold filtered water anyone?

Hair dryer, q-tips, lotion, hair spray. I'm a big fan of q-tips.

Telephone and hair brush sterilizer. Oddly enough, I didn't have use for either. Still, I include it to help show how Palace Spa goes the extra mile to be a full service bathing spa.