KOREA
My experience at Korean rice enzyme spa

(Photo by Erin Henderson)

Not too long after I arrived in Korea, I had an adventure at a local Korean Rice Enzyme Spa that I will never forget. They say that covering the whole body in the hot rice bran enzyme helps relieve stress and fatigue. The rice enzyme raises the body temperature and, in doing so, eliminates toxins by stimulating the pores of the entire body (sweat it out), helps improve blood circulation and strengthens blood vessels. Great, sign me up!

When you walk into the spa after changing into the clothing they provide, you are given a hair covering and then escorted to your spot in the rice. A nice man digs your hole, and in you go. The rice enzyme naturally heats up, and once you are buried, they advise you not to move, or the friction makes it even hotter. You are supposed to stay buried entirely for 15 minutes (they set a timer for you). After 15 minutes, you come out of the rice to cool down, then lay back down on top or sit on top for roughly another 30 minutes. All in all, the experience is about an hour with the rice portion.

My experience at Korean rice enzyme spa

(Photo by Erin Henderson)

If you have made it this far, congratulations… but the best is yet to come. It never dawned on me as I walked past the very open showers in the locker room that I would have to somehow get this smelly enzyme off me. My friend failed to warn me of the strip-down communal shower when we had planned this outing. But hey, when in Korea.

After my rice burial, I approached the shower room and was met with a conundrum: where would I shower? After stalling for as long as I could by slowly brushing the rice enzyme off my arms and legs one particle at a time, I shed my rice laden clothes and approached the showers. My friend had scored a nice corner spot away from prying eyes, but my only option was beside two lovely Korean grandmas, proudly putting me on display front and center to anyone walking inside.

My experience at Korean rice enzyme spa

(Photo by Erin Henderson)

As I frantically scrubbed as quickly as I could, I suddenly felt excessive water streaming down my back. The lovely Korean grandmother behind me started assisting in my rice removal. I awkwardly laughed, nodded my head in thanks, and ran for soap. I got back to furiously scrubbing and rinsing off my soap when the next thing I knew, she was now rubbing my back down with the scrub; I jumped in surprise. Was this a part of the experience I paid for? Do I tip her?

I bowed awkwardly again when she finished, rinsed quickly again, then reached for a towel to make my escape. No! Tiny towels! I grabbed three while attempting to cover myself and run away.

I was relaying my experience to my friend as we sat in the massage chairs afterward (she had managed to shower and escape quickly like a seasoned pro). She was completely unfazed by my story as she had been living in Korea for four years. Her shoulders were shimmying from the vibration of the chair, eyes closed, she laughed and said, ‘Welcome to Korea; everyone is your ajumma.’

Welcome to Korea, indeed.

About Erin

Erin Henderson is a professional freelance photographer and writer whose work has been featured in a variety of publications. She is also a mother of two and a Marine Corps spouse living in South Korea (soon to be Germany). You can find more of her work at erinhendersonmedia.com or follow her travels on Instagram @erinhendrsn.

The best stories from the Pacific, in your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter of articles from Japan, Korea, Guam, and Okinawa with travel tips, restaurant reviews, recipes, community and event news, and more.

Sign Up Now