All You Need to Know About Getting a Massage in South Korea | Expat Guide Korea (2024)

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"The way to health is an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day" – Hippocrates.

A massage session is one of the most popular and integral parts of South Korean culture as it is highly believed to be of great benefit to their health and general well-being, and it is also a way of relaxing their bodies. One can never go wrong with a body massage, especially in South Korea, which is popular for its beauty and appearance and is also the world's beauty capital. Having a traditional South Korean bath or spa session is a wish list for almost every foreigner who finds his way into South Korea in recent times, unlike a few years back when massage was viewed as a negative activity associated with illegal sexual service providers or as a treatment best reserved for the rich and elite class amongst them.

Currently, having a massage in South Korea is an accepted health service. It has grown to become one of the most encouraged and welcomed ways of relieving stress and body pain for people who have an interest in a sedentary lifestyle and can afford the service. Due to this growing trend in massage services, massage shops and spas have become rampant, and they can easily be spotted on the streets of Seoul, South Korea, and other urban cities, delivering services such as foot to aroma, acupuncture, and Thai massage. The estimated number of massage shops in South Korea is 50,000, and over 300,000 people are gainfully employed in the industry.

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Interesting rules about massages in Korea

Although not many people know this, it is illegal to get a massage from a person who isn't considered legally blind. According to Article 82 of the Medical Art, only people who are recognized to have vision impairments can be issued the license that is necessary to work as a masseuse or masseur. Besides the visually impaired, those who are nationally certified massage professionals can also be issued the required license.

This law became prevalent after the Second World War when most visually impaired people lost their licenses as healers due to the revocation of the law by the Ministry of Health in 1946. Due to this, most of them resorted to chanting scriptures and telling fortunes to earn a living. The Ministry of Social Affairs later banned this in 1948. Many blind Koreans kept up the fight to regain their licenses as healers. In 1963, the state medical code was revised to allow only the visually impaired to earn a living from massages, with the exception of moxibustion and acupuncture, which were reserved only for traditional doctors at the time. There are penalties and fines in place for people caught flouting this rule and operating without a license. As of 2021, there were about 9,742 visually impaired masseuses working at about 1,300 legal massage parlors.

Despite this law, we still have numerous massage parlors operating without obeying it. This is a law that is not really being adhered to in Korea. So, chances are that many massage parlors are operating illegally. Despite this law, massage is still a thriving industry in Korea. Therefore, if you feel that a massage parlor is being too shady, endeavor to avoid it because they might have something to hide.

This article is an overall guide to all you need to know about getting a body massage in a South Korean spa. The different types of massage offered, what to do when you visit a Korean spa, and a list of popular massage spas in South Korea.

Types of massage styles in South Korea

All You Need to Know About Getting a Massage in South Korea | Expat Guide Korea (1)

Photo Credits: Korea Times

Koreans go all out when they want to take care of themselves, and different massage styles are uniquely tailored to suit the needs of everyone while integrating styles from other traditions.

Traditional South Korean massage styles

1. Korean full-body massage

This is a traditional massage that has been in practice for thousands of years in South Korea. This massage session lasts for about 45 to 60 minutes, and during this session, one or more massage therapists use natural healing essential oils (of which you are entitled to select from) to work on the entire naked body of their clients. These essential oils are inhaled through a diffuser, and they are also absorbed through your skin. Spa centers mostly offer this type of massage in large cities, and it is more expensive than other types of massage. When you need a Korean Massage Therapy technique that will relieve you of pain and perform deep tissue work, a Korean Full Body Massage is the best option for you. It also reduces anxiety, stress, depression, pain, and muscle tension. Aromatherapy is a type of Korean Full body massage.

2. Korean Hand Massage

The Korean Hand Massage uses the hands as a traditional spot treatment tool to stimulate acupuncture points on several spots on the face, neck, and ear. These acupuncture points help in releasing stress in those specific body areas. This type of massage is beneficial in improving blood circulation, treating minor body aches and body pains, and reducing stress, among other health benefits that don’t require an extra beauty product. This type of massage is very popular among Korean men and women.

3. Korean Foot Massage

In Korean Foot Massage, a massage therapist would usually rub your feet over the back of your neck or rub them on your abdomen. It provides fast relief from pain in the neck, shoulder, and back regions, and it is used severally to enhance mood, reduce stress, and achieve total body relaxation.

Non-Korean Traditional Massage Styles in South Korea.

All You Need to Know About Getting a Massage in South Korea | Expat Guide Korea (2)

Photo Credits: Korea Expose

Added to the traditional styles of massage are modernized and integrated foreign styles such as the Swedish Massage, Shiatu Massage, of Japanese origin, and the Thai Massage, which originates from Thailand.

1. Swedish Massage

Swedish Massage has proven to be very effective in stimulating the release of endorphins, thereby reducing pain and relieving one from stress and tension. This body enzyme also helps to increase blood flow, improve blood and nutrient circulation around the body, and release toxins from the body. This massage is suitable for people who suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, severe headaches and migraines, and arthritis, and it is medically recommended for its therapeutic effect. A Swedish massage session would usually last 90 minutes.

2. Shiatu Massage

Shiatu Massage has a Japanese origin. It is done by using the thumb and fingertips to subtly apply pressure to acupressure points on the body surface(these acupressure points are channels running through the human body and are located along meridians). This treatment pressure is applied by rubbing, pressing, rubbing, and pressing the points with their palms, after which they will roll your head between their thumb and fingers to stimulate blood flow and ease any muscle tension. This body massage can also be done on the feet as Shiatu Foot Massage and can last for about 60-90 minutes.

3. Thai Massage

The Thai Massage originated in Thailand and is carried out based on the belief that every part of the human body has a unique energy point that any amount of applied pressure can stimulate. The Thai Massage therapist applies pressure on certain acupressure points, and this, in turn, helps to achieve body balance and the promotion of general body wellbeing. A Thai massage session takes about 60-90 minutes.

Tips to keep in mind when going for a massage session

1. A typical basic massage session in South Korea would cost between 30,000 Won to 80,000 Won for an hour, and for an oil massage, one can pay as much as 60,000 to 110,000 Won per hour.

2. Cash discounts are sometimes available, and people can receive as much as a 10% discount for a massage session, with a more discount percentage if you are lucky enough to be an early bird.

3. Most Korean spas offer a 24-hour (round-the-clock) service, and you can take a nap or pass the night there, provided you don’t make it a frequent act or see it as your newfound accommodation.

4. English language is a luxury and should not be expected. This is because most of the masseuses are from Spain or Thailand and might not know how to communicate in English or local Korean. Nevertheless, Google Translate and Papago are communication apps that can be used to handle language challenges. Also, the menu options come in English, so your language worries are handled.

5. Go with a partner. If you feel awkward about the whole experience, go with a partner. Some spa centers have couple rooms where people can have a massage session together with their spouse, siblings, friend, or partner.

6. Most massage spas might allow you to wear special clothes provided for the massage session. These are usually a T-shirt and a pair of loose shorts or a zippered shirt with a back zip that can be unzipped for oil massages on the back. A pair of slippers are also provided at the door, which everyone is expected to change into.

The Most Recommended Massage Spas in South Korea

1. Good Morning Spa

Good Morning Spa is located in the Good Morning City Shopping Mall at 9/F Good Morning City, 247, Jangchungdan-ro, Jung-gu Seoul, South Korea. Good morning spa is known for its sports massage and aromatherapy massage, which rank top on the list for foreigners.

The Sports massage is best for people who have severe body and back pain, while the aromatherapy massage is suitable for people who require a body refreshing massage with the use of natural essential oils.

Their operating hours are between 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM, and the average cost of having a massage is 28,000 Won and as much as 50,000 for a regular customer. Discounts and coupons are a great way of catching and retaining new customers.

2. Hongdae Thai Massage

At this massage spa, the Thai massage therapy helps you relieve stress and burnout, get your tired muscles soothed, and take care of back, neck, and shoulder aches. They are located at 3/F 403-17 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea. They are well known to be a spa that works from 10:00 AM through 10:00 PM, and their services last between 60 and 90 minutes for a fee of about 29,000 won or more.

3. The Oriental Healing Cafe

Providing a chair massage service where new users and people who want to relax after a long day or week find succor, Oriental Healing Cafe is a must-stop spa. They also provide double and twin rooms for people who want a spa date session. Located at 1 Toegye-ro 14-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea, their services last about 50 to 60 minutes, and they operate from 10 AM through 8:00 PM on Mondays to Sundays. The average cost of chair massage at Oriental Healing Café is 9,500 to 15,900 won.

Other popular massage spas are:

  • Dragon Hill Spa

  • Traditional Korean Bathhouse in Insadong

  • Myeongdong Traditional Sauna

  • Myeongdong Women’s Bathhouse

  • Icheon Termedon Spa

  • Whoo Spa Nonhyeon.

  • Sulwhasoo Balance Spa

  • Spa Hurijae in Seorae Village

  • CheonvKwanJang Spa 1899 in Gangnam

  • Kara Hill Massage in Jamsil

Getting Massages at Bathhouses in South Korea

Besides the regular spas and massage parlors, you can also get a massage at Korea's bathhouses. The shock of being naked before a total stranger is one of the blizzard of feelings that come with having a massage in bathhouses in Korea. Below are some rules for getting a massage session in a South Korean spa, also known as Jjimjilbang.

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1. Get naked

There is no successful massage session with you heavily dressed and knitted up both physically and mentally. You must come in vulnerable and naked to have an effective and successful massage. Unless allowed, even undies are unaccepted. So flow with the nudity tide while it lasts. Besides, nobody cares about it in a Korean spa. Korean spa rooms are usually gender-sectioned so you are sure to be alone with your fellow men or women.

2. Get your body washed (Take a bath)

Before the massage session begins, you are expected to wash off any makeup or beauty products on your skin in the shower or changing room. Also, you are expected to remove every piece of jewelry or accessory you came with. These spas are usually equipped with shampoos and conditioners for you to have your bath with. Every piece of extra luggage, like your phone, should also be dropped in a locker. You don’t want to spend your relaxation time replying to emails and answering phone calls. Also, for safety reasons, you don’t want to find your phone taking creepy pictures of a room full of naked adults in different body shapes, colors, and sizes. Taking a shower is a key part of having a massage, and whatever it is, always take a shower before you leave the spa.

3. Get scrubbed

Depending on the service you signed up for, you will pass through either wet or cold steam rooms and saunas, which will work you through a traditional full-body scrub. While you lie down on the provided rubber massage tables, an expert technician will do the scrubbing you need.

All You Need to Know About Getting a Massage in South Korea | Expat Guide Korea (2024)
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