WARNING: If the words 'vaginal steam bath' make you feel queasy, don't read this post.
I previously posted about my experiences in a Korean bath house (jjimjilbang), including the slightly disturbing 'body scrub' which I tried at Dragon Hill Spa. But another one of the strangest experiences in my life so far has also taken place in Dragon Hill. it's called the 'Emperor's Sitz Hip Bath' in English, and if you've ever heard of a sitz or hip bath before, you'll be aware it has something to do with crouching over boiling hot water. The aim of this traditional Korean version is to cure all kinds of issues one might have with one's lady-bits, and it's purported benefits include: stimulating blood circulation, relieving period pain, removing body waste and curing various minor ailments in your lady-area.
OK girls, just for your benefit I'm going to explain exactly what this bizarre alternative therapy entails. I know, beacause I'VE TRIED IT.
First of all, if you're by the ladies' shower rooms in Dragon Hill you'll see a small room with some wooden stools lined against the wall. These stools each have a big hole in the seat, and underneath the seat is a portable cooker similar to the ones used in some BBQ restaurants, but instead of grilled meat on top there's a pan of herb-infused water. Can you see where this is going?
When I entered the room I was shown where to sit down by the ajumma working there, and she took my payment for the treatment (I think it was around 20 - 30,000 won). She told me to put my feet either side of the hole so that I was in a crouching a position, and gave me a big pink plastic sheet to enclose the whole of my body, except for my head which stuck out of the elasticated opening at the top. This sheet provided some modesty, as well trapping all the steam to create a mini sauna inside.
The ajumma came by now and then to lift up the bottom of my sheet and adjust the temperature of the cooker. When the water reached boiling point I actually felt like my lady-parts where burning, but after the temperature was turned down it wasn't all that bad - in fact it was quite pleasant. You can put your head inside the sheet every now and then to expose your face to the steam.
There was a TV on the wall, perhaps so you don't get bored during the 30 minutes of sitting down, or perhaps to avoid the awkwardness of looking directly at the other women in the room. This added to the slight surrealness of the experience, as did the point half-way through when the ajumma came along with a cold wet towel and proceeded to pat my face with it and wrap it round my neck.
When my time was up, I walked out feeling odd but relaxed. I don't know if the magical medicinal steam really did have any special benefits, but it was certainly worth trying once just for the experience. Just not sure if I'll be doing it again.
As an aside, I'm not sure what the most common reason is that most people have this treatment done, or whether it's just something women might do for general health. So if anyone has more information on this please leave me a comment. I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who can tell me how well-known this is in Korea, and what age group it's most popular amongst. Hopefully someone out there can enlighten me!