Keep warm at Korea’s best hot springs

December 19, 2013

By Yun Suh-young

The temperature has dropped significantly over the past few weeks, making us want to spend our weekends and holidays somewhere warm and cozy. Here’s our picks of the best “oncheon” or hot springs in the country that would be great to visit right about now.

It is believed that hot springs help stimulate circulation, relax muscles and combat fatigue. And there are women who believe hot springs give them healthier and smoother skin.

Chungju, North Chungcheong Province

Suanbo Oncheon in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province

Suanbo Oncheon in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province

Among our destinations, Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, is the closest to Seoul, about a two-hour drive by car.

Suanbo Oncheon has been famous since the early Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) times. Legend has it that King Taejo, the founder of the kingdom, was a frequent visitor.

Suanbo Oncheon is known for being a royal oncheon and King Taejo is said to have visited the hot springs to cure his skin problems.

The water temperature at Suanbo Oncheon is 53 degrees Celsius and the hot spring is rich with minerals. The city of Suanbo manages the water in a 2,000-ton tank that distributes water to 27 oncheon facilities in the region.

Another famous hot-spring facility in Chungju is Neung-am Oncheon Land, which has a hot spring filled with sparkling water.

The carbonated water creates a tickling feeling. Visitors can also drink the sparkling water from the tap and take it home in bottles.

Baegam Oncheon in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province

Baegam Oncheon in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province

Baegam Oncheon in Uljin

Baegam Oncheon in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, is another old Korean hot spring that appears frequently in folklore.

According to legend, Baegam Oncheon was discovered during the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) by a hunter who was chasing a deer he hit with an arrow. The hunter found the injured deer resting near the place where the hot spring is now located and noticed that the deer’s injuries had been healed.

Another legend has it that during the Goryeo Kingdom, a monk from Baegamsa Temple took a sick patient to the hot spring and he quickly became well.

While the water here probably doesn’t have magical healing abilities, it’s capable of providing a refreshing dip.

The water temperature at the oncheon ranges from 32 to 53 degrees Celsius.

The water here is also known for its various minerals and elements, including a strong alkaline content. This makes the water feel smooth and soft on the skin.

Oncheon facilities are clustered in the region with the newest addition being the Hanwha Resort. And while in Uljin, don’t forget to try out Uljin’s famous snow crab, one of Korea’s best winter delicacies, which is the region’s specialty and a popular meal after a relaxing spa.

Osaek Oncheon in Yang Yang, Gangwon Province

Osaek Oncheon in Yang Yang, Gangwon Province

Yang Yang, Gangwon Province

Osaek Oncheon located near Mt. Seorak in Yang Yang, Gangwon Province, is a place where visitors can dip in both carbonated sparking water and alkaline water at the same time.

Osaek Oncheon can be translated as “five-color oncheon” because the water color changes when fresh water is added in the morning. The water transforms into different colors starting from blue then to gray, dark brown, light brown and ultimately a reddish color.

The water temperature of the sparkling oncheon is lower than ordinary oncheon at 27 degrees Celsius and contains calcium and iron. The sparkling water offers a cool, electrifying feeling upon entry and is known to be good for regenerating the skin.

There are a half-dozen facilities to enjoy Osaek oncheon in the region, but Osaek Greenyard Hotel has the largest oncheon in terms of size along with convenient facilities and accommodation.

Dongrae Oncheon in Busan

Dongrae Oncheon in Busan

Dongrae Oncheon, Busan

Dongrae Oncheon in Busan is known to be the oldest oncheon in the country.

The oldest record of people using the oncheon dates back to the 7th century when kings of the Silla Kingdom supposedly bathed there.

The water temperature here ranges from 45 to 61 degrees.

Within Dongrae district, there are a couple of oncheon facitilies including Heosimcheong which is a mega-sized oncheon accommodating up to 3,000 people at once.

The oncheon town in Dongrae-gu also has two free outdoor foot oncheon facilities.

While in Dongrae, don’t forget to get a taste of “gomjangeo gui,” or grilled sea eels, and “dongrae pajeon,” or green onion pancakes with seafood, which are specialties of the Dongrae district.

Wolchulsan Oncheon in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province

Wolchulsan Oncheon in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province

Yeongam, South Jeolla Province

Wolchulsan Oncheon in Yeongam is located below Mt. Wolchul in South Jeolla Province.

The oncheon water comes from the “maekbanseok,” or mineral stones, from the natural bedrock at Mt. Wolchul.

The oncheon has unique underwater massage equipment which accommodates bubble massages to relax stiff shoulders and muscles.

While in Yeongam, try out “galnaktang,” or beef rib and octopus soup, which is famous in the region. For the non-adventurous, try the ingredients separately in “yeonpotang,” octopus soup, or “galbitang,” beef soup.