Relax and rejuvenate: 3 wellness experiences to have in South Korea

With its calming nature, peaceful Buddhist temples and traditional philosophies, South Korea offers the perfect respite…

Sarah Riches
06 January 2022
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South Korea Travel

Korean Buddhists have practised meditation and tea therapy for centuries, so if you need to recharge, press reset in South Korea. Swap the buzz of its cities for a barefoot stroll through forests, a soak in a natural spa or a moonlit walk along a pine-scented trail. You’ll soon feel your heart race decrease, your eyelids droop and your worries melt away. Here’s how to best de-stress in this remarkable country.

1. Escape the crowds in nature

For a chance to glimpse cranes – a symbol of happiness, love and longevity in South Korea – visit the calm and pristine Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve on the country’s south coast. The reserve is home to over 140 bird species. Look out for migratory and rare birds such as the hooded crane, Oriental white stork and oystercatcher. See the feathered spectacle from the water on a morning boat tour or explore the boardwalks that weave through the forest. At night, turn your eyes to the skies to observe the stars.

A monorail connects the reserve with Suncheonman Bay National Garden. A trail coils around the 1.1 sq km garden, which has a lake, hackberry and zelkova trees and 150,000 plants, including a field of sunflowers.

Another fine place to relax is at the Jeongnamjin Cypress Forest Woodland, a healing forest that’s home to 470,000 cypress trees. In this natural wilderness, you can relax by taking a cypress enzyme bath, detox in a salt cave, practise yoga, meditate outside or walk barefoot through the forest on a bed of cypress sawdust. Can’t face the real world just yet? Then spend the night in one of the forest’s eco-friendly log cabins after attending an on-site dance show or classical concert.

Watch a light show of a different kind at Jeju Herb Dongsan on Jeju Island where 150 types of herbs and wildflowers grow. At night, three million LED lights illuminate the garden, while daytime visitors can breathe in the scent of chives during an outdoor pilates class.

2. Live like a Buddhist on a temple-stay

Exploring its gardens, forests and nature reserves isn’t the only way to relax in South Korea. It’s equally well known for its many Buddhist temples, often nestled among woodland. If you want to linger in nature before you return to the city, consider an overnight stay. Numerous temples offer accommodation to travellers who are keen to experience local culture and take time to reflect. As well as practising Buddhist meditation, you can join workshops to learn Buddhist arts and crafts.

By now you should be feeling rather zen but if want to loosen up your shoulders even more then join a traditional temple tea ceremony. This therapy is a centuries-old tradition in South Korea and is used as a way to calm the mind and heal the body; tea made with goji berries is said to alleviate fatigue and increase stamina, while Solomon’s seal – a white flower with black or red berries – is used to lower blood pressure and soothe headaches.

Guests will discover that temple food also has its benefits. Buddhist monks and nuns prepare food using simple, unprocessed ingredients and have been championing an eat local, zero-waste philosophy long before it became the mainstream. Buddhist cuisine is vegan, too – so expect hearty tofu stews, plant-based soup and plenty of kimchi (fermented vegetables).

3. Heal your mind and body

Temples aren’t the only place to become mindful of your present, consider your past or contemplate your future. The Have9 Healing Spa is one of many spas in Resom Forest on Mount Juron, 903m above sea level. The spa follows the traditional Korean medicinal philosophy that there are four body types, so specialists assess visitors’ bodies and treat them accordingly with herbal baths, bespoke exercise advice, tea and meditation in the form of guided moonlit walks along a pine-scented trail.

Godowon Healing Centre is nearby, halfway between Seoul and Daegu. Like the Have9 Healing Spa, the centre is set in bird-filled woodland. Guests can take morning meditation classes, write meaningful letters and pause to meditate when they hear gongs throughout the day. Silent retreats are also an option.

As its name suggests, Jinan Red Ginseng Spa uses ginseng in its treatments, as it is valued for its ability to reduce stress, promote relaxation and boost energy. As well as aromatherapy and bubble bath treatments, visitors can lie on hot gravel and float in dark pools, listening to sounds that mimic what an embryo hears during pregnancy. However. this south-western spa’s highlight is arguably its open-air bath with views of Mount Maisan.

But South Korea offers the opportunity to relax away from the woods too. In the city, visitors can join local men and women who bathe separately in hot tubs and pine-heated saunas in jjimjilbang bathhouses. Or take a tea therapy class in Seoul to learn more about the leaves’ medicinal benefits, discover which variety is best for you and even soak your feet in tea. You’ll return home from South Korea feeling as recharged as a monk rising at dawn – and now you know exactly how they manage it.

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