Have an American Beauty moment at Pyongyang's floral spa
Since the opening of Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang in 2015, this prestige neighbourhood has been increasingly visited by curious tourists – sadly most buildings are still not open to foreign visitors but a pizza restaurant, the excellent Snow White Coffee Shop and some of the general views of the street still make it well worth a stop here. Finally, though, Koryo Tours have managed to gain access for our tourists to one of the more curious spots on this street: Jangmiwon 장미원 (Rose Petal Complex) Bathhouse.
This bathhouse is a three-storey building at the north end of the road, housing a restaurant (popular for weddings we are told) as well as bathing facilities. When it opened, it was publicized through the local and national media as something a bit more luxurious than the usual bathhouses that people use commonly in the DPRK – so I decided to go and check it out!
While Korean bathhouses in South Korea and China can be very large and accommodate huge numbers of people, the ones we have visited in Pyongyang are usually smaller, used mostly by people in their local neighbourhoods. They tend to be simpler affairs. I’m no aficionado of such establishments but I was certainly intrigued by the promise of rose petals, who wouldn’t be?
On entry I asked a few questions about the place to find out some basic tourism information for our visitors to know in advance – it costs $5 per person, adding petals is $2, adding Rose scented foam is $3, adding ‘milk’ is $2. A scrub from the local masseur is $5 and a full body massage is $20. The facility is segregated between men and women, with one small communal resting area and a small café. I asked if they had any facilities for mixed groups of friends to use together and the ladies on reception blushed and laughed at me as if I was some kind of louche degenerate for even suggesting such a thing may exist anywhere – so that would be a no.
I opted for a rose petal bath and went into the changing room. As per the norm here you are handed a basket with a tiny towel, toothbrush, scrubbing mitten. You put your clothes into a locker and go through the main bathing area, au naturel of course by this point
I was helpfully (although also somewhat uncomfortably) led around by an attentive attendant, handed a new bar of soap for a shower first, then ordered into the main bath. At this time of day (early afternoon), there were only a handful of other chaps around. After a while in this pool, I realised that the bath that was being run by the entrance was for me. I was summoned and three men stood around while I got in and then they ripped open a large sachet of rose scented foam and poured it in, I has asked for petals but this was decided to be better for me!
The rose foam water was nice, the bath a little small for my frame, the weird feeling of sitting in a bath right next to the entrance as I was some kind of greeter for the increasing stream of naked men who came by was a bit odd, but the bathhouse is no place for the shy so you have to just go for it!
After this bath I opted out of the scrub down and hit the sauna, then the hot (really just a bit warm), and cold (but not that cold) pool again and made my way out again.
One downside was that for the larger gentleman the clothes you are given to wear for the common area are not quite big enough, like wearing a second skin of heavy cotton, and so to save the tiniest amount of dignity I had left (not much by that point) I opted to skip that part too – if you’re on the more powerfully built end of things maybe just bring some PJs with you if you want to use that area too.
All in all the experience was a good one, the place was clean and fun, the people were friendly enough. It's not for the shy (no public bathhouse is though) and you may ask for petals and get soap, but that’s all part of the fun!
A Korean friend reports that she went there some time ago and had the rose petal bath, the petals were ‘dead’ already (aren’t all petals dead when picked? Maybe just shriveled more than usual). Regardless of the petal confusion, the Jangmiwon Bathhouse is now available to tourists. If you want to add it to your tour, then drop us a line!