SEOUL — Just as in Japan, hot spring tours are a common and relaxing pastime in South Korea.

Called onchon in Korean, most are concentrated in the suburbs. But wherever you go, they are easily spotted by a unique red sign showing steam rising from a bowl.

Due to its perceived health value, onchon bathing used to be a popular method of medical treatment, and many people still pay a visit when they seek repose and remedy. In South Korea, underground water hotter than 77 degrees can be legally considered an onchon, and the water is routinely checked for harmful elements.

In practice, the onchon are very similar to Japanese hot springs.

Most onchons are separated by sex; you should take off your shoes before entering the changing room. And though it may be an embarrassing moment for Americans, you should completely undress yourself when you step into the bathing room, where everyone is supposed to be nude.

Inside the bathing room, you will see various kinds of tubs, both hot and cold, and some sauna rooms. Showers are also available, and you can sit on a small low stool (usually stacked in the corner) while you’re washing, rinsing and scrubbing.

Make sure that you don’t jump into one of the tubs before showering. It’s not only considered rude, but could be bad for your health, since it is more likely to spread germs.

Soaking in the steaming onchon tubs is known to burn a great deal of calories, so you need to relax beforehand if you are too tired or upset, experts say. After dipping into the pools, drinking cold water or eating a light meal is recommended.

Now, want to give it a try, but too lazy to drive out of Seoul?

You can enjoy onchon within Seoul at Hwangkum Onchon. Located in Socho-dong, just south of the Han River, Hwangkum offers high-quality water fortified with 20 kinds of beneficial minerals, and four kinds of theme saunas such as amethyst, gold, charcoal and infrared rays.

Each is said to have its own special health benefit.

“Everyone loves our water. They say it is different. Once you soak your body in it, you will see the difference,” said Na Il-joo, manager of Hwangkum Onchon.

Many foreigners have already visited, Na said. Many are drawn by the various other recreational facilities they offer, such as an Internet cafe, karaoke room, massage room, gym and a cinema, all inside the same complex.

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