Just when you thought the city’s spa scene had seen it all, along comes Yunomori, a stylish wood and granite bathhouse retreat based on the Japanese hot spring, or onsen.
Naked bathing is a way of life in Japan. It dates back centuries. Books have been written on the subject. It’s strange to think then, that while pretty much everything that can be imported wholesale from Japan to Thailand has been, the practice of bathing in the buff hasn’t… until now.
A few weeks ago the ribbon was cut at Yunomori Onsen & Spa: a very slick pine wood and black slate bathhouse cum spa retreat that demands its patrons go nude. Once they’ve revealed all to the world (OK, the changing room), they’re then free to spend hours bubbling and soaking away in what the Japanese call onsen.
“The word onsen literally means hot springs,” says Smith Mekaroonkamol, Yunomori’s young founder and a regular visitor to the volcanically active country. “Usually it refers to the hot spring and the traditional facilities found around them out in the countryside.”
According to him, Yunomori, which literally translates as ‘hot water in the forest’, isn’t an onsen in the strictest, most traditional sense of the word but rather the souped up, inner-city version. “There’s also a second type called the super sentō. These are oversized public bathhouses with many types of bath – soda bath, natural onsen – as well as other facilities to enjoy such as spas, restaurants and bars, etc.”
Onsen purists may disagree, but for most a super sentō still qualifies as an onsen if it sources its bath water from naturally heated hot springs, which is exactly what Yunomori does. “We have 3,000 litres of water from Ranong, a province well known for the purity of its natural spring water, stored beneath the building,” says Smith.
In the future, he hopes that Yunomori will be able to go one further and fill a niche being neglected by Thailand’s tourist authority. “I’d like us to promote the Kingdom’s hot springs by sourcing mineral water from around the country,” he says. “Hopefully our customers will soon get to bathe in water from places like Kanchanaburi and Chiang Mai.”
Tourist-promoting water sourcing policies aside, Yunomori is really just a place to let off steam, Japanese-style. On paying the B450 fee (which gives you unlimited one dayuse), you’re handed a locker key, some bamboo slippers and directed to the separate men’s or women’s section. In the changing rooms, you then strip off, lock away your belongings, take a deep breath and emerge, as naked as a newborn, into the baths. The only things in your possession: your key and a small white towel.
The first thing to do: make a beeline for the low stools and showers and give yourself a jolly good scrub, as entering the baths when dirty is frowned upon. The second: get over the self-consciousness inherent in walking around with your bits swinging about. How did this Gaijin do? Honestly, once I had twigged that it’s ok to use the white towel to “enhance your privacy”, I was soon swanning about as nonchalantly as my Japanese and Thai brothers.
Once happy in your birthday suit, the bath hopping begins. We counted five, from the warm soda bath featuring water infused with CO2 to the near scalding jet bath and main onsen, both of which use the aforementioned Ranong mineral water. There’s also a semi open-air garden bath that the old Japanese gents like to have a good chinwag around, a couple of steam rooms and a cold bath to sink into when you’re feeling the heat.
How did we feel after an hour or of soaking and steaming? Glowing, relaxed and super clean. If someone rubbed you with chamois leather after a session here you would squeak. But there’s a spiritually cleansing and even social dimension to bathing here too. Free of the attire, noise and accoutrements of modern life, the bathhouse is a peaceful, almost meditative realm where the barriers come down, mental clutter disappears and speech is kept to hushed whispers. The Japanese even have an expression for the totally legit form of bonding that goes on here, hadaka no tsukiai , or naked communion.
Once you’ve soaked until you can soak no more, you’re free to head out and explore Yunomori’s extras at your leisure. Rest assured, there’s no need to put your clothes back on just yet. Guests flit between the on-site izakaya, the bar serving chilled Asahi, beauty salon and Gastro 1/6, the
café by Bo and Dylan of Thai restaurant Bo.lan fame, while dressed in yukata, a colourful summer variation on the kimono. Though we looked more Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai (i.e. awkward) than Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo (i.e. cool), it’s a fetching garment that you can even buy if you become attached to it.
The above are all fairly standard features at super sentōs in Japan. However, according to Smith, Yunomori does one thing different: combines Japanese bathing culture with Thai massage culture. “The spa element is a common element in Japan too but there you’ll only find two or three treatment beds because the prices are so expensive,” he says. “Here we have a very cheap deal on spa prices.” He’s right: currently they’re offering an all-day onsen and one hour Thai massage package for B690 – a bargain when you consider that the massage alone can set you back almost as much, and you can hang loose here all day. No wonder droves of salarymen and slightly more reserved Thais are already peeling off here.
Yunomori Onsen & Spa
Rear of A Square, Sukhumvit 26 | 02-259-5778 | facebook.com/yunomorionsen | Prices: onsen only B450; onsen + 1 hr Thai or foot massage B690; onsen + 90 min aroma body massage B1090 until end of Oct.