We have no shortage of luxurious spa treatments or even day spas in Singapore, but somehow, we've just never had a full-fledged hot spring facility.
Until Yunomori Onsen & Spa opened recently at the Kallang Wave Mall.
It's considerably large with a spacious 16,000 sq ft space, and a total of 11 onsen pools - 5 in the women's section and 6 in the men's. Just like Korea's jjimjilbangs (public bath houses), Yunomori is designed to be a day spa destination where you can lounge around all day ─ soaking in the different pools, enjoying a therapeutic massage, and catching some shut-eye.
PRICE AND HOW IT WORKS
You pay an entry fee ($38/adult, $28 for customers of age 15 and below, or age 65 and above) which lets you use the pools as much as you like for the day.
The onsen pools are segregated by sex, and located within the locker rooms. So no, you can't book private or family onsen pools.
Of course, you can top up for spa treatments too, but I'm really pleased that it's possible to have a great time without paying for anything more than the entry fee.
The fee is quite comprehensive, really. There are no hidden charges for towels or toiletries, or to use the hairdryer ─ basic things that I've taken for granted but was shocked to ask to pay for at some facilities overesas.
Since it's not advisable to soak in the hot springs for too long, you can always take a break at the lounge (more on that later) to nap or read a book, before heading back to the pools again. There's complimentary cold hojicha tea at the cafe too.
THE LOCKER ROOM
Upon entry, you'll be given a towel and your choice of yukata from a selection of pretty patterns. That comes in useful when you want to head out for a massage treatment, get some food at the cafe, or nua at the lounge.
You'll also be asked if you are comfortable going commando, or if you'd like a set of disposable underwear. There's really no pressure either way, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the disaposable underwear were actually quite flattering for all types of figures! They're black with a knit-like weave and resemble a bandeau-style bikini set; a far, far cry from the cringe-worthy undies that some spas provide.
And of course, for the self-conscious ones, it's quite a relief that there's one less body image issue to grapple with.
The receptionists at the locker room are very friendly and will gladly brief you on what to do if it's your first visit to an onsen.
Major kudos goes to them for keeping the space spick and span ─ they're constantly vacuuming and mopping, which explains why the locker rooms are so clean in spite of the high traffic.
The lockers are reasonably large, but if you've got an oversized tote stuffed in, there isn't much space to really hang your clothes, so if you've got important work appointments afterwards, you'll need to plan your attire to something more wrinkle-friendly!
There's a poster in each locker on how to tie the obi sash around the yukata but if like me, you can't figure it out, the receptionist will be more than happy to help.
Still, for onsen newbies, entering the locker room is a little like diving right into the deep end.
Although there is a toilet, the two cubicles are always occupied so you might as well forget about changing out in privacy. Most people just end up changing in front of the lockers, and you'll also spot people returning to the locker room from the baths in all their naked glory. So uh, just a heads up.
Before you step in, you'll need to wash up thoroughly at the bathing area. It's set up just like in Japanese onsens: There are open "stalls" for you to sit down and get scrubbing with.
The shampoo, conditioner and shower gel provided are from a Thai spa label called Puri Alchemy, and I appreciated that they were gentle enough on my skin. What I particularly loved was that the temperature and on-off switch for the shower head were kept separate. It's a small detail, but one that makes Yunomori feel that much more luxe.
There are a total of five pools for women: bubble bath, soda spa, jet bath, silk bath, and cold bath. The men have all that and one additioan pool - the hot bath, which goes up to 44 deg C.
At 38.4 deg C, the soda spa was the most first dip-friendly as the comparatively lower temperature makes it easier for your body to acclimatise than the other warmer pools.
The soda spa is touted as having a high concentration of carbon dioxide, which is purported as beneficial for blood circulation.
The silk bath gets it frothy look from jets of hydrogen-containing micro bubble, which is believed to relax muscles and improve skin elasticity.
The jet bath delivers that jacuzzi-like experience, and you can recline in it too while soothing sore muscles.
I'd say the cold bath is strictly for the brave ─ I couldn't get past dipping my toes ─ but the steam room is quite lovely, both in terms of the design (it's all gleaming white with mosaic tiles like a Turkish hammam!) and the therapeutic benefits.
It's set at 43 deg C, which turned out to be surprisingly more comfortable than expected. You do need squint your eyes a bit, but once you've settled in, you really start to feel your tense muscles loosening up and the sinuses clearing up. It also feels extra shiok when you step out for a breather.
Do remember to drink up regularly ─ there's a water cooler between the locker room and the shower area ─ to keep yourself hydrated.
It's also not advisable to spend more than 20-30min in the baths. You can always change out and rest in the lounge for a while before returning to the onsen.
THE MASSAGE TREATMENTS
The massage treatments here take on a Thai bent. Prices start from $38 for a 30-minute foot massage, or head-and-shoulders massage.
There are two full body massages: Traditional Thai Massage, which starts from $88 for a 60-minute session,; and Aroma Therapy Body Massage which starts at $138, also for an hour.
You can sign up for a session at the main counter near the entrance, and they'll even flash your number on the TV inside the onsen area, so you don't have to worry about missing your appointment.
Before your treatment, you'll be asked to indicate on an illustrated figure, the areas you want your therapist to focus on. No misunderstandings with this one!
The rooms are sparse but cosy, and very clean - just like everywhere else at Yunomori.
For my aromatherapy treatment, I was given a handful of essential oils to sniff and select. Thanks to the combination of quality time in the hot spring my therapist's deft strokes, I slipped off into dreamland pretty quickly!
One really important thing to note is that you cannot return to the onsen after an aromatherapy or foot massage, as the oils used may contaminate the baths.
If you're thinking of the massage as an interlude between your onsen soaking sessions, opt for the Traditional Thai Massage instead.
The cafe at the spa offers a Japanese-inspired menu, with items like hamburger steak, katsu don and udon. The prices were so reasonable for a spa I was skeptical about the food quality, hence I was quite surprised that my order of a tempura soba set was more than decent. Prices for mains generally hover between $15-$20.
You can also choose to just hang out at the cafe without ordering anything, which is perfect, because the generous amount of soft, natural sunlight makes for a rather uplifting ambience to just sit and chilled.
And if you need internet access, well, there's free Wifi for all Yunomori customers.
Alternatively, you can get really comfortable inside the lounge area, sinking into the wide chaise lounges to get your forty winks or to snuggle under your personal blanket with a good book. It's meant to be a quiet zone, so mobile phones and chatter are discouraged!
Even if you can only spare about 2 to 3 hours, the day pass is incredibly affordable and really quite worth it for restoring some balance back to your mind and body. You'll sleep so much better after a soak in the hot springs! Go alone for some me-time (perfect way to clear leave!) or get together with the girls for a relaxing catchup date.
#02-17/18 1 Stadium Place, tel: 6386-4126. Open daily, 10am-11pm. www.yunomorionsen.com