Opening at the end of August, Yunomori Onsen and Spa is the first of its kind to offer a sento (Japanese public bath) in Thailand. It seemed busy enough when I visited _ patrons dressed in yukata walking around the lobby, which indicated a healthy demand for soothing hydrotherapy in Bangkok.
The water temperature varies from 37C to 42C so enter the pool carefully.
Smith Mekaroonkamol has been working on this urban onsen project for the past three years.
"I visited onsens or natural hot springs in various regions of Japan and found Tokyo had many such spots where you can sort of escape from the bustling cosmopolitan city," he said. "Soaking in onsens is a part of daily life for the Japanese people, and we want to offer an authentic onsen experience here in the heart of Bangkok."
Located in A Square, Sukhumvit Soi 26, Yunomori (meaning hot water in the garden) is housed in a two-storey building, the first floor featuring onsen facilities, a beauty clinic, a Japanese restaurant and a cafe, while the second floor is dedicated to the spa.
The minimalist interior design has pinewood as the main material, with the wood forming an "infinite" pattern, which according to Smith, promotes relaxation.
"We want Yunomori to be a hangout where people can relax after work," he said. "After soaking in onsen, you may feel a bit tired. So you can relax in the Japanese garden, have a drink at the cafe or dine at the restaurant."
Separate areas for men and women allow each gender to enjoy the onsen experience in its traditional way _ naked. However, disposable underwear is available for female customers shy of being seen in their birthday suits.
The washing area with small stools, typical of a Japanese public bath.
Washing the body thoroughly is required before using the baths, and you have to slowly get into the water as the temperature varies from 37C to 42C.
The onsen contains water from hot springs in Ranong, believed to have healing power and health benefits.
"There are actually many hot springs in Thailand, and the most famous one is in Ranong," he said.
"The water comes from Thailand but operations follow strict Japanese standard under the supervision of a Japanese company to ensure the cleanliness of the water and facilities. And we need to maintain a high standard since many of our customers, who are Japanese, have high expectation of our onsen." Another Thai hydrotherapy is the herbal aromatic teak bath infused with organic fresh herbs and flowers that release a lovely aroma as you sink into the teak tub.
Smith also invested in a machine to make artificial carbonated water for the soda spa therapy, which is based on the belief that carbon dioxide stimulates blood circulation, hence rendering health and beauty benefits.
Following the popular soda therapy in hair salons in Japan, Yunomori also offers a soda shower to give yourself the fizzy hair and scalp treatment.
Bigger bubbles await at the jacuzzi, where you can lie to relieve stress as the air jet stream does the massaging of the whole body.
Another onsen option is the so-called sleeping bath, which are stone slabs at a slight incline with a headrest. As the water is a few centimetres high, the bath does not cover your body.
Another design has the water flowing down the stone and running through your back.
Chilled at 17-19C, the cold bath is typically used for cooling down after a sauna.
"You can try all the baths and alternate the hot baths with the cold bath.
"There's no rule really on using the onsen facilities but of course you have to abide by the bathing etiquette," emphasised Smith.
The onsen entrance fee for the use of all baths, sauna and steam room costs 450 baht whereas spa treatments range from 350-1,000 baht.
Open from 10.30am till midnight, Yunomori Onsen and Spa is located in A Square, Sukhumvit Soi 26. For more information call 02-259-5778 or visit www.yunomorionsen.com.
The minimalist interior design of a spa treatment room.
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- Writer: Kanokporn Chanasongkram