The Turkish Hamam Experience

After two weeks in Turkey it was time to try out the hamam. Matthias, leader of the Coworking Camp we’re currently attending is a big advocate of the resort hamam and massage area so Barry and I thought we’d give it a try.

There are no pictures. A wet room when you’re half naked is not the best place for a camera. I’ll do my best with a thousand words to convey the experience instead.

This is also a tourist resort hamam. I’m not sure how it would compare to local bath houses. Timings are also approximate (again, wet places not good for phones and I don’t have a watch.), it’s just a nice way to break up the text without pictures.

Sunday, 17:30

After a walk in the nearby National Park, Barry and I arrive at the hotel, Majesty Mirage Resort, hamam. I’m looking forward to getting all the dead skin rubbed off, having soft feet and possibly being beaten up by a Turkish masseuse.

We’re given slippers in place of our outdoor shoes and are shown to the changing rooms where we strip down to our bathing suits and wrap ourselves in a checked cotton cloth. The slippers are really bedroom slippers and I immediately slip on the damp floor. Luckily, I don’t fall flat on my arse.

17:35

We’re taken to the sauna to relax before our hamam treatment. It’s pretty hot, and only half filled with other guests. We sit and sweat for awhile. After about 10 minutes, Barry takes a break from the heat. I follow two minutes later. Back in the sauna, we keep sweating and chat to some German tourists.

18:00

A young, Turkish woman collects Barry and I from the sauna and leads us to the hamam room. It’s a stone room, warm and steamy. There is a stone bench running along all the walls, interspersed with stone basins dispensing hot and cold water. In the middle of a room is a large stone slab. The most surprising part is that Barry is in the hands of the Turkish woman and I am taken care of by the Turkish man. I’m not sure if this is usual or a tourist resort thing. If it’s normal, it’s the only place I’ve been where a man would touch a woman in a bathhouse and vice versa.

We lay both lay down on our backs, face up, on the stone slap, Barry’s feet are disturbingly close to my face.

The bath man (I’m sure there’s a better title, but let’s just call him that), uses a small metal bowl to douse me in warm water. He’s gentle as he rinses my hair. He then takes an exfoliating mit and starts scrubbing the skin off my face (gently), neck, arms, stomach, legs (more roughly). He scrubs my feet and between my toes. More water is sloshed over me.

I roll over, rest my forehead on my hands and the scrubbing treatment continues from my neck down to my feet. I can feel myself sloshing around in the water underneath me on the stone slab. The scrubbing feels amazing on the mosquito bites on the backs of my legs. I can’t see it but presumably the dead skin falls away. There’s not as much scrubbing on my rough, calloused feet as I would like but I lie back and enjoy it. More water. It’s poured gently over my face, and thrown on my legs.

The bath man indicates that I should roll back over on to my back. Next comes the washing part. I take a peek and it looks like suds are worked up in a pillow case. The pillow case is then waved over me and I’m engulfed in suds. It’s a Kylie Minogue I Should Be So Lucky moment, but without the bath tub part. The soap suds are rubbed in with a very light, barely find a muscle, massage.

The bath man throws more warm water on me and tells me to roll over. I am enveloped in a cloud of suds again. There are so many suds I can almost feel the weight of them. It’s like a duvet and soap. Light massage again. More water is thrown.

I am helped off the stone slab and water is thrown over me while I sit on the stone bench next to the stone basin. I stand and more water is thrown. When I’m clean, the bath man hands me the small metal dish, filled with cold water. He points at Barry and I understand what I must do.

Barry is standing at a nearby basin, still having soap suds washed off him. I understand that the cold water is supposed to be shocking but as Barry doesn’t really like the heat and almost melted in the sauna, I know he’s going to like this. I throw the water at him. He fakes being shocked by it and we all laugh.

The bath man then warps me in a towel and even wraps my hair. It’s odd having someone else wrap a towel around you and tuck it in. Barry and I are led to the relaxation area by the pool and given water.

18:40

Our Turkish bath people return to collect us for a massage. The head of the hamam tells Barry’s lady that she should give Barry a medical massage. As I drift past I hear ‘aromatherapy’. My brain whispers, ‘Wait, aromatherapy? No, I’d rather…’ but my brain is too dazed and relaxed to protest.

The bath man leads me to the massage room and I decide to just go with it, even though I wanted to be practically beaten up and have the knots worked out of my shoulders and calves. Oh well. I lie face down on the massage table and I receive and pleasant, if not satisfying full body oil aromatherapy massage. The technique is good (no Khmer massage here) but I do wish I had spoken up for a harder massage.

19:10

The bath man helps me off the table and leads me back to the massage area. Now it’s time for a facemask. He paints green clay on my face. Again, it’s a bit odd watching and feeling a man delicately paint my face. Barry receives the same treatment. I’m sure he thinks it’s pointless but he looks funny as a green man and I’m sure his skin will be glowing. Barry tells me his massage was quite good which is high praise from him. We are given tea. I drink Barry’s as well as mine. We lie back and relax.

19:30

Barry decides to go swimming. I decide to keep the oil on my skin for as long as possible. My skin has been dry and itchy in the hard water since we arrived. As we move the hamam manager tells us it’s time to wash off the green. We head to the changing rooms to shower.

19:40

When I come out the lights are off and we remember that the hamam closes around this time. No swimming for Barry.

I expected the hamam treatment to be rougher, or at least firm. As we’re not sure if this is a tourist thing or a traditional thing, it looks like we’ll have to have another go.

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