If you are visiting Turkey, it is definitely worth having the very enjoyable experience to go to a hamam. Especially Istanbul is known for its Turkish baths. First you need to decide whether you want to visit a historical hamam or a hotel Turkish bath. Next, upon entering the establishment, you’ll be given the choice of bathing yourself or receiving a scrub, or massage.
Usually the options are:
Self-Service — you bathe yourself and bring your own soap, shampoo and towel. This is obviously the cheapest option.
Traditional Style — pick this one if you want the real Turkish bath experience. An attendant will wash and massage you.
or additional extras — this one consists of the above mentioned traditional style body scrub and massage, but also includes an oil massage treatment and is more expensive.
Regardless of the service you chose, you are allowed to use the facilities as long as you wish.
Once you have made your choice you will find yourself in a dressing room, or camekan, which is surrounded by private cubicles where you dress. After removing all your clothing and being wrapped the cotton cloth around you (sarong style like a skirt) you are ready to go.
Turkish saunas are not very hot, but nicely steamy. In the shower rooms you can wear a bathing suit, or shower naked – whichever you prefer. In traditional hamams you will find separate sections for men and women, and the washers are of the same sex as the bathers. In hamams intended more for tourists, such as those found in hotels, men and women bathe together. In these mixed-sex hamams bathers always wear swimming suits.
Bath Procedure in a Turkish Bath
You’re taken to a warm, humid room with a raised stone platform (goebektas) in the center, surrounded by bathing alcoves, in pretty coloured quartz tiles. The washer spreads a towel on to a warm bench, where the bather rests lying down for about twenty minutes and be sure you will work up a sweat.
The attendant, dressed in a bathing suit, then leads you to one of the basins, and you’re scrubbed cleaner than you ever have been. First the front, then the back. A coarse mitt is used to remove layers of dead skin, then comes the soap and then a lacy cloth, like an icing bag, and blows through it to create bubbles so you’re covered from head to toe with white frothy bubbles.
Next, you are doused in warm water again and my attendant disappeared. This is to allow me to clean my private areas myself. Total nudity is fine, but some women wear underwear.
Massage after Bathing
For the massage you go back to the stone platform, and it might be a bit rougher than a traditional Swedish massage. The massager gives a good kneading to your calf muscles, goes carefully through the length of your spine, massages your scalp and gives a relaxing treatment to fingers and toes.
After resting, it is time to head back to the cubicle to get dressed. Although a scrub and massage generally takes an hour and a half, you can take as much time as you need.
Not everyone is keen for the real Turkish bath experience and to struggle with communicating what you would like. At some tourist hammams, cleanliness and privacy during the bath procedure can be an issue. I would always chose a traditional place favoured by local residents. Typically they are not as shiny and sparkly as the ones meant for travellers, but with the authentice feel most likely the real experience.
In hamams attended mainly by locals the staff might not speak any English, but that doesn’t matter. Probably located slightly outside the tourist areas locals are usually glad to help a traveller find a traditional hamam, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Photo Credits Rafael Gomez - http://micamara.es via Compfight cc
TURKISH BATH via Sevincardenpark cc
Turkish bath (hamam) in Instanbul (Turkey) via Acaro cc