When visiting Turkey there is one experience not to be missed – the Turkish Bath (the hamam).
I admit it. I’m a self confessed hamam junkie – I go at least every two months to have my skin ex-foliated, soaped and oiled. There is something so unique about the hamam – I’ve never felt so sparkling clean and relaxed. I’ve tried hamams in Istanbul, Fethiye, Antalya, Damascus and Selcuk. I’ve had interesting experiences like having the hamam attendants break out into operatic musical, sharing a hamam with a nude Hollywood celebrity and I’ve survived the greatest error of taking a hamam with Turkish men in a country town – so I have learnt a thing or two about what to expect and what not to expect since my first hamam many domes and scrubs ago.
Here’s my guide to enjoy one of the best tourist attractions in Turkey.
1) Most hamams have separate male and female baths, whilst others are unisex. Find a hamam that will suit you. If you’re unsure, always ask the reception if the attendant will be a male or female so you know how to ‘dress’ (or not).
2) Hamams can be over 600 years old, with bathing methods just as old. Don’t expect modern staff uniforms – underwear or towels are it. For the ladies, female attendants are often topless and hanging low so don’t expect a glamorous attendant like your day spa back home.
3) Hamams were once where business deals were made and mothers sought wives for their sons by checking out the goods of local girls. Bathing is therefore for all ages, shapes and sizes. Leave body hang ups at the door – the hamam is quite a liberating experience if you allow it to be.
4) Bring a hairbrush and anything else you use after bathing. Hairdryers are available. If you use your underwear in the hamam be sure to bring a dry spare…the tram ride home commando style could be awkward!
5) On arrival, you will be given a locker, a scrubbing glove, tokens for your treatment and a towel. Make sure you lock your belongings and (if provided) take the key with you.
6) Wear what is comfortable for you under your towel – bathers, underwear or nudity is acceptable. Some hamams like Çemberlitas will provide underwear which everyone wears.
7) Enter the hamam wrapped in a towel and wear slippers provided to avoid slipping in the wet.
8) Be prepared, the hamam is warm, so before lying on the dais, drink water to hydrate and pour water on yourself.
9) Take your time. Lie on the dais for 10 – 20 minutes. An attendant will gesture you for your scrub, but it’s ok to tell them to wait if you want to relax longer.
10) The hamam will usually include a 10 minute scrub with splashings of water, followed by a lathering of soap and bubbles combined with a massage for about 10 minutes – finishing with a wash down. You can exit the hamam sparkling clean and radiant in your own time. If you purchase additional treatments you will be shown where to go next.
If you’re a resident of Turkey, ask your favourite hamam about memberships – there are significant savings for us locals. Relax and enjoy!