Visiting a bathhouse might seem an odd pastime to a westerner whose hygiene routine probably centres around showering in the comfort of their own home, but a visit to a hamam offers a whole other dimension of cleanliness. From the steam, to the all-over loofah scrub followed by pails of hot water poured over your body then a soapy massage on hot marble, the entire experience is designed to loosen and wash away layers of dirt and dead skin that you never knew you had. For days after our visit, my skin remained baby soft, silky smooth and visibly glowing with life.
2. Inhibitions will be lost (like it or not)
Modesty is not something generally practiced at the Hamam, with the majority of women stripping to their bikini bottoms or covering up with the aid of the thin towels provided. Westerners seem to fall into two camps – those valiantly embracing the nudity or those shrinking into the corners (no easy feat in a circular room) in swimsuits and bikinis. Fact is, you may not have much of a choice, as I realized when my bath attendant plucked loose the strings of my swimsuit and swiped it down past my navel in one fail swoop. Sometimes there’s no room for argument and you’ve just got to go with the flow.
3. Bubble baths are not just for kids
Lying naked on a slab of hot marble as the bath attendants fill up a pillowcase with soapsuds and swoosh it dramatically from side to side before dumping an enormous cloud of bubbles on your chest is a somewhat bizarre experience. Thankfully, bubbles not only make for a gloriously slippery massage but they are a whole lot of fun. As the attendant pummel loose the knots from your body, the bubbles fizz, pop and slide over your skin. If you close your eyes and imagine that you are not lying naked and soapy on a raised podium in front of a dozen other women, the experience may well be quite relaxing.
4. You’ll sleep like a baby
Turkish baths are not just about scrubbing clean and cleansing the body, they also serve the same purpose as a western spa – relaxation and rejuvenation. From facemasks to wax treatments to hair washing, almost everything is available at a Hamam somewhere. For the majority, an oil massage in addition to the regular bath, offers a post-cleanse rub down to sooth the hardiest of bathers. The only problem is attempting to rouse yourself from your oil-induced stupor and dress yourself afterwards.
5. It’s the only way to socialize
Traditionally Hamams are important social centers for Turks, a meeting place for friends and neighbors where one can not only enjoy the benefits of the bath itself, but also indulge in some gossip. As such, tea is generally served at most Hamams and even the shyest of westerners can’t help but laugh as the Tellaks (the bath attendants) slap and pinch at your naked skin and babble in Turkish and English, demanding to know why you do not have a boyfriend. Far from the quiet sanctuary of a western-style spa, the Hamam is bubbling with as much life as it is soap and, like it or not, you’ll be unable to opt out of participating in the fun.