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HAMMAM: Bathing the Turkish Way

They say that apart from it’s food and scenic places, another way of best experiencing Turkey is by getting the traditional Turkish bath or the so-called hammam.  I’ve heard friends here talk about it and the way hammams done – the real, traditional, authentic way – is too much for my conservative Filipina side. I just could not imagine myself almost fully naked in front of several other random women while I get rubbed and scrubbed and turned over like some (cute) jiggly animal.

So when I joined my husband to a mission in Istanbul about a month earlier, I was glad to learn that the hotel we were staying at had a spa that offered hammam. I checked the place together with one of my husband’s officemates and learned that I could get to have the entire area to myself since they only had two therapists – one for men, another for women. That being the case, I booked myself for a 90-minute session, 30 minutes exclusively for hammam and 60 minutes for Swedish massage.

It’s funny how I felt so excited on the day of my booked schedule! Three hours after I had my brunch (you can’t do hammam while on a full stomach,pregnant, or if you suffer from hypertension), I went to the spa and was greeted by my friendly Indonesian therapist named Dani. I felt so much more at ease knowing that the one who’d take care of me was a fellow Asian woman who, by the way, spoke really good English, Turkish, and Russian. Dani said that she’s been working as a hammam/massage therapist in Turkey for 5 years already and that she learned to speak Russian after working in a Russian-owned spa in Antalya, Turkey for 3 years.

Anyway, Dani led me to the changing room with lockers and handed me a disposable lower undergarment. She said I couldn’t bring my phone with me inside the hammam area as it may get damaged from the heat, moisten, or get dropped in the water. After complying with everything she told me, I went straight to the hammam area made of marble. It looked so elegant that the probinsyana in me felt posh just standing there (haha!) The entire area was already very warm, much like how a sauna room would feel like.

Gorgeous Hamam place! Photo credits to the hotel's website
Gorgeous Hammam place! The marble at the center is used for couples getting hammam, while the one you can see at the smaller room is used for solo clients like me. (Photo taken from the hotel’s website)

Dani then led me to the smaller hot marble bed and had me lie on my back.The heat of the bed was tolerable, it’s pretty much how you’d feel if you lie on a concrete bench late in the afternoon after it’s been earlier exposed to the sun’s heat. What shocked me was when Dani started pouring hot water on me! Akala ko may balak si Ate na sunugin yung balat ko! I told her it was so hot but she dismissed my complaint and said that I’d get used to the heat. Totoo nga, it didn’t feel as hot on the next four to five pours. In fact, it felt therapeutic. Dani explained that the hot water, combined with the heat of the entire area, opened my pores which will allow better cleansing as soon as she starts scrubbing. ‘It’s not your ordinary bath scrub’ sabi ni Ate. As I’ve already experienced body scrubs in the Philippines and because I scrub myself daily in the bath, I did not really believe Dani could do more than simple scrubbing.

That is how the place looks like once the hot water starts pouring. (Photo taken from the hotel’s website)

Dani started scrubbing my legs, all the way up to my arms. The kese or bath scrub really felt like sandpaper was being rubbed on my skin. Medyo mahapdi at first but quite amazingly, it does not scratch the skin. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep. Dani only woke me up when it was time for scrubbing my back. I rolled over and to my surprise Dani said in her strong Indonesian accent – “Oh, you’re big.” Gusto ko sana ma-offend eh but my body was feeling so good and relaxed that I simply laughed it off. I fell asleep again and Dani woke me up whilst scrubbing my arm to show me the amount of dead skin (para medyo sosyal) she got off me. “Look at this”, tuwang-tuwang sabi ni Ate. Dani was right, you can never get that kind of scrubbing and cleansing elsewhere but the hammam.

After all the scrubbing, Dani soaked me in a cloud of lather and started to lightly massage my entire body. I thought it was already the Swedish massage part of the package pero hindi pa pala. She also shampooed and rinsed my hair before asking me to stand up and move to the corner beside a basin with running cold water (see photo below). Dani asked me to sit and began to rinse me from head to toe. It reminded me of a mother rinsing her child. That’s how it felt since I didn’t really get to do anything, I just let her do all the work. What a wonderful way to experience bathing!

Post-hamam with my Indonesian 'therapist' -Dani
Post-hammam with my Indonesian ‘therapist’ Dani

After all the rinsing, Dani bought me to the cooling room to relax and drink some hot tea while she prepared the massage room. I won’t get to the details of the massage anymore since we have that too in the Philippines, even better.  All I know is that I felt so clean and smooth after the entire experience. Definitely something I will never, ever forget and regret doing while in Turkey.

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