While spending time in Turkey, I discovered the joy of visiting the hamam, the Turkish bath. Yes, women can go to Turkish baths too. I had lots of questions about what you do and how it all works before the first time I went, so I wanted to write a simple how-to on going to the hamam.
I found one hamam that I like the best, and found it on recommendation from others who have lived in Turkey for a while. If you are traveling, most hotels will either have their own hamam or can recommend one for you. The attendants often do not speak English, but I have never had a problem pantomiming or explaining what I want.
Most hamams are segregated into separate sections for women and men, others are open for women during certain hours and for men during others. There are even a few I have heard of that are co-ed, but I don’t recommend going to those if you can help it. I can’t think of anything less relaxing than trying to make sure I’m completely covered while getting a scrub in front of a bunch of strange men…
There isn’t really a large bath (as in a tub) at the hamam. Instead, think of the hamam as a large sauna, with an optional scrub and massage at the end of your stay. I recommend you bring: a bikini (I don’t know what men wear), shampoo, soap/body wash, a bottle of water and any toiletries or clothes you will want afterward. You can also bring your own scubbie (kese) if you would like, or you can purchase one at the hamam.
Here’s how it works at the hamam I like, but others may be different. Upon entering the hamam, you will first stop at the desk and let them know what you want in terms of service. To simply use the hamam it is about 20TL, this means you get to sit in the hot room and lounge at your leisure. I usually also get the massage as well, which is an extra 10TL, which means an all-over body scrub followed by a massage usually using soap or body wash and a shampoo. The scrub removes all the dead skin, and makes your skin incredibly soft.
Once you’ve picked out what you want, you’ll be shown to a place to change, usually this is a small room with a lock and key. (I put the key on my water bottle so I can take it with me.) Then you disrobe; I wear only a bikini bottom and cover up with the towel that the hamam provides. After changing I bring my kese, body wash, shampoo and bottle of water with me.
The first “stop” will be the hot room, which is a room that is much warmer than the others. The air will be humid and hot, and the purpose is to make you sweat. You will also be given a small bowl with which to pour water over yourself. The water will help to soften you skin, and prep you for the scrub. I hang up my towel during this portion, and sit there topless, but wear what makes you comfortable. (Probably about half the women are topless, the others wear bikinis. I have seen very very few women completely naked.) At some point, if you have asked for a massage, one of the attendants will come and ask if you’re ready. Sometimes I go right away, but other times I will wait a bit still soaking up the heat, and then go find the attendant once I’m ready.
Your attendant will have you lay down on a heated marble table, and then will start the scrub. Feel free to speak up if it’s too rough or hurts! I’ve never had a problem, but I’ve heard horror stories of people getting their skin rubbed raw. The scrub is done using your own kese (if you brought or bought one) or the hamam’s, and for this part they will not use soap. The kese gets dunked in warm water in order to soften it and the attendant will scrub you all over, and you will be amazed how much dead skin and dirt it removes. After a complete rinse, then the attendant will start the massage and wash.
In my experience, the massage is rather soapy. I bring my own body wash with me, and the attendant is rather liberal with it. After washing my body, she washes my hair, and then it is another rinse. After the massage you can either sit in the hot room again, or have a cool rinse and be done. After you leave the bath area, there is often a lobby where you can sit and drink tea or water and chat with the other patrons. Once you’re ready, you can go back to your changing room, change back into your clothes.
I love going to the hamam, and I always leave feeling so relaxed and wishing I could spend all day there. If you have any questions feel free to ask! I hope if you ever travel to Turkey, you have the chance to try the hamam too!