At the recommendation of several friends, we decided to check out a hamam to get a Turkish bath on our first day in Istanbul.
This is how one friend described the experience: “If you’re comfortable getting naked and having old ladies touch you, go to the hamam and get a Turkish bath. That was the worst sell ever, but it’s great.”
I hate nudity. I hate being naked. I hate looking at naked people. I just want everyone to keep their clothes on.
But everyone has talked about this hamam so I felt we had to check it out.
Istanbul is unbelievably hot and sticky so by the time we reached the bath house, I was ready for a bath!
We got changed into just our underwear and they gave us sandals to wear into the bath house.
Side note – women are allowed in the hamam at one time and men another. No co-ed here. At least not at the one we went to.
First a Turkish woman had us sit down and poured warm water all over us. She literally just dumped giant buckets of water over our heads while we sat there in our underwear.
Next we laid on a large, warm stone in the middle of the room for about 30 minutes. This part was amazing as our backs have been pretty sore from carrying our 25+ pound backpacks.
Then it was time for the real bath. A giant Turkish woman named Charlela (Yeah, I’m definitely not spelling that right) brought me over to a stone step next to a sink.
Charlela started dumping more buckets of water over me. She then got out an exfoliating glove and scrubbed the dead skin off my entire body. This was pretty nice as I’ve been peeling a lot from getting burned in Hvar!
But let me remind you, all of this is going on in a room with about 10 other women in it and I’m just in my underwear.
She’s sweating so bad from scrubbing me I’m not sure if it’s my sweat I’m tasting running down my upper lip or Charlela’s. She was panting so hard I almost told her she could stop. Thank god someone brought her an ice water.
Charlela got a soapy towel and squeezed lavender scented bubbles all over me. I was so covered in bubbles I could barely see the rest of the room. I was starting to think I was going to suffocate from soap bubbles when Charlela started washing me.
Before running water, hamams were apparently very popular. Now that people have their own showers and baths, the Turkish bath isn’t really needed so it’s more of a tourist attraction these days.
It was awkward. She massaged my back and my scalp and it felt very nice but I’m just uncomfortable with being touched so I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I probably should have.
She then dumped more buckets of water over me to get the soap off. I got so much soap and water in my eyes I couldn’t open them so I never knew when the next bucket was coming. I was gasping for air but I didn’t want to offend Charlela so I just stood there and took it.
I did feel incredibly clean at the end and I smelled great! My skin felt so fresh and light! We had been traveling for about 15 hours straight from Mykonos so this was a great way to relax and get clean. Even though my American, WASPy self found it a little uncomfortable.
After the bath, we laid on huge, plush couches in a lounge area. I found our first day in Istanbul to be a little overwhelming since we are literally staying in the ghetto and we stick out so much, so it was very relaxing to just sit back, sip a coffee, smell the lavender and feel comfortable.
Then the best part of the day happened. A woman approached Chelsea and I and said two masseuses were open for 25 minute massages if we were interested. We looked at each other and almost jumped over the railing to say yes. We were prepared to continue our pampering session.
I’ve never had a massage before and I always thought I’d hate it since I hate being touched but it was actually very relaxing! I think I almost fell asleep in there. And the masseuse got all the knots out of my back that my backpack had left. This was definitely worth the splurge.
So I can officially say I’ve had a Turkish bath. It was definitely an experience and although it’s not really a “local” thing to do anymore, the bath houses themselves are beautiful so I would say it’s worth it.