Read, Write, Run, Roam

Just the facts, Ha’mam: Navigating a Turkish Bath


While planning this second trip to Istanbul, there was one activity I knew I’d repeat: a brutal punishment beauty treatment at a hamam, or Turkish bath. Though I wrote about my hamam experience in November, I didn’t include much information about what to expect. Here are the ins and outs of getting tubbed and scrubbed.

Discern: Where should I experience a Turkish bath? Answer: I dunno. (Look how helpful this post is already!) I’ve only been to one, so I can’t offer much of an educated opinion. However, our tour guide noted that Cemberlitas, my hamam of choice, is the place a newbie might feel most comfortable. It’s also pretty pricey, but there are ways around that. See below.

coed hamams seem…voyeuristic

Dudes: Are men in there? Answer: it depends on the hamam. There are some mixed-gender baths, but that’s not traditional. Bathing suits are required for mixed baths. In a traditional hammam, the attendants and visitors are the same gender, and no bathing suit is required.

Divestment: No bathing suit…do I have to be naked? What if I’m a nevernude? Answer: No worries, I don’t know if you can be naked. Cemberlitas visitors (who sign up for the kese, at least) are given new underwear to wear in the chamber, a fresh kese (scrubber), and  a peştemal, a thin cloth that is used as a wrap. How much women want to cover up with the wrap is up to them. You can also wear a bikini bottom or entire bathing suit. Keep in mind that few people wear suits, and the keseci/torturer will stretch it out as she works her magic. Denim shorts are probably discouraged, though.

Details: What’ the deal? Answer: Sit in the main chamber and steam. A keseci will then motion you over to her “station” on the pedastal. She’ll direct your movements while scrubbing you with a kese, a slightly softer Brillo pad. It won’t hurt but it will feel like you’re getting rubbed with an extremely cheap towel by an angry person. Afterward, the keseci will rinse you off and wash you with a foamy soap bag. Then the keseci should drape you in towels and lead you to a place to sit. This doesn’t happen at the women’s chamber in Cemberlitas, but it does in the men’s area. It’s like Nordstrom: the guys are treated like kings. Unfair.

Dollars: How can I save money? Answer: If the hamam is empty, bargain for a lower price. That probably won’t work at Cemberlitas, so bring your own beauty products and kese to scrub yourself. Keses are sold at the hammam or stores for $5-20, depending on the material. Soak and start scrubbing. If it’s your first visit, I recommend a keseci. Only then will you learn how hard you can scrub your skin without crying.

The Dirty: How can I look like a local/disguise a germ phobia at the hammam? Answer: Bring your own flip flops, kese, pestemal, bikini bottom and beauty products. In fact, if you have any skin allergies, bring your own liquid soap and shampoo. Pack a hairbrush and personal hairdryer if you’re going at peak hours. The two hairdryers provided are not enough for the Saturday night crowd. While non-RHOB readers wander out with wet hair, you’ll look like a member of a Turkish harem. In a good way.

Despite the Turkish influences in Belgrade, no baths exist in the White City today. Since there are no future trips to Turkey on the horizon, I’ll have to recreate this experience with a strong loofah and a masochistic spirit. So if you see a half-peeling housewife wandering around Belgrade, be sure to say hello!

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