If you have never been to a Hamam before, you might feel nervous about going. Maybe you have read some reviews telling you about crazy experiences, maybe you’ve heard scary tales from friends or maybe you haven’t even looked at any reviews yet and all you wanted is a simple how-to instruction for Turkish baths, but now this blog post is making you nervous. In that case, we apologize. Here’s our little introduction into Hamams.
Most importantly: Will I be naked?
Yes, yes you will be. However, each Turkish bath has either two sections, one for ladies and one for the gents or it admits each gender at different times. When you go to Cemberlitas in Istanbul (feel free to check out our 3 day itinerary for Istanbul), which is what we have done, the cashier will provide a little undergarment for you if you’re a lady, whereas men go completely bare. You’re supposed to undress in the changing room. From there you can grab a bath-wrap and go back to the main area from which the staff will lead you your way into the steam room.
What turkish bath and what kind of service should I choose?
In Istanbul you have a huge choice of Turkish baths. Upon recommendation from our tour guide and our hotel, we have opted to go to Cemberlitas, Sahil had a great experience and I did too in principle, with the exception that the facemask (bonus token) at the end was applied by a very sick staff member who was coughing so much that she ended up transmitting me her cold. Maybe next time we would try a different bath house. If you go to Cemberlitas pick either the traditional style hamam (scrub and wash) or the luxury package (additional massage at the end)
What do I need to do before I go?
Read this article, check! You should also leave all of your precious belongings and all of your extra cash in your hotel, because you never know and it’s better to be safe. Also arriving clean and having showered before is just appropriate towards the staff. Don’t apply make-up, because you will be drenched in water.
What’s the step-by-step process? (at Cemberlitas)
You go to the cashier, get a scrub and undergarment, walk to the changing cabinet, where you undress and lock everything in your locker. You then take a pair of sandals, the scrub and your locker key and walk down again. A lady will lead you your way into the steam room. There, you will lie on a hot stone for around 15 minutes. After that a naked lady will enter and scrub and wash you with bubble blankets (that’s how it feels like) and buckets of water. Finally you can keep toasting in the steam room until you’re fed up or have collected enough skin burns (the stone is super hot!) for you to make a move.
When should I go?
We went on Sunday morning just after opening times and we would absolutely recommend it. In some of the reviews we have read that people were hurried out by the staff or that their scrubs were super short. Personally, we have experienced quite the opposite on the Sunday which could also have something to do with the fact that we were the only ones there. Also, the staff was all fresh and not yet overworked which probably looks different around midnight, which is when they close.
Will it hurt?
If you’re not used to it then the marble of the Hamam will probably be quite painful at first. You can signal this to the staff however and they will either throw buckets of water at you (don’t be surprised, this is the experience you’re coming here for) or lead you to a different spot. You can always step out for a bit and ask for some drinking water. If it’s really unbearable for you, you can always shorten the amount of time you want to lie in the steam room. Still, we were surprised about the burned skin that both of us showed for the following days.
Do I need to tip?
Another thing you will read in the reviews is that people got harassed by staff and forced into tipping. Sahil did experience something similar when he was straightaway asked for a tip whereas I was not approached at all and did not leave a tip. If you are satisfied with your experience, feel free to tip but if you weren’t then it’s not necessary to tip. This is what we have learned from a local. If you want to tip, then 10 to 20% is sufficient.
Is it worth it?
Yes, definitely! Simply because it is such a unique experience and so integral to Turkish culture. Also, going to a Hamam in Istanbul or Turkey in general will probably be a lot cheaper than the Hamam in your home country, so go for it! Whether you enjoy it or not, it will definitely be an interesting experience. Feel free to share with us! We’ll be curious to hear! 🙂