Foreign Fingers Part 3: Turkish Bath in Istanbul
Even if you’re not into health stuff, going to a Turkish bath is one of those things you can’t leave Istanbul without doing. So if you ARE into health (and by health, I mean letting strangers put their fingers all over your body) a Turkish bath is a no-brainer if you’re in town for more than 5 minutes. There are tons of baths, or hamams all over the city, so I was thankful to have an actual recommendation from someone who actually lives here.
What: 1 to 3 hour “Full Package” Turkish Bath Experience
Where: Aga Hamami in Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighborhood
Cost: 110 Turkish Lira (about $41)
According to a pamphlet in the lobby, Aga Hamami was the first mixed Turkish bath in Istanbul. That means that unlike other traditional bath houses, men and women can hang out together in a communal bathing area before the getting-naked part. I went on a Wednesday morning, so I was just there mixing awkwardly with myself. But given the language barrier and my general tourist-shame, this was probably for the best.
What went down at the bath?
I selected my package from a no-frills menu in a no-frills binder. Per my recommendation, I opted for the “Full package” because as you may have noticed, I AM A BALLER. I left my stuff in a locker-room type place, then proceeded (wearing bikini and towel) to the mixed bathing area. What I’d imagined as a full-immersion pool was actually just a large marble room where you dump buckets of warm water on yourself. I laid on a warm marble slab under a gorgeous old sky-lit dome and tried FOR THE BILLIONTH TIME to get that song Istanbul-not-Constantinople out of my head. After 15 minutes, I went to the steam room, which was also marble and old-worldy. I hung out here until a lady led me to the private scrubbing area where I laid naked, face-down on a marble slab while she gave me a full-body exfoliating scrub, foam bath, and shampoo. This was pretty intimate but also pretty awesome. After this, I sat in the lobby wrapped in towels and waited for another lady to take me 3 flights up to the oil massage room. Again I de-toweled, then got a full-body (back and front!) massage while Italian opera music and chirping birds echoed magically through the 5-story Ottoman-era atrium. Note: If the thought of a stranger massaging your boobs is unappealing, maybe get a different package. After the oil massage she applied a clay face mask and sent me back down to the lobby where I chilled and drank tea on pillows while a feral cat with bloody eye-holes scampered around. When my mask was dry, I washed it off myself in a no-frills bathroom (no TP!!) and after more tea and more chilling, I was finally ready to jam.
Worth it? Yes. This was a very cool experience that felt nice, was relatively affordable, and seemed pretty authentic. If you go, be aware that this is not the Four Seasons, and if you go with a group, you may be waiting a long time for everyone to get all the things done, since I’m pretty sure only 2 people work here. You can read an article about the top 10 hamams in the city here.