I really enjoy public bathing. It’s an unexpected hobby (I guess you could call it a hobby?) I acquired during my time in Japan. Sento and onsen are my absolute jam. It’s certainly not that I’m a closet exhibitionist or anything, I just love the ritual of it all.
So I was thrilled to discover there is a similar concept in the Middle East called the hammam – better known as a Turkish bath. You can find the real deal in Turkey and Morocco, but for a more luxurious take on the tradition, you simply need to head to one of Dubai’s five-star hotel spas.
My first hammam experience took place at the JW Marriott Marquis – the tallest hotel in the world. It was dubbed the “Golden Hammam”, as part of the treatment involved having your body massaged with pure gold-infused oil. Classic Dubai.
I was given some disposable undies and a robe to protect my modesty, and guided to a private hammam room. It looked like the lair of an exceptionally clean villain; all low-lighting and stone surfaces and gushing water features.
A lovely lady wearing a weightlifter-style unitard started by lathering me up with a grainy black soap. I am both prudish and ticklish, so this was not my dream scenario. If you’re accustomed to Japanese-style baths, which are very much a DIY situation, pay heed: Hammams involve someone else washing you.
Once I was adequately sudsy, it was time to visit the steam room next door. I was left to lie on a marble slab and instructed to “make sweat”. This was relaxing until I started panicking about what would happen if my hammam lady slipped on a puddle and knocked herself out, and nobody would know where to find me and I would be trapped in there, naked and sweaty, forever. Because that’s how my mind works.
Thankfully, the lady returned (unharmed) to fetch me 15 minutes later, and led me back to the safety of the wash room, where the main event – the ruthless scrub down – took place. You have not been properly clean until you’ve heard your skin groaning in resistance to an exfoliating mitt. At one point, I glanced at my arm and was delighted/horrified to find it was covered in ribbons of dead skin, like little bits of potato peel.
To help my raw bod recover from its sloughing, the lady slathered me in a gold clay body mask, and a face mask of golden Arabian honey (they’ve really committed to the gold theme). This was all gently rinsed off with ladles of warm water. Finally, I was whisked away to another treatment room for my 24-karat massage. I was sort of hoping the overall effect would be like the golden corpse in Goldfinger. It wasn’t, but it definitely gave my skin a nice sheen.
I’m not entirely sure my Golden Hammam is what you would encounter in the communal baths of Turkey and Morocco… but it was an undeniably Dubai experience. Squeaky clean, with a side of bling.