I confess that I’m a hammam addict. It has become a ritual for me that I must go to a hammam whenever I’m in Turkey. On my recent trip to Istanbul, I had one of my best spa treatments at the luxurious CHI, The Spa in the grand Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey.
CHI is located at Basement 3 of the hotel and is only accessible via a private lift. The spa reception is serene and calm which is unlike the ostentatious hotel lobby.
Lobby of CHI, The Spa, Istanbul, Turkey
As usual, I was asked to fill in a health questionnaire before my treatment. After completing the form, I was led into the men’s changing room by the spa’s female receptionist. I was rather shocked when she actually went into the changing room with much ease. Maybe it was because there was no one in the changing room. But I didn’t feel comfortable with it especially when it’s not uncommon for men to walk around naked in the changing room. Nevertheless, I got changed and went to use the steam room and sauna before my scheduled appointment.
My tellak or male masseur, Cenk, who is 35 this year, has more than 15 years’ experience under his belt. In true authentic hammam treatment, you are covered only in a piece of cloth, which at some point, will be removed by the tellak. But he should protect your modesty. I was glad that throughout the entire treatment, Cenk was able to make me comfortable without feeling awkward.
Reception Area at CHI, The Spa, Istanbul, Turkey
After resting in the steam room for about 5 minutes, Cenk brought me into the hot room and made me lay almost totally naked on a heated marble platform. He started scrubbing my entire body with a soft loofah to exfoliate the dead skin. I could feel my skin getting smoother by the second. He then next worked up lots of lather with a scented soap, which reminded me very much of a catnip plant, to cover my entire body. Cenk then followed up with a firm body massage. By then, I was in cloud nine. His firm strokes removed the tension and pressure knots in my body. I specially told him my problematic areas before the hammam and he addressed all of them.
Hot Room in CHI, The Spa
After a 45-minute hammam, Cenk led me to a resting area while he prepared a room for my next round of treatment, the CHI Balance massage. The CHI massage is a relaxing massage where the therapist uses acupressure techniques to release tension in the body. It was one of the best massages that I’ve ever had. Frankly, I wished I had requested for a 90-minute treatment instead of 60 minutes.
Traditional water flask and marble basin
As I made my way back to the changing room after the massage, I saw a female therapist leading a foreign male customer into the hot room. I was shocked because as far as I understand, hammam is performed by a therapist who is of the same gender as the customer. I felt rather insulted when female staff was allowed to walk in the men’s shower area so freely. And when I asked the receptionist, she told me that some male customers are not comfortable to have a tellak to do the hammam for them. This is why they broke the tradition.
Personally, men who want to experience the hammam shouldn’t be so uptight about having another man to scrub their bodies. Hammam is a cleansing ritual and was never a sexual activity. I hate it when foreigners do not respect the local tradition and culture.
Resting area in CHI, The Spa, Istanbul, Turkey
As much as I really enjoyed the hammam and massage, I was disappointed that CHI Spa has compromised its position and failed to provide a truly authentic hammam experience. To me, it’s just a good spa but it lacks the communal experience that often found in traditional hammams.
CHI, The Spa
Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey
Hayrettin İskelesi Sk, 34353 Istanbul, Turkey
Tel: +90 212 275 8888