The day I got unexpectedly naked and was ceremoniously bathed, Turkish style

My first activity was a solo ride in this, a Thai longboat, along Dubai's coastline
My first activity was a solo ride in this, a Thai longboat, along Dubai’s coastline

I landed in Dubai, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived at 6am, then checked in to the Anantara, then took a traditional Thai longboat for an hour-long spin along the coastline, all alone, but for the captain.

There were mega yachts, and there were honed men slicing through the waves on jet skis, and there were cranes and building works along the shore.

But none of it was hectic. Everything here seems so polished and quiet. 

My view from the longboat
My view from the longboat 
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Dubai is very much still being built…
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Quite colourful, as skyscrapers go…

Then I had a Turkish Hammam at the hotel spa, which was a first.

When I turned up at the ludicrously beautiful venue, I assumed it would be a sort of massage, but was surprised to find that it’s actually a very odd traditional bath.

A bath, you say?

First of all, I was robbed of my clothing, handed a bath robe and banished to the ‘relaxation room’ – which is just a dim chamber with a lounger and nothing else.

I am weird in what I find scary.

I don’t flinch at the prospect of throwing my entire life up into the air on a regular basis (quit job, move country, become homeless, etc.) just to see where it will all land, but put me in a room with no stimuli, just my own thoughts, and you’ve got yourself a twitcher. 

The Turkish Hamman chamber at the Anantara. You lie on that heated marble slab in the middle and then get washed
The Turkish Hamman chamber at the Anantara. You lie on that heated marble slab in the middle and then get washed

I didn’t like the relaxation room, therefore, because the only stimuli I had on me was my hotel room key card.

So I read the address on the back lots of times and memorised it, thus giving my high-maintenance brain something to do other than leap down the rabbit hole (Shouldn’t you be married by now? Shouldn’t you maybe have a credit score? You drink too much wine! What happens if you wait too long to have children? Your nose is manly! etc.)

But then it was all ok because a matronly Turkish woman came in and led me upstairs to the Hamman room, which is a beautiful, dome-ceilinged, marble-surfaced oasis of calm.

She told me to get stark naked, which always feels a bit weird, and lie down on one of the heated marble ledges, which was spread with a blanket.

Then she took a copper jug full of almost-searingly hot water, and poured it repeatedly over my head. Then scrubbed my entire body. Then soaped. Then repeated. Then washed my hair. Then conditioned it. 

Beautiful setting for a very old tradition
Beautiful setting for a very old tradition

At first, this was all very weird. Just me, naked, in this big grand chamber, and just her, washing me in the manner of a dog, or a small child.

But then I got over the weirdness and found the whole thing to be very blissful.

The Turks have been doing it for thousands of years. It used to be a ceremonial privilege reserved only for the royals. Eventually it caught on elsewhere, and the rest is history. 

The Turkish Hamman ritual used to be a ceremonial privilege reserved only for the royals, who would be bathed by slaves
The Turkish Hamman ritual used to be a ceremonial privilege reserved only for the royals, who would be bathed by slaves

So there I was, in what I promise you was the most deeply relaxed state I’ve ever found myself, lying face-up on this heat-radiating marble, gazing at the rich blue dome above me, feeling like an empty shell; and every time this woman poured another sheet of warm water over me, it felt like molten plastic filling in all the gaps between my bones. 

At the end, I was banished again – squeaky clean – into the relaxation room. Except this time, I lasted a full 7-8 minutes just lying there like a starfish before I started worrying about marriage and my credit score.

Then I left the Turkish shrine and popped over to the Far East for dinner, in the form of an on-site restaurant called Mekong. Told you this place was confusing and surreal. 

Mekong, where the food is a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai
Mekong, where the food is a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai

The lights at Mekong are red and very dim, which is my favourite sort of light, the whole place is adorned with rich silks and statues, and the food there is sublime.

I particular liked the Miang Kham, which is an assortment of raw ingredients chopped up very small –  garlic, shallots, spicy chilli peppers, toasted coconut, crushed peanuts, lime, ginger –  which you wrap in an edible bite-sized leaf and munch. 

And then I went back to my enormous bed and fell into a very deep, much-needed slumber.

Tomorrow, a desert safari… 


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