What do a luxury wellness resort and Anthony Bourdain splayed out on a marble slab being pounded by a Uzbekistani man have in common? Not much other than it explains my (unfounded) expectations from a Thai hammam spa treatment in Phuket, Thailand.
What is a Hammam Spa Treatment
My knowledge of traditional hammam treatments is pretty slim. I’ve seen some of the very traditional treatments on travel TV shows, like that scene with Anthony Bourdain that is etched in my brain. Bourdain was, well, near tortured, on a hot, wet slab, in Uzbekistan. His therapist twisted him into pretzel, while his friend watched.
When traveling in Istanbul several years ago, I passed on exploring the hammam scene because I was a little intimidated by the notion. A hammam is a Turkish bath. It is inspired by the traditional Roman baths. Whereas Roman baths focused on the use of steam, Turkish baths focus on the use of water. And, a hammam spa gets wet. Very wet.
The only hammam I’ve experienced was one at a luxury hotel in Dubai. At the Palace Downtown Dubai a few years ago, I was placed on a warm stone table, and was hosed and scrubbed until I was ready to pass out. I was alone in the hammam, just me an the therapist. It was a unique experience, and I have always wanted to try it again. It was pleasant, and wet, and relaxing.
Once I heard there was a Thai hammam spa at Amatara Phuket, I was indeed intrigued.
What is a Luxury Thai Hammam Spa
The Thai hammam spa at Amatara took things one step further than my experience at The Palace Downtown Dubai. The hammam space itself is simply lovely. The spa treatment walks through over a half a dozen individual steps, from sauna to rain shower to Thai herbal steam. The next step includes the hammam treatment itself, where we were scrubbed within an inch of our lives with Moroccan black soap.
The treatment continued with an icy cool down, a mud mask, and ultimately ended with a relaxing rest in a Himalayan salt cave. Although the salt cave was relaxing, it was preceded with a mud treatment where every inch of our bodies were covered in healing mud. Yes, pretty much, every inch.
All total, the treatment took almost two hours, and was followed up with a 60 minute aromatherapy massage. It was totally different from what Bourdain experienced in Uzbekistan, and a lot more thorough than what I experienced in Dubai.
What to Expect From a Thai Hammam Spa
The Thai hammam spa is different than other spa treatments at a wellness resort. It is so different that on the in-room informational iPad at Amatara Phuket there was a several page long document explaining how the hammam works. First off, there are set times each week when the hammam spa treatment is offered.
Generally, up to six people can do the treatment at one time, and it is separated by sex. That is the experience we were signed up for. I could have potentially been in the room with four or five other women. We needed to adjust our schedule, though, so the spa manager scheduled our Thai hammam for our last full day in Phuket. To work with our time restrictions, the spa manager offered us a private, couples Thai hammam spa. This service costs a little more, but I think it would be worth it. Not only was it more fun to experience this with Eric, but it took away the uncomfortability (is that word?) of enjoying the treatment with strange women.
As for modesty, this is not a treatment for people who don’t feel comfortable being undressed. Both of our therapists were women. Eric received a pair of men’s spa panties and was offered a sarong to, well, keep it all in. I was offered a g-string version of spa panties, and a small tube top, which, well, did not keep it all in. I’ve gotten pretty used to this sort of thing, as modesty was not a concept when we received a lot of our massage treatments in Bali. Particularly for women, it all sort of, well, hangs out there. Enough said.
I also would not recommend the Thai hammam spa for people who do not like the heat. I enjoy a sauna or steam room now and then. Even so, the heat during the first hour or so of the treatment was pretty intense. I survived the sauna, although towards the end I moved closer to the door, and away from the steam.
I did not make it through the steam room, which was particularly hot. At one point, I escaped the steam and my therapist hosed me down with cool water to chill me a bit, and sent me back in. During the treatment on the heated Bulgarian stone, towards the end I was a bit overheated, even though the therapist hosed me down a few times with cool water.
After the scrub, the therapist handed me a bowl of shaved ice. I’ve never been more happy to place ice all over my body. I don’t like the cold, but this felt amazing. And, I placed it all over my body.
Overall, the Thai hammam spa experience was simply amazing, and entirely unique. But, there are these certain expectations to be aware of. In the end, I am really happy I had this hammam experience, and I would recommend it for sure!
Heading to Phuket?
What to do in Phuket: Go for a Thai yoga massage!
Find more Thai food tips in our Southeast Asia food travel guide.
We were supported by Amatara Phuket during our wellness retreat, but all opinions are, as always, my own. Room rates start at $230 a night and luxury wellness retreats start at $645 a night. The 165 minute Thai hammam spa, along with the 60 minute massage after, costs $220.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.