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Before I went to Morocco, I had no idea what a hammam was, let alone whether I should try a hammam for men in Marrakech.

What is a Hammam for Men

I confess I may have thought of a Muslim harem when someone first mentioned the word “hammam.” A harem is the part of the household dedicated to women, while a hammam is a Moroccan spa. Although women can partake in a hammam, they were actually designed for men.

As I arrived in Marrakech, I quickly got the impression that they were all for women. All over the city were luxury spas offering top-notch pampering. One famous establishment in town advertised their basic hammam for 250 Moroccan dirhams ($26) and had other packages for as much as 450 dirhams $47, depending on how many scrubs and massages you wanted with your hammam.

Hammam Mouassine Packages

Apparently, there are two very different types of hammams. Simply put, one is for tourists and the other is for locals. The tourist ones are more like a spa where you have someone else washing you, scrubbing you and perhaps giving you a massage. The local version is almost the opposite.

An authentic hammam is just a bathhouse for the locals to clean off the dirt and grime invariably accumulated after traveling through the desert. Usually the locals bring their own soap, but the hammam can provide it too. The biggest difference is the price. While tourist hammams charge $20-$50, the locals only have to pay 10 dirhams ($1) to use the hammam.

As a trained massage therapist, I love to experience different massages and spas around the world. But I didn’t want to go over budget in Morocco, especially when I had several locals telling me how cheap a real hammam was.

So I set out to find an authentic hammam for men in Marrakech. I was actually given a recommendation from my tour guide on my Marrakech walking tour. When I followed up on it, I found the location to be an acceptable suggestion.

Getting an (Almost) Authentic Hammam in Marrakech

A couple days before it was time to leave Morocco, I made my way to Hammam Mouassine, no small task when you have to navigate through the rat warren of streets that comprise the Marrakech Medina. Hammam Mouassine was established in 1562, and is a hammam just for men. It’s certainly not luxury in any sense of the word. In fact, a casual glance of the exterior might even put you off from wanting to visit at all.

I went in, still not really having any idea of what to expect. Inside was a small reception area with some towels and cubbies for storing your stuff. The manager showed me the menu. Their basic hammam package was 150 dirhams ($16), and there were a few different massages and scrubs to choose from. I wanted to try the Moroccan massage package for 300, but I hadn’t brought enough money with me. I pulled out what I had and asked if I could get a special deal. The manager barely hesitated before he accepted my money and directed me to the changing room.

One thing I had heard about the hammams is that you’re fully naked. I’d even had some blogger friends tell me stories of rather uncomfortable experiences about fully stripping in front of strangers. Thankfully it turned out that this was not always the case. In the fancier spas, they usually have private rooms for each person, although you still have the masseur or masseuse observing you in your birthday suit.

Thankfully, I was given a pair of shorts to wear. My clothes and sandals went into a basket which I was told would be returned to me later (I was a little concerned that my passport was in the pocket of my shorts, but nothing was taken). After donning my trunks, I was led into the first room of the hammam.

While the outside of the hammam is unassuming, the interior is even more so. It looks like it hasn’t been renovated since its construction in 1562. The bare, nondescript shower rooms have undressed stone walls and concrete stained with an ancient patina on the floor.

Hammam Mouassine Bath Room

I was directed to sit on a thin yoga-style mat on the ground. A few minutes later, a local came in. He filled up a couple buckets from one of the taps lining the wall, and then slowly poured one over me. The water was hot, but not scalding. He then used a thick soap to wash my entire body (well, not quite everything; he thankfully avoided the shorts). I had my eyes closed against all the suds that were running out of my hair, so I didn’t get to see what kind of soap it was. It felt slimy.

This was followed by more buckets of water to wash away all the soap. Next was the scrub. Some sort of clay or exfoliating substance (I still had my eyes closed) was ruthlessly rubbed all over my skin. It was certainly a rough treatment, but I knew it was getting rid of all the dead skin and I had no problem with it. However, the last action was a final bucket of water dumped over my head. I don’t mind water thrown at my head, but that one was ice cold! A couple more buckets of cold water were poured over me to get rid of the scrub and I was directed into the next room.

There are only two rooms (that I saw) at the Hammam Mouassine. The second is apparently the steam room, which also has water faucets around the room for filling up more buckets. But my cleaning was over. I was directed to lay down on another mat, which I did for several minutes. Then another man came in and gave me what was apparently a Moroccan massage.

Hammam Mouassine Shower Room

It was amazing. I can only describe it as a combination of a deep-tissue sports massage and the assisted yoga stretching of a Thai massage. For several minutes (I really lost time with that one), he pounded and twisted all the tension out of my body. By the end, although a little unsteady, I was completely relaxed.

The best part of the experience was how professional every member of the staff were. Despite all the horror stories I had heard, I was never made to feel uncomfortable, either with nudity or in any of the actions of my…umm…manservants – or whatever the right term should be. Obviously the decor is nothing impressive, but the experience was amazing and something I would very much enjoy doing again.

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Inside a Hammam for Men Pin

Further Reading

Headed to Morocco? Here are my other articles about my first 12-day adventure in the country.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Edinburgh has hundreds of hotels, B&Bs and hostels to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to find a good one. In my search to find where friends can stay during their visit to Edinburgh, I ran across the Village Hotel and Spa next to the prestigious Fettes College (think Hogwarts). Between a wonderfully comfortable room, great view, delicious Sunday Carvery and spa treatment, I can’t recommend them enough.

I went one weekend with a friend from out of town to enjoy the hotel, and then back again a couple weeks later to try out the Sunday Carvery and spa treatment. Here’s what I think about the experience.

Village Hotel Sunday Carvery

Village Hotel and Spa

There are 29 Village Hotels across the UK. More than just a hotel, each Village Hotel has a spa and fitness center, a fine dining restaurant and facilities for weddings. The decorations are modern and artistic, and the service has good attention to detail. I particularly liked the location of Edinburgh’s Village Spa. It’s close enough to the city center to be walkable, and far enough away to be out of the hectic, touristy part of the city.

If you like Harry Potter, Fettes College (pronounced Fetties) is one of the inspirations for Hogwarts, and possibly one of the most beautiful schools I’ve personally seen. Just a mile away from the hotel are the Royal Botanic Gardens, and a mile in another direction is Dean Village. These 19th-century buildings and forest surrounding the Water of Leith near the center of town look like they were pulled right out of a Lord of the Rings elven kingdom.

Dean Village

Within the hotel, a modern reception with a live receptionist greets customers. Am I the only one who doesn’t particularly enjoy the fully-automated check-ins at hotels? Anyway, just off the reception is the business lounge which often has locals working alongside guests, while the other side of reception has a fancy Starbucks. I personally won’t ever touch Starbucks again, but the seating is quite nice and as a guest of the hotel, you don’t have to buy a drink there to use the seats.

The hotel has several floors, which is great as the view gets even better the higher up you go. One side of the hotel looks out across the Forth of Firth to Fife (try saying that five times fast), while the other side of the building looks out to the Pentlands (which had a beautiful layer of snow during my visit there). A handful of their rooms are labeled “Upper Deck” or Club Rooms and offer all the usual amenities plus some bonus features including an espresso maker, spa products and access to the fitness center.

Village Hotel View

The room itself was very nice. There were comfortable sheets, which oddly seems to be missing from some hotels these days. Why is everyone using the cheap, scratchy sheets? It took me a bit to realize that the giant clock on the wall was for decoration purposes only. As no room is perfect, I found that only one side of the bed had power outlets, and the selection of pillows was a bit limited. There were two large, square decorative pillows and two thin head pillows for two people. Beyond that, there wasn’t a lot in the room to find fault with.

The bathroom was particularly nice and had one of those big overhead showerheads that feels more like rain than a shower. Soap and shampoo were provided (although no conditioner) and I was really happy to find that their mirror had the integrated heating technology which prevents steam from condensing on the glass. Gotta love modern technology.

Village Hotel Bathroom

Buffet Breakfast and Sunday Carvery

The Verve Grill is the restaurant at the Village Hotel. Morning is a full Scottish breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans) served buffet style. The quality isn’t as good as a cafe cooking each plate separately, but it’s better than most breakfast buffets I’ve been to in Scotland. I particularly liked the greek yogurt cups topped with granola or fresh berries. There were also warm croissants and Pain au chocolat for those with more of a sweet tooth (I had two).

Village Hotel Breakfast

I felt a little funny when the manager mentioned the Sunday Carvery, and I had to ask what it was. Seems it’s basically the same as a Sunday Roast. I certainly couldn’t resist a four-course Scottish dinner. We started with delicious summer squash soup. The second course was a plate of prosciutto (thinly-sliced ham), smoked mackerel and pork pie, accompanied with small cups of salmon salad and a shrimp cocktail.

Village Hotel Carvery Buffet

The main course started with a choice of roast beef, turkey or ham (I chose all three). On the side are piggies in a blanket (bacon-wrapped mini-sausages), grilled vegetables, steamed cauliflower and cheese (replaced with stuffing balls when I went as the snow wreaked havoc on deliveries) and Yorkshire pudding. For dessert, there were small cups of lemon meringue pie and chocolate pudding.

Village Hotel Breakfast

A two-scoop ice cream sundae was included with the carvery as the final course. I heaped on the M&Ms and chocolate covered raisins with a bit of raspberry sauce. Suffice to say, I was completely stuffed by the end of the meal, and totally ready to relax in a spa treatment.

Selfie with Dessert at Sunday Carvery

Massage Treatment at the ESPA

I certainly couldn’t pass up the chance to try out the spa. ESPA offers a variety of treatments, including facials, various massage therapies and other beautification services (mostly for women, but I like a mani-pedi too!). For our treatment, we chose back, neck and shoulder massages. I had Sarah as my massage therapist, and (as a massage therapist myself) I can say she really knew her stuff. She delivered an ESPA massage, more of a Swedish technique (kneading with oil) than the Thai deep tissue that I deliver. Suffice to say, I was thoroughly relaxed by the end of the massage, and only wished it had lasted more than just half an hour.

Selfie at ESPA

There is also a large fitness center and pool which I didn’t have time to use, but I have other friends in town who have a membership and love the facilities.

Booking with Village Hotel Edinburgh

There were other services at the Village Hotel that didn’t really apply to me but would be valuable to other travelers, including a large, free parking lot and comfortable bar. If you’re planning to visit in the summer, make sure you book far in advance, as every hotel in Edinburgh gets fully booked weeks in advance due to the International Fringe Festival (the world’s largest art festival).

Village Hotel Bar

  • Location: 140 Crewe Rd S, Edinburgh EH4 2NY
  • Hours: Open 24-hours a day, with someone always at reception to assist. Starbucks and Verve Grill hours vary.
  • Prices: Start at around £65 a night but deals are often available, especially for holidays and special occasions. Recently there was a great special for Easter (unfortunately already sold out).
  • Phone: (+44) 0131 297 7111
  • Website: Village Hotels

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Village Hotel Pin

Activities in Edinburgh

You can’t spend all your time at the Village Hotel when you visit Edinburgh. Here are some other activities to fill your day.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

If you like beautiful scenery, few tourists, a hippie culture and off-the-beaten-path attractions, Pai is the place for you. Hot springs, waterfalls, caves and Pai Canyon are just some of the attractions available.

My brother and I went up to Pai for Christmas 2016. Renting scooters from Mango Bikes in Chiang Mai, we were able to complete the 140 km ride in a little under 3 hours, and on a single tank of gas. As a warning, please only attempt this journey if you have previous experience on a scooter or motorcycle, and you’re fully sober. A huge percentage of the tourists who attempt the ride have accidents. It doesn’t even have to be your fault either. I had less than half a second to swerve around an oncoming truck in my lane while going around a corner in the mountains at high speed. If you don’t have experience, bus tickets are as low as 140 baht. Then you can rent a scooter in Pai with the same admonition.

There are plenty of activities to choose from. Many have a price tag of 1000-2000 baht. These include rafting trips, bareback elephant rides (ecotourist friendly), and tours to the waterfalls, caves, hot springs and canyon. With our scooters, we decided to create our own tour.

Sai Ngam Hot Springs

There are two main hot springs near Pai. The more famous one is the Tha Pai hot springs, which have a series of pools. The entrance fee there is 200 baht. While I didn’t go to that one, I was told the top pool is 80°C, hot enough to boil an egg. There are then a series of lower pools, each with a cooler temperature.

The other option is the Sai Ngam hot springs.

With a couple friends from the hostel, we went to the less-touristy Sai Ngam hot springs. These are located 15 km north of Pai (about a 30 minute ride). There are two meager fees to pay. The first is just off the main highway. The Lom Nam Pai Wildlife Sanctuary (in which the hot springs are located) has an entrance fee of 20 baht for the scooter and 20 baht per person. Then there is an additional 20 baht fee for the hot springs themselves when you arrive.

Sai Ngam Hot Springs

There are a couple pools at the Sai Ngam hot springs, but nearly everyone congregates in the large pool at the top. When I say everyone, there were less than couple dozen people there, and half of those were locals. I’d say the water is around 40°C, although it’s not consistent throughout the pool. Whatever the temperature was, it was certainly relaxing. We just sat there for hours, soaking up the warmth and minerals. Later, a couple cute little Thai kids jumped off logs into the water without really being a distraction.

Austin at the Hot Springs

In fact, we enjoyed the water so much that we kinda lost track of time. We had planned to go spelunking in the Tham Lot cave, but after driving halfway there, it became clear that it would be long after sunset before we returned to Pai. None of us wanted to be driving on the cold mountain roads in the dark.

Pai Canyon

Instead, we decided to make it down to the Pai canyon for sunset. That was easier said than done, since we’d made it pretty far north, and would really have had to haul ass to make it back in time.

But make it we did!

Sunset was scheduled that night for 5:46 PM. We pulled into the parking lot at 5:40 and then had to run uphill for a couple minutes to reach the lookout. When we reached the top, I discovered the rush was more than worth it.

Okay, maybe the Pai Canyon isn’t as impressive as the Grand Canyon, or any canyon for that matter. The location basically has very narrow trails atop sandstone formations running through the forest. But we really lucked into a gorgeous sunset.

Pai Canyon

I’m also an adventure junkie, and running along the narrow paths in sandals with sheer drops to either side was wonderful. I would have loved to spend a full day traversing the numerous trails, and I plan to do so some weekend while I’m teaching English in Chiang Mai.

Narrow Trails of Pai Canyon

On the way back, we stopped at Coffee in Love, a top attraction to visit in Pai. Unfortunately, we got there just moments after they closed! So that’s still on the bucket list too.

The next day, we explored a mysterious waterfall, but I’ll mention that tomorrow in the next post. Stay tuned.

Bath, England was one of the first locations I visited in my travels. Last week I returned to do the activities I missed in my last trip, namely a visit to the Thermae Spa. What a luxurious experience!

Thermae Spa is a unique experience, up there with the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (at the top of my bucket list). The waters are fed by the thermal springs beneath the city of Bath, from which the town gets its name. For nearly 3000 years, the waters from the hot springs have been used for curative purposes. With 42 different minerals in the water, there’s probably some truth as to its efficacy. But that’s getting into the details of the spa, which I already wrote about here.

 

Thermae Bath Spa
Photo Credit: Thermae Bath Spa

 

My own interest in Bath started many years ago, when I saw a photo of it on someone’s bucket list. Oddly enough, the town doesn’t look anything like what I remember of that photo, but I’m not complaining. In my original visit in February 2015, I took the local bus in from Bristol and spent the morning on the walking tour. After the tour, I walked around the town with Lynda (the second traveler I met in my journeys) and saw the places the tour mentioned but didn’t visit. At the time, I stopped by the Thermae Spa and grabbed one of their leaflets, deciding someday I would go back to enjoy the baths.

Fast forward to December 2016. Not much in the town has changed. The temperature is about the same as I remember – freezing! At least this time it wasn’t raining like it was last time, but the lack of clouds did make it a couple degrees colder. The one thing that was different was the large Christmas Market surrounding the Bath Abbey. I recently published an article on the Edinburgh Christmas Market for another site, and I have to say that while the market in Bath is a tad smaller, there were some things I really liked about it. First of all, it wasn’t as crowded. There were several more individual stalls, rather than copy and paste company stalls, and a lot more samples to try as well. Best of all, there was a Chai tea stall serving the best Chai I’ve had outside of Asia.

Chai Tea at Bath Christmas Market

While the tea was nice, it was far from the highlight of this trip. I was invited for a tour of the Thermae Spa, followed by luxuriating in the pools and saunas for a couple hours.

I was met by Mary and Sam, who gave me a tour of the facilities. Unfortunately the Hot Bath had a private therapy session in it, but the rest was impressive enough for me. I got to see the exclusive Cross Bath, the Minerva Bath and the Rooftop Pool. Mary was very helpful with all the information about the construction of the spa, its history, etc. From what I’ve found in my travels to compare it to, this is definitely a world-class spa. The state-of-the-art facilities are on par with those at the Blue Lagoon. Perhaps the only drawback was the unisex changing and shower facilities, due to the lack of space in which to build. However, the areas still provide plenty of privacy, and this is a spa after all. If you’re worried about seeing some skin, you shouldn’t be going to a pool!

Rooftop Pool at Dusk
Thermae Bath Spa, Photography © Matt Cardy 2006, used with permission

After getting the tour, I changed into my trunks and head straight for the Rooftop Pool. As you know, I like extremes, such as the sauna in Sweden and swimming in the Baltic Sea. Thus the idea of a thermal pool outside in the freezing weather, with a stunning view of Bath and the surrounding countryside, appealed to me greatly. It was with great reluctance that I finally pulled myself out of the waters and head to the next floor down, where the saunas were located.

There are four saunas, each with a different oil infused in the steam. My favorite was the eucalyptus and menthol, and the other three were lemongrass, lotus and sandalwood. I was also fond of the sandalwood, only because the door sealed better and it was significantly hotter. I might have found a pod without anyone else in it, and snapped a selfie, but don’t tell anyone or show anyone the picture, since it’s not allowed in the spa. After all, you can’t really tell it’s me through all the steam. Update: The four saunas have been replaced by the Wellness Suite.

Selfie in Thermae Spa Sauna

Then it was down to the Minerva Bath on the ground floor, where I stayed under the water jet for some time getting a neck massage. That pool has a circular current you can ride while floating on pool spaghetti, and it was some time before I moved on from that. But I did, and it was back up to the roof to repeat the cycle again. In truth I could have spent the whole day there, but it was getting late and I had already lost an hour just trying to find parking.

Minerva Bath
Photo credit: Thermae Bath Spa

As a warning to anyone else headed to Bath during the holiday season, don’t arrive right when you’re tour begins. Parking is a nightmare, and the main parking lot was closed when I went. The other parking lot would only take coins, which I didn’t have, and had to run to three different shops before I found one who would give me change. Ah well, at least it was worth it.

By the time I finished my visit, it was already getting late. The sun doesn’t stay up too long in the UK in winter, and I only had a bit of time to see the Christmas Market and a couple other landmarks I wanted to see again. It was also nice to get some better pictures with my Samsung S7 phone, which is infinitely better than the Canon Powershot I was using last year when I came.

Avon River Panorama

One last point of interest was lunch. Last year, I was directed to get a Cornish pastie, and this time I went back to the same shop. The meat pies were just as good as I remembered, which is saying something since I’ve now got two years of sampling different cuisines under my belt. Yep, traveling doesn’t get any less spectacular the farther I go, only more so.

Selfie Eating Cornish Pastie

While there are so many more places in the world I want to visit, I have to say I still plan to return to Bath again someday, at least one more time. For one thing, I want to see Bristol again which is just down the road. And I really want to do one of the massage therapies offered by the spa, preferably with someone I’m traveling with. But that will be another story, or perhaps several stories.

Planning to Visit Bath?

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Disclaimer: This was a complimentary visit organized in coordination with Thermae Bath Spa which has my utmost gratitude! However, my views and opinions are completely my own.