We are big hamam fans. We like the ghetto hamam in Çukurcuma, the hot spring hamams in Bursa and the touristy ones in Sultanahmet a great deal. All these hamams vary in size, luxury and committment to cleanliness but they all have one thıng in common: They're all single-sex.
And you know what? We like them that way. It's always awkward being naked in public when you don't speak the language, so even all-women hamams can be traumatic. For example, you never know if you're supposed to be completely naked or not. (Carpetblogger's Rule of Thumb for Hamam Nudity: Men, never, unless it's one of "those" hamams. However, it's our understanding that most non-tourist hamams are "those" hamams, so you may want to verify this information before heading to, say, Firuzağa Hamam. You know what? To be on the safe side, just use your pestemel and forget we brought the whole issue up. We have no idea what we're talking about. Women: Tourist hamam, underwear on. Non-tourist hamam, underwear optional. If in doubt, do what what the enormous Turkish tazes (aunties) are doing. YOU'RE WELCOME.)
We visited Termal, a small resort village near Yalova for some badly needed R&R. The whole region is known for its hot springs so there are all kinds of little (and big) resorts between Yalova and Bursa. There are trees, also, which are always nice. Birds, too. The one we visited was a newish-built shrine to Turkish secularism, with a Ataturk Museum on the grounds and a nightly floor show. Upper middle-class retirees soaked in the hot pools to cure their eczema or their rheumatism or their drop down stones. They were friendly!
Termal is famous for having won the coveted "World's Most Healing Water" contest in 1911. It is deserved! We swam in the hot pools and won at cards and drank tea and felt quite healed after. We ought to have left the healing at that.
We admit to pre-existing hesitation when we heard about the mixed-gender wet hamam on the grounds of the resort. We know these things exist, but usually only in resorts or tourist areas of Istanbul. Who goes to these? The whole idea seems contrary to the traditional purpose of a hamam. Furthermore, we do not want to electively look at potbellied Turkish men naked. Therefore, our general rule has always been "avoid mixed gender hamans because they are too weird."
We violated this rule. Entering the haman with great caution, one plastic flipflop at a time, we ("we" being Carpetblogger and Mademoiselle Istanbul) left plenty of opportunity for one of the idle men to shout, "Abla, wait! That's the men's side!" No one did.
In fact, quite the opposite. The old guy at the desk told us to buyurun ourselves right in the door. Unhelpful Taras Bulba served as the worst advance team ever, going in ahead of us and returning with the assurance that there were "lots" in there.
By "lots" he meant lots of men floating in the hot pools, splayed on the marble göbek like hairy sea lions and panting in the super hot sauna. We fled in horror to the "family room" which is typically a room in small town restaurants to which unaccompanied women and families are led to protect them from the prying eyes of single men. Two men mid-scrub in the family room gave us a friendly wave. Yavaş, yavaş, we backed out.
At this point, it is worth pointing out that none of these men in the hamam were nekkid (nor, to be clear, were we, OK?). Had they been, writing this blog post would be impossible because OH MY GOD MY EYES!
It was bad enough that Taras Bulba made us sit for five minutes with him, and five other men, in the incredibly hot steam room, which could not have been more uncomfortable for anyone if we had been on fire. Actually, it could have been more uncomfortable: if, instead of Turks, the men had been the Saudis we had seen milling around the resort (Termal is huge among Saudis, but we were told they're mostly gay. We can't decide if that makes things better or worse). Also, if Taras Bulba had said at the outset, "O, yah, there are a lot of women in there and they're naked, so feel free" that would have been worse, too.
So, while Carpetblogger can recommend goofy Termal for a brief excursion, we strongly advise you avoid the mixed gender hamam there. We live to serve as an example to others.