I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly dirty person. I shower with appropriate regularity, exfoliating once a week and sometimes extending to dry body brushing, when I remember. So when I found myself sitting on a warm marble slab, watching the dead skin fall off my arms in long grey ribbons, I was forced to reconsider this assumption of cleanliness.
Hammam has been an institution in Bangsar Village for spa junkies for years, and everyone who goes in comes out a convert. To the uninitiated, it remains inexplicable – why would you pay someone to strip you down and scrub layers of dead skin off you? With this question in mind, I made my way to the new Hammam outpost in Publika. It’s a long, beautifully tiled space in the Moroccan style with flickering wall sconces, courtyards and plenty of private nooks and crannies.
My experience starts in a pretty changing room, where I strip down to (disposable) underwear, wrap myself in a robe and nervously contemplate my skin for the last time. I’m guided into the actual hammam, a beautifully warm, tiled room with a domed ceiling and three marble ‘beds’. The air is steamy but comforting, and as I admire the tiling, I’m sluiced down with a few buckets of warm water. I’m then instructed by my personal scrubber, a French-speaking Moroccan lady called Nadia, to lie face down on the marble, where she proceeds to remove my disposable bra and a good deal of my dignity in one swift motion. I’m covered in a combination of black soap (derived from olives) and a cold henna powder (for exfoliation), flipped onto my back and left to soak it in for ten minutes. Naturally, I fall asleep.
I awake to Nadia’s smiling face and her hand encased in a special scrubbing mitt, made of silk and viscose. Sounds like it should be ineffective as an agent of exfoliation, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is far from the case. Nadia uses long strokes along my calves, thighs, arms and back to scour the dead skin from my limbs, occasionally pausing to say, ‘See, Madame Emma?’ as a particularly large specimen of epidermis presents itself. The scrubbing itself is not painful at all, even mildly invigorating, but prudes should stay well away. I am scrubbed on every square inch of my body that sees sunlight, and a fair few inches that don’t.
When the ordeal is over, my squeaky clean skin is anointed with a mask and I’m left for another nap. Then my hair is washed out with a rosemary scented shampoo, my disposable bra and towelling robe restored to me and I’m bundled off to a dimly lit lounge to relax with sweet Moroccan tea and a plate of baklava. (Whereupon I trot out a, ‘Merci, Nadia’ and she replies with a voluble stream of French.)
That would have been enough, and I’d have left Publika happier of demeanour and smoother of skin. But there was more to come – a 45-minute massage using Hammam’s signature blend of oil, frankincense, myrrh and sandalwood (yes, it did smell like Christmas). The masseuse kneads my back and limbs while I drift off under the influence of a cooling eye mask. I awake later to the disappointing realisation that my temporary sojourn in Morocco is over, and emerge blinking into the humidity of a KL afternoon. Converted? I should think so. Emma Chong
Hammam and gomage treatments start from RM150.