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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fisk

My First “Banya” Experience 😍

So the “banya” is the bath house. We went to the above bath house (Arasan means “pure water hole” in the Kazakh language) This one was built between 1979-1982. It’s actually considered a sight-seeing location in Almaty!

I was invited by my two friends and they knew all the things. It is a former Soviet thing (back when they didn’t have showers or bath tubs in the home) to go to the bath house a couple of times a week to get clean. Our friends actually had a small banya attached to the summer kitchen in their yard. We went on a Thursday which in Russian is “Chyetverg” and clean in Russian is “Chestee” so put them together and you get “Chestee Chyetverg” and then that is how “clean Thursday” was created hah. Ladies come and “gather” at the sauna to gossip and have their social times to get out of the house in the winter. Apparently, men come and have meetings or do business deals (at least used to) at the bath house. I think a lot of villages even have a bath house, even if it is small. This place is like a giant mansion. There are lots of saunas. First of all, there is a guys side and a girls side. On the girls side, at least, you walk around basically wearing sheets (optional 😂). Let’s say its an experience of openness lol. You have to wear slippers. And most women cover their hair (at least in the winter so it doesn’t get wet because it is freezing outside). You can rent towels, slippers, sheets and even a robe. They have these cool felt hats you can wear which I thought were just decorational/fun but now I know- they are for the banya! We went to three saunas. The first was the Russian one which had benches you could lay on and get whacked with “switches”, oak, white birch or eucalyptus leaves, actually. I’ve also seen these for sale in stores but didn’t know what they were for. You can either whack yourself or get a “bathing housekeeper” to do it for you. It’s supposed to help with circulation. This sauna is the very wet steamy sauna. I even saw one lady wear a bathing “glove” and rub herself while in the sauna to remove dead skin cells. (Now I see why THOSE are all in the stores, too!) We also went to the Turkish and Finnish saunas, the Finnish one being the driest. Some ladies even go out from the sauna to a shower section and pull a lever with a bucket filled with very cold water and just dump it over them all at once very quickly! (I did not partake of this activity) There is also a swimming pool. People come and stay for hours, take breaks and cool off in between saunas and there is a few different relaxing chairs sections to sit and have tea, a “skin peel” section, you can get a massage, a restaurant and cafe, and you can meander in and out of sections and go where you want. They have a bracelet scan to “count” everything you are using or buying (it even unlocks your locker) to add it up at the end to pay before leaving. The sauna is very cleansing and of course sweating is good for fat burning lol. We showered before leaving to go to our Thai massages around the corner so we didn’t have much time, but I can for sure see why this is regularly part of people’s weekly or monthly routine and spend hours here!

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