Well, That Was Weird

Today, I found myself in a locker room with lots of men wearing nothing but funny hats. There were also lots of young boys running around the place but they didn’t have funny hats – just stark naked! I was in a Russian-style sauna or banya.

An example of the hats worn by men in the banya
An example of the hats worn by men in the banya

After some long days of driving, I was in need of a massage. I asked the hotel receptionist if there was somewhere nearby where I could get a massage. Being familiar with Russian banyas, I explained to her that I didn’t want to be hit with oak branches and I didn’t want to be vigorously rubbed. I also clarified that I wanted a female masseuse. She made a phone call and assured me that this particular ‘sauna’ could cater to my requirements. She showed me where the place was located on a map and I set off to walk there.

When I got to the marked junction, I couldn’t immediately locate the ‘sauna’ but was pointed to a large domed building set back from the junction. Ominously, I saw a couple of old women selling oak branches outside the place!

The outside of the Almaty Arasan complex
The outside of the Almaty Arasan complex
Hats and bunches of oak branches for sale outside the banya
Hats and bunches of oak branches for sale outside the banya

When I got inside though, there was a huge promotional cut-out of a Thai woman in traditional dress, advertising the ‘Royal Thai Spa’. Excellent, I thought. I’m very familiar with Thai massages, so no need to worry about banyas.

At the reception desk, I explained my requirements to a guy who speaks English – Thai massage by a female and no oak branches, rubbing, etc. He tells me that I must first pay the 2,400 ‘basic fee’ (About $15 US) and that massages are charged additionally. When I asked what the basic fee was for, I was told that it included use of the baths, steam rooms, etc. I reiterated that I didn’t need the baths or the steam rooms. I simply wanted a massage. After getting nowhere, I paid the admission fee, got a wristband, a towel and a sheet and was taken into the locker room where all of the afore-mentioned male nakedness was observed.

I had been accompanied by the guy from reception to explain the procedure. He began to give me directions to the baths, the steam rooms, etc. Once again, I told him I only wanted a massage. No problem, he said. He’ll be back shortly with the house manager who will get me sorted out.  I get undressed, put my things in the locker and am standing wrapped in my sheet when the guy returns with a younger man who he tells me is the masseur! Yet again, I emphasise that I want a female masseuse, I don’t want baths, I don’t want steam rooms, I just want a Thai massage! The message finally got through and I was told that the attendant would take me for a Thai massage once I’d had my shower.

So said, so done. I was led downstairs to the Thai section and into a room where some other guy was already getting a massage from a young Thai woman. Despite the room being fairly large, a second massage table was moved from its location across the room so that it was within arms length of the other guy’s massage table – pretty much side-by-side. Then I’m told to get onto the table for my massage. A cute Thai masseuse? No – not for me! I get the heavier Russian woman who, I am soon to discover, has not mastered the art of Thai massage. She tried her best but it wasn’t very effective.

So, after an hour on the massage table, I left the facility feeling no better than when I arrived and thinking the whole experience was rather weird.

I have since learned that the places I visited is the Almaty Arasan and is reported to be the best banya in Central Asia!


  1. Craig, first off I continue to be amazed by the amount of grilled vegetables you guys eat. That Bush Pig is just crammed with them!

    And second, I have to tell you how much I am enjoying the tales of your adventures. Getting stuck with the husky Russian masseuse instead of a delicate Thai girl–that was good writing!

    1. Glad you’re enjoying the posts.

      Vegetables don’t tend to be served much in Russia and Central Asia, so we try to top up on veggies whenever I’m doing the cooking.

  2. Hello my friends from Virgina nad Germany , I hope the everything is going with yours very well and hope you enjoy the trip, and wish you all the best Baagii

    1. Hello Baagii, good to hear from you. Yes, the trip is going well and the Defender is performing very well. Thanks for your hospitality and assistance whilst in UB. We very much appreciate it.

      Craig (from Bermuda) and Klaus (from Germany)

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