Cover Kam Su-En, the owner of Hammam Spa in Kuala Lumpur

With soothing rituals that promote beauty and wellbeing in a communal setting, the founder of Hammam Spa invites you to experience the mystical, blissful experience of a Turkish bath without having to fly off to Marrakesh, Morocco

Stepping into the premises of Kam Su-En’s Hammam Spa, you are magically transported into a set from The Arabian Nights, thanks to the mystical ambience that the owner has carefully designed to evoke relaxation and bliss within its walls. From the heavy brass doors crafted by artisans in Fez to the golden openwork arcades and tranquil sounds of the courtyard fountain, hand-carved geometric brass lamps providing illumination, to the Turkish wedding blankets decorating the massage rooms, and the Leila Menchari-designed tiles on the feature walls and in the hammam room, Kam sought for Malaysians to experience the enigmatic beauty of Marrakesh in her first city spa.

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Kam recently unveiled her most luxurious Hammam yet, situated on the second floor of Isetan The Japan Store in Lot 10. Compared to her first two outlets in Bangsar Village II and Publika, she envisions this particular spa to give a more elevated experience.

“I’d say the luxuriousness is taken up a notch,” she says. “In this branch particularly, I’ll be using ingredients like blue lotus oil, oud oil and labdanum oil—precious oils that you would not find in any other spa. You might see it in perfumes but not in massage oils. These are actually more precious Egyptian, Middle Eastern, African oils that we are using and they’ve got medicinal properties as well. Blue lotus was used by Cleopatra herself; it was one of her favourite fragrances.”

A dedicated spa goer since the age of six—“My dad was an architect. We used to travel to all sorts of resorts and I’d be the first one trying the spa treatments!”—Kam’s first experience with the hammam, an ancient Turkish or Moroccan traditional method of bathing that involves deep cleansing with a gel-like soap made of black olives, followed by exfoliation and massage, was in Morocco 15 years ago and she’s been hooked ever since. “I just fell in love with the country, it was like a dreamy fairy tale place, with the Atlantic ocean on one side, and snow-capped mountains on the other. Everything about it was quite magical.

“And when I lay down on the hammam room tiles, there was a girl singing in Arabic as I was being scrubbed and bathed—it was, I don’t know how else to say this, a very maternal experience to have buckets of water being poured on you. The entire thing felt very magical. And unlike all the other spa experiences I had, I also noticed there were other people in the hammam room, which was different from the solitary ones that we’re used to. I thought this was nice because it fulfils the need to connect with other people, never mind the fact that we were all naked [laughing]. I decided that this was something I wanted to bring back to Malaysia and share with everyone.”

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Kam did a lot of research in those early years, trying out every hammam in Morocco, “from the ones where you lie on the floor to the Aman resort hammams,” she says. She also went to France to conduct further research. “I felt that the Moroccan version may need to be fine-tuned for the Malaysian population. But there’s something about the French ones where they have refined it a little bit more, be it in the way the hammam rooms are structured or the products used. I actually tried 26 hammams in Paris alone—from the 1st arrondissement to the 10th. I spent about two months doing that. One of my favourite hammams would be the one at Mosque de Paris. It’s massive! That was the most packed hammam that I’ve been to all around the world.”

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She modelled her Hammam after the French version, even after travelling all around to try out different water therapies, from the banya in Russia, jjimjilbang in Korea, and onsen in Japan. She also learned the Turkish traditions of the hammam; she found its architecture to be impressively grand and beautiful, especially those designed by Mimar Sinan, considered the greatest architect of the Ottoman empire’s architectural heritage.

Inspired by it all, Kam wishes to bring the whole authentic experience of the hammam to the Malaysian market. “That’s why I make sure the architecture, the ambience, the products are as traditional as they can get, and the best of what Morocco can offer is here. Even my hair mask is Maroc Maroc, which is the queen of Morocco’s brand. We also have a skilled Moroccan therapist doing the scrub and cleansing rituals, because it’s a culture that they are used to. It actually takes a lot of strength to scrub someone in that heat.”

She’s referring to the delicately heated hammam room where all the body exfoliating (called gommage), masking and bathing takes place, before moving to a heated massage bed to get your massage done. “It’s not a sauna as there is no steam,” she explains. “Behind our walls are bended copper pipes, with hot water running through it—it’s the same way that Turkish hammams have been made a thousand years ago—and it just gives the room a very delicate warmth.”

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"I make sure the architecture, the ambience, the products are as traditional as they can get, and that the best of what Morocco can offer is here"
Kam Su-En

According to Kam, Morocco is fertile ground for raw materials such as argan oil and barbary fig, which has more antioxidants than argan. She sought the help of an apothecarist whose family had been recording information on medicinal plants since the 14th century, to concoct formulas for her beauty recipes.

“The apothecarist is in his 80s, based in Medina, Marrakesh, and he has helped me with most of the beauty recipes till today, like the body masks [such as the Rhassoul mineral-rich clay mask from Morocco that’s known to have curative, inflammation-reducing powers], which essential oils that are good for slimming, and so forth.”

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