Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ukranian Sauna (banya) in the Carpathian Mountain

We love baths. 

Being a big fans of hot spring, sauna, steam bath, massage, exfoliation, spring water bath and actually all kinds of baths, we are happy to discover the sauna in Ukraine.

We have tried the Japanese onsen, Taiwan hotspring, Korean Jjimjilbang, Finnish Sauna, Turkish Hammam, Mexican cenote, Hungarian furdo, Slovakia thermal spring, German sauna, aqua caliente in Colombia, Pamukale in Turkey and the salted mineral water in Tuzla (Bosnia), if not more... We are really happy to add another one to our list - the Ukrainian sauna, which is actually the Russian banya. (And now I finally realized how the name of the luxurious  spa in Bangkok 'Banya Tree' comes about!) 

Thanks to our host, Victor in Yaremche, we were brought to a banya in the neighborhood. 

We strolled towards the residential area and arrived a gate. It was occupied by the owner and his B&B. Through a flowery garden, we proceeded to a wooden cottage. Walking up the stairs, we found a rest area, called predbannik or pre-bath, with a changing area, table and some benches. Further inside, there is a toilet, a shower room and finally, the sauna room.
Victor told us that first we need to get naked, wrapped with the big towel provided and go straight to the sauna room.


The sauna room is connected to stove of the predbannik, heated by burning lodges. It was a gloomy, rainy day and the room was already heated, with tea set and even a set of backgammon. 

We proceeded straight into the sauna, which is somewhere between 95 to 100 degree Celsius, and sat for a few minutes. Then we returned to the benches to cool down and get some rest.

We made some herbal tea and enjoyed the warm fire by cooling down slowly. 

Then we entered the sauna to get heated up again.

The heating and cooling circuit is supposed to warm our body gradually, bringing heat into our bones.

I started sweating and blushing after a few rounds.

We enjoyed private use of the whole cabin and it was an perfectly gloomy late afternoon to sit at the stairs outside the wooden cottage, cooling down under the fresh air and drizzle with a cup of warm tea.

Victor explained that banya used to be a Saturday social event, to get cleaned up before Sunday church service and sometimes an activity only for men. Unlike Finland, it is not quite a family regular weekend event in winter. Ukrainians nowadays may go sauna with  friends or relatives as a big group, where all women will enter into the sauna for one round, while men gather for the next; sometimes it is just a once in a while guys' gathering or simply a tourist attraction.

The banya we tried is in fact quite an upscale one. Costing around 60 Ukrainian grivna (around HKD57) per person for 2 hours. But we got a little discount and stayed longer as the owner is Victor’s friend and Ukrainine wishes to show the best hospitality to tourist. (Meaning - us!) 

There could be smaller cabin where the shower area is also the resting area, with hot water heated by the steam room stove and a bucket of cold water, or having water from tap, for mixing lukewarm water to a desirable temperature. 

In banya sauna room, the heater is consisted of a water tank, the rock chamber and connected to the rest room heating fire box. If higher temperature is required, we will splash cold water to the rocks. If it’s too unbearably hot, we could open the banya door or sometimes a connecting window for fresh air. 

Being very similar to Finnish sauna, the most unique part about Banya is in fact, the 'whipping' and the felt hat. 

Our banya have prepared us some bunches of dried thin branches and leaves, called 'venik', the bath brooms, usually made from young branches of white birch, oak or eucalyptus, soaked in very hot water to soften before clients arrived. 

After a few rounds of heating and cooling. It’s time to start the smacking massage. 

For us, everyone took turn to help each other with such massage. Victor trained Adley to execute the massage and all I heard from outside was “ouch”, “Yes”, “Good”, “harder”,“Ahhhh”! And then showering with a bucket of ice-cold water from above, then it’s “Ahhhh” again!  

Sound quite Sadomasochistic! What were they doing!?

Then it's finally my turn. 

The sauna room was filled with aroma of the leaves. I placed a towel on the top level of the sauna, lay flat naked. Then Adley with the felt head, started splashing some cold water to the hot stones. He then pulled the veniks from the hot water bucket, shaking off all remaining drips to the hot stone and waved the veniks on top of me like a fan. A flow of hot steam swang pass me, intertwining with the cool leaves caressing my back. Then he started smacking my back briskly with the veniks. The branches are young and softened in water, which made the whole process not at all painful but ultimately relaxing. The other side followed, repeating the same procedures all over again.

The special felt hats are typically worn to protect the head, from the intense heat when someone wishes to stay inside the steam room for a longer time.  While I’m having a good time lying flat to enjoy the heated steam and cool leaves caress, Adley had to stand inside the sauna room to endure all the heat for almost 5 minutes to finish the 'ritual', which could be rather unbearable.  But the felt gave an excellent protection.
The banya is believed to clean skin, to fight sickness, to build body resistance, to lose weight, to improve blood circulation, to improve skin condition, to exfoliate and to help anti-aging.  Wow! I need to get smacked more often!!
In winter, similar to Finnish sauna, after the 95 to 100 degree Celcisus sauna, people may roll in the snow naked or dip into lakes with holes cutting through the ice for cooling.

After 2 rounds of smacking for everyone, with some relaxing herbal tea, an almost tied game of backgammon (that Adley lost), some stories about banya and more heating and cooling - we were already too late for dinner. Victor’s wife, Anna (a professional photographer turned housewife and mother, whom reminds me of Linda McCartney), was waiting for us at home. She had prepared us the mouth-watering white mushroom from the forest of Carpathian mountains.
Our eyes were all redden after the hot steam and we slept like baby that evening.


  1. What a beautiful journey you are having. I wish you all the joy on earth. Nadia Laribi

  2. Adley & Maria asked me to post here contacts of sauna onwers: +380 (67) 591 81 76 - Liubomyr

  3. Well, that is nice. People do have different ways to go about their relaxation. What matters is that they get to keep themselves in great shape, whether through a sauna or a spa.

    Lucy @ iHealth Saunas

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