Doctor Fish

17 Feb

Pedicure with Cleaner FishDowntown Siem Reap, your starter for ten for the glories of the Angkor era, is tacky as hell.

Yet, while a banner boasting “the most frozen margaritas sold in Siem Reap” does not exactly entice one to imbibe, the constant offers of tuktuks pall rapidly, there really is a street called Bar Street and the central market really does sell landmine T-shirts, it is a beautiful thing to have a cashpoint on every corner in the 200 square yard action zone and to know that the pharmacy will stock more than iodine and gauze.

End result? We did the doctor fish thing. It was Z’s idea.

Doctor fish are freshwater fish, between an inch and three inches in length. Ours came in a range of patterns of hues which suggest a) that the folk who collect them aren’t fussy about species and b) that most freshwater fish aren’t actually that fussy either.

Doctor fish feed on dead skin cells, and only dead skin. And so, like maggots — which have yet to take off in the beauty world, but give them time — they offer an entirely natural pedicure.

In Siem Reap, the fish come either in glass boxes with built-in wooden seating, or in transparent Disney-knockoff paddling pools surrounded by neon plastic stools. Do it properly, I am told, and you can dunk your feet in a bona fide river, although I’m not sure it would entirely vaut le voyage.

So, the doctor fish massage/pedicure/exfoliation goes like this. You haggle with the vendor. Dunk your feet in a tank of fish. They swim up, latch on, and nibble away till a) your tootsies are baby soft b) you realise you will be there all night before they’ve even dented the hard stuff on the heels and are fed up of serving as street theatre and donating your mangy toes to strangers’ holiday snaps or c) you are completely grossed out and scream like a girl.

We fell under b).


The experience? Once you get through the initial gross-out tickle, which took Z some time, and the evolutionarily sound (and sensibly negative) brain stem reaction to seeing and feeling fish, quite literally, eating your feet, the fishy feet treatment is surprisingly pleasant.

There is, of course, the embarrassment factor of an entire shoal settling into dine.Doctor Fish Clustering Round my Foot

This is considerable. While I would like to think that my feet drew a larger crowd of fishies not only than Z’s but than the guy beside us because, err, Z was wriggling, and the guy was, err, a really dab hand with the old pumice, I think not.

On balance, though, as exfoliation goes, the butt and nibble of tiny heads and mouths is far, far better than someone in a Vietnamese nailbar going at your feet with a glorified grater. And, actually, not noticeably more embarrassing.

The sensation, once you have eliminated the evolutionary grossout, is positively pleasant. Rather like a cross between a massage with tiny jets of water, a tingling electric shock — kind of like a Tens machine, I guess — and someone with very small fingers tickling your feet.

And, yes, it really works.

Had we stayed for another two hours, my feet would have been pristine. As it was, they were much improved.

And if my motorcycle elbow doesn’t clear within a week or so, I’ll be offering that up to Neptune and his merry minnows, too.

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2 Responses to “Doctor Fish”

  1. jessiev April 7, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    WHAT a hoot!! you were brave – i think i’d be ticklish!


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