On Being Food for the Fishes

I had an hour to kill before the movie started, so I decided to have a pedicure courtesy of Garra rufa, better knows as Doctor fish.

This craze has swept across Thailand. There’s hardly a mall that doesn’t have a concession or two giving the chance to soak your feet in warm water whilst small fishes nibble at any dead skin. At 100 Baht (about £2) for half an hour, I suspect it’s pretty lucrative, too. (That’s more per hour than you might pay for a traditional Thai massage.)

The process started with my washing my feet in a foot basin. I then sat with my feet dangling in a tank of warm water alongside a few strangers. After a few moments the agony started: the fish, a few at first, then more, started nibbling. My face contorted as I struggled to cope with the prolonged, relentless tickling as the toothless Doctor fish gummed away at my feet.

Doctor fish and feet

After about 20 minutes a suitable distraction arrived in the form of a toddler opposite me who was being lowered into the water by his mother. The toddler seemed to have a reflex reaction to kick and splash the moment his feet touched the water. I would get wet. His mother would lift him out, and then lower him in again. He kicked. And so the cycle repeated.

At the end of the day, I was rather disappointed: I’d thought that the fish might tackle the thick layer of dead skin on my heels, but they were much more interested in the more ticklish areas of my sole and around my toes. At least that’s another experience I can cross off the list, never to be repeated.

And if I’m ever interrogated, the torturer can dispense with the rack and thumbscrew. Put my feet in a tank of fishes and I’ll sing like a canary – though they could also try making me stay in the Comfy Chair until lunch time, with only a cup of coffee at eleven. That would work, too.

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