Getting a fish foot massage in Siem Reap

What we say: 3.5 stars

In the beginning there was only one. Then before you could say “Holy mackerel!”, the infection had spread all across Siem Reap, consuming human flesh and provoking howls and shrieks from susceptible young women. There’s now a rash of garra rufa in almost every part of central Siem Reap, and there’s no escaping their relentless necrotic appetites.

Just insert one foot at a time and the attendant will ladle the fish over your feet... ;-)

Just insert one foot at a time and the attendant will ladle the fish over your feet ...

The town is awash with large tanks filled with freshwater fish, the garra rufa, that delight in devouring the dead skin on feet. The first was a freakish novelty that appeared in the Angkor night market about two years ago. “That’s cute,” everyone thought. Then one became two, then two became too many to count.

Admittedly, it’s not completely unpleasant having your feet nibbled, though many would doubtless prefer the Princess Fergie school of toe-nibbling to having actual schools of fish perform the dirty deed. The sensitive among us clearly find the experience so earth-shatteringly, ooh, ticklish, that screams, shrieks and loud whoops are in order, causing numerous people to drop their beers with fright. Actually I made the last bit up, but to the screamers, do you have to? Really?

Another concern is animal cruelty. Is it really fair to inflict the sight, and stink, of male backpacker feet on poor, unsuspecting fish who are just showing up for a day’s labour, trying to keep their heads above water like any honest worker? We’ll be conducting a poll on this later.

But, more seriously, concerns have been raised about health risks arising from the possibility of transferring infections through open wounds on people’s feet. The technique, originally developed for sufferers of psoriasis for which its effectiveness is questioned, has been banned in several American states.

The jury is still out on whether this is simply over-fussing by legislators or whether there really are risks that should be addressed. In fairness to the fish tank operators in Siem Reap, I have noticed that they seem to very regularly filter out the debris from the water.

The real problem with it though is that after 20 minutes, you still have to go and spend $5 on a real pedicure by a being possessed of lungs rather than gills to finish off the job.

Last updated: 7th August, 2014

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