I first heard of “fish massage” in Indonesia, from places called Dr. Fish. They were few and far in between, and seemed starved for customers. It felt like a fad that was either trying to establish itself, or that was dying off.
When we first got into Bangkok back in November, I was surprised to see fish massage being advertised everywhere. It seems that every other massage parlor on Khaosan Road was offering them, and it just looked weird. It seemed really silly, just another tourist trap amongst all of the other. Touting that you’d get glowing, smooth skin, or even that it was relaxing, I couldn’t get over the idea that it would just tickle and that you looked ridiculous sitting on the street with your legs in an aquarium. We opted to skip it.
In Vietnam they popped-up again. It didn’t feel like a huge business, but by that point my curiosity was seriously piqued. While in Dalat, I decided that when we would return to Bangkok, that we would get a fish massage and discover what the hype is all about.
To make sure that I’d stay true to my word, I included getting a fish massage on my 101 things to do list (check out the full list by clicking the link!).
Flash forward to yesterday: we are finally back on Khaosan Rd, and this time, I was set t make it happen. I shopped around a little and found a place that was perfect. It had everything that I was looking for: privacy (it was glass-enclosed, but inside a hotel lobby rather than right on the street), no body around (better fish-to-foot ratio, and quietness), offered sessions of 15 minutes and was reasonable (100 Baht, or $3.33 US).
After washing my feet, I was ready to start the experience. I braced myself for some serious tickling (I am horrible at getting my feet tickled, just ask anyone who has ever given me a pedicure) but it didn’t tickle at all. It was the oddest sensation: a mix of suction and mild electric shock, like when you were a kid and just couldn’t resist touching the electric fence at a farm. Of course the fish are not electric, but the sensation was similar. As you sit there, your legs submersed in water, hundreds of fish suction onto your legs and feet and gnaw away at your dead skin. It’s weird. And some fish crawl their way on your leg, out of the water, and that feels even weirder. After all those years of eating fish, I was now being eaten by fish.
A few people walked by and asked how it was, and some even took pictures. Overall it was a funny, surreal experience. After 15 minutes though, there were a lot less fish on my legs and I was perfectly OK with the whole thing being over. Would I do it again? Probably not. But my skin did feel a lot smoother afterward, so I guess that it wasn’t false advertising after all.