The Fish Spa Experience

I had first heard about fish spas from a massage therapist colleague who had the treatment in China and sat in the water with the fish. Since then, I’ve also discovered snakes are used in a spa in Israel, with a long waiting list of clients. When I heard there was a fish spa here in KL, I wanted to try it.

Fortunately, when I got lost the other night looking for a place to eat, I found the fish spa. I told the young guy working there that I’d come back after I ate, but when I went back to look for it, I couldn’t find it.

If you haven’t experienced an enormous shopping complex experience in Asia, you won’t understand why. This isn’t just Ala Moana or Pearlridge we’re talking about. This is two buildings, each about 7 floors of shops smashed in side-to-side, with alleys branching out in all directions, a veritable warren of consumer potential.

And the trend in Asia is to put all the same stuff in the same place, so you’ll have seventeen shops all selling pots, pans, and dishes in one place. Then all the shoe stores will be in another place, etc. But this time it was completely mixed up, fish spas next to craft stores, next to money changers, next to toys, next to shoes, next to juice blending shops, next to hairstylists.

So I asked a young Indian security guard slumped over a chest-high desk on the landing atop the escalator at whatever floor I arrived at. “Where is the fish spa?” I asked. He frowned. “huh?”

I couldn’t decide if I should stick to English or try Malaysian, since not everyone here speaks it, I discovered. At any rate, he said something in some language that I didn’t understand, save for the word “information.” So I kept wandering.

I found a cleaning woman and asked her in Malaysian. The fact that I know the words for “the place where fish eat feet” is a miracle in and of itself! But she totally knew exactly where I was talking about. After all, the cleaners know the whole place inside-out. A Malaysian woman with her head covered, sitting on the floor, apparently waiting for someone, hadn’t heard of it, so the cleaning woman was explaining it to her.

She showed me the way (it was just downstairs.) Inside, there was a wooden platform in the center, surrounded by a moat where the fish lived. I was taken to rinse my feet off, then directed to sit in the corner closest to the entrance. I was the only one there.

As soon as I put my feet in the water, they charged like a school of piranha attacking dinner. Thank goodness they have no teeth. It was quite ticklish until I got used to it; eventually, it felt like minute pinpricks, kind of like how when your foot falls asleep and there is that painful feeling when it is coming back awake, except there was no pain.

The dark shapes on the left are the fish tasting my feet.

The dark shapes on the left are the fish tasting my feet.

It was mesmerizing after a while, watching the fish. In the background they had one of those soothing spa-like CDs going, with fake birdsong, strings, and piano.

I had mixed feelings about “exploiting” animals this way, so I asked if they feed them. Yes, they do…Chinese cucumber. Another older man explained to me and pointed to some long white things rubber-banded to a stick in the water. I had thought they were those rubber insoles sold in the drugstores to put in your shoes. Turns out that was their food, and they had eaten most of the fruit, leaving only a boat-like shell.

I thought these were shoe insoles until I learned they are the Chinese cucumbers used as fish food.

I thought these were shoe insoles until I learned they are the Chinese cucumbers used as fish food.

I enjoyed watching them, and they reminded me of fish that suck on the edges of fish tanks, except they were sucking on my skin. They fully covered my feet and legs as high as they could reach.

fish on foot

Afterwards my feet felt smoother, but it was no substitute for a good pumice stone. I know one thing must be true: my feet taste better than Chinese cucumber.


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