I’ve never offered up my feet to be eaten by doctor fish before. Being Australian, I’ve had my share of unwanted nibbles and stings when in the surf. Not to mention how my great uncle, after surviving WWI, was taken by a shark just off Mosman Bay. (Another great uncle died in the Battle of the Somme and lies buried in France. It was a tough time to be alive.) So it took a moment of bravery, and encouraging laughs from the assistants, for me to slip off my shoes and place my feet beside my daughter’s in the clear water of the tank.
We’d landed in Singapore the night before. After collecting our luggage my daughter and I walked all of two minutes and into the foyer of then Changi Crowne Plaza. Singapore is filled with hotels for every budget, but I have stayed here a few times not only because it is so convenient for early flights back home, it’s a good hotel. Much as I love catching taxis, with the underground stopping below the airport, it’s impressively easily to reach the centre of Singapore, whether it be to explore Chinatown, wandering along the river, or enjoy the colonial heartland of Raffles. Plus, on re-using your subway ticket, you get a discount. Bonus.
As soon as my feet were in the water, they were covered in hundreds of tiny fish. The fish swarmed from my daughter’s feet to congregate around mine; I hate to think what they found so attractive. Their nibbles tickled at first, but as these doctor fish, as they are commonly called, plied their trade on my feet the sensation grew remarkably pleasant. Plus, the fish have no teeth – a definite relief on my behalf.
Doctor fish is the common name for the species garrarufa, found through Turkey and the Middle East. Other names include kangle fish, nibble fish and physio fish – outside of spas and beauticians they go by the less attractive name of reddish log sucker.
Places offering this unique treatment for hard and cracked soles can be found all over Singapore, even at the airport. (Singapore’s Changi’s airport is recurrently voted as the best airport in the world. What with free massage chairs, a range of food, a butterfly park and a giant slide, it’s not hard to see why.)
Doctor fish treatments usually last some ten to twenty minutes, and are definitely worth trying. It felt rather strange, not only having my heels eaten, but every part of my foot, including the cuticles and the skin between my toes. At times so many fish swarmed over my feet I couldn’t see any spare skin. My feet had become balls of tiny fish.
The doctor fish eat only dead skin – another bonus – and my feet remained incredibly smooth for days. Which, of course, didn’t last, largely due to my habit of walking around barefoot, but this merely gives me another excuse to return to Singapore for a Singapore Sling, some more adventures – then recover by having my feet kissed by hundreds of hungry fish.
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