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The Fish Spa Experience

Ahhhh, the fish spa experience. Most of us have heard of this crazy idea. You let fish gnaw at your feet to eat off the dead skin. I think it all started in Asia, but who knows. I live in the heartland of America, we don’t have that crazy stuff where I live. So when I went to Thailand with a friend last month, we had it in the back of our minds. If we had time for the fish spa experience and/or a Thai massage, we’d give it a try.


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After a full day of visiting temples in Chiang Mai, we regrouped at the hotel bar and made plans to relax. By this time, we were a group of 4, with a few wanting a massage, and a few wanting to experience the fish spa. After a recommendation from our concierge we found Fish Actually. It’s located down the street from the Night Markets on the second floor of the Tawan Trendy Mall. The fish tanks line the windows, which makes for an interesting view for people watching.



The first step is washing your feet. We were seated on a long bench in an area that looked like the bottom of a shower stall. The attendant methodically washed our feet and used a hand sprayer to rinse them thoroughly.  We climbed a wooden platform above the tanks and were seated on some comfy cushions. The attendant encouraged us to sit in separate tanks since they had the space, insisting that the experience would be better. It truly just meant that the fish didn’t have divide themselves between 4 feet.



I was a little freaked out, but forged ahead and dunked my feet in the water. Immediately, all of the fish in the tank swarmed my feet to get in on the action. My body was tense with my knees locked as if any sudden movement would cause one of them to accidentally eat one of my toes. It was then that I decided I needed to look away while my feet got used to the sensation. They kindly provided reading material in the form of a laminated card that explained the specifics of the fish spa skin treatment.


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The Garra Rufa fish work together as a team to improve skin with their strong sucking ability. This gentle sucking is a unique way to nibble at the skin that has been used in treatments for 400 years. I’m just paraphrasing from their brochure, I’m not saying it’s accurate, people. Another unique characteristic of these fish is that they nibble even when they are full. Excuse me…..what? Do they just eventually explode? Or do they throw up, and start over? Their brochure didn’t say. At this point, what does it matter, my feet have already been in the water for about 10 minutes. The treatment lasts 45 minutes!!

The sucking was gentle, but constant. It almost felt like something vibrating on your skin since it was so fast. At first it might feel a little ticklish before you get used to it. I don’t think the fish can really detect where your callouses are, or where you have the most dead skin. So it’s just a free for all on your feet. By now, a few more people had come in for the same treatment. Every time someone squeeled or shuddered I had to start all over again and look away. Fish Actually did have free wifi, so it was nice to sit quietly and check in with Hubby and the boys back home.

When my 45 minutes were up, the attendant came to get me. All it took was a little movement or a tiny shake and the fish backed off enough for me to pull my feet out of the water. I escaped with all of my toes in tact. I was directed to a recliner so that they could massage my feet with special aromatic herbal lotion. It could have been lotion from Walmart, but someone was rubbing my feet, so who cares? After that, we were ready to go.

Fish Actually prides itself on being one of the few “fully equipped” fish spas in the country. I have no idea what that means. I do know that we saw a lot of other fish spa places while walking the streets in Chiang Mai. But I never saw anyone else washing their feet before they put them in the tank. Inside of the Chiang Mai Night Markets area, there was a stall that just had chairs next to large plastic bins with the spa fish in them. I’m not a big germaphobe, but that just seemed wrong. I can handle paying a few extra bucks for what I perceive to be cleaner conditions. Fish Actually cost about $8.50 for the 45 minutes. I saw prices other places as low as $3, but I have no idea the length of that treatment.

The other girls in our group got a Thai massage on their legs and feet while we were feeding the fish with our dead skin. I might try that next time instead. Thai massage is done fully clothed and it is typically applied with a lot of pressure. My feet did feel exfoliated when I left and maybe in places that I didn’t need exfoliaton too. I’ll try almost anything once. Would I do the fish spa again? Maybe…maybe not. But it sure made for a lot of fun, laughter, and great photos!



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