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Pamper your feet in Southeast Asia, with fish spas, foot massages and pedicures

Beach pedicure in Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia
Beach pedicure in Senggigi, Lombok, IndonesiaInga Aksamit

"Ooh, ooh, that tickles," squealed the woman seated in front of a fish tank, her feet submerged under water thick with tiny fish nipping at her skin. The fish spa felt funny at first, she said, but she quickly got used to it, wiggling her toes amidst the wriggling finny eaters.

Fish spa, Kuta Beach, Bali
Fish spa, Kuta Beach, BaliInga Aksamit

Travel can be hard on your feet with lots of walking on uneven surfaces, possibly in unsuitable shoes, in searing heat causing excessive sweating. Muscle soreness, perspiration and chafing can take their toll and impair your enjoyment of touring.

Luckily, all through South East Asia you can pamper your feet in several different ways, relieving pain, enhancing the look of your pedal extremities and improving comfort, while experiencing local customs ranging from fish spa to massage.

Foot Massage

In Hong Kong, look for small, blinking neon signs with the outline of two feet and you’ll find many shops specializing in foot massage, a great way to get reinvigorated. At Gao’s Massage (1-13D Aguilar St, Hong Kong), expect a full sensory experience, with hot packs around your neck, soothing music and hushed tones. The feet are bathed in hot, soapy water, then strong hand work their magic on the muscles of the foot and lower leg, leaving your entire body feeling refreshed. The cost is HK$120 (US $15) for 30 minutes.

In Hue, Vietnam, visit Kieu Vu Foot and Body Massage (49 Ben Nghe, Hue, Vietnam) in a rather utilitarian building, featuring a plain milieu but strong hands. The focus is on the massage so don’t expect fancy spa extras like soft music or pretty pictures adorning the walls. At a cost of about VND100,000 (US $5) it’s a bargain.

High up in the loft peaks of Sapa, Vietnam, you’ll find several places offering foot massage on the streets near the market that cater to tourists, nestled between bars, restaurants and shops selling North Face trekking gear. Sapa Foot Massage, at the base of Pham Xuan Huan, offers a row of comfortable recliner chairs set in front of a large picture window giving you the option of dozing off or looking at all the street action. Feet are first bathed in dark water infused with a blend of healing herbs before the massage, which extends to the knee. A foot massage is essential before (and maybe after) a multi-day trek through the steep paths linking the H’mong villages, making this US $5investment a good choice.

Fish Spa

Bali, Indonesiahas caught the fish bug. Fish spas are everywhere in Kuta and Legian, two popular beach communities that serve large numbers of tourists. Tanks with small, hungry garra rufa fish measuring about an inch in diameter can be seen in front of day spas and massage parlours along Poppies Lane and Jalan Padma, among others.

It takes some getting used to, for after a quick wash of the feet they are plunged unceremoniously into the tank, whereupon tens of diminutive fish swarm to your feet and lower leg to commence nibbling gently on dead skin. The fish, which are toothless, are actually sucking the dead skin off your gnarly feet, but it feels tingly, almost like a very weak electric shock. Feet feel smoother and more supple after a treatment.

Rates vary by facility, length of treatment and bargaining skills, but generally run around IDR 35,000-50,000 (US $3.75-5.50)for 15-20 minutes.

Beach Pedicure

Under the trees along Kuta Beach in Bali, and Senggigi in Lombok, women lounge around waiting for the opportunity to make your feet beautiful and beach-worthy. You might think a sandy beach an odd location for a pedicure, but these women are experts at spreading a sarong on the ground and getting to work manhandling your cuticles into shape, buffing your scaly heels (unless fish spa already took care of that) and polishing your nails with two coats of color and one clear-coat using the finest imported polish donated by previous tourists (bring a bottle to make a deposit if you want to make a friend for life). A weak foot massage might also be included but don’t expect the quality of the dedicated masseuses patrolling the beach or calling your name from the massage parlor down the street.

The price can vary tremendously depending on your bargaining power but could range from IDR 40,000-75,000 (US $4.50-8.25), give or take a few thousand rupiah.

Happy Feet

Pounding the pavement of the tourist trail through South East Asia can be hard work, but with plentiful and inexpensive foot massages, fish spas and beach pedicures your feet will be happy inside and out.

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