FEET are funny little things. Depending on culture, they range from being considered one of the most despised parts of the body to being hailed as the body's second heart. They can also be the object of sexual fantasies. In fact, it has been claimed that the foot is the most common sexually enticing "ordinary" part of the body.
No wonder, then, that the streets of Phnom Penh are lined with foot massage parlours. Despite their abundance, however, it is not always easy to get a truly satisfactory rub.
Some salons in the capital offer what they call reflexology.
Unlike a regular foot massage that should focus mainly on massaging the sore muscles in your feet, reflexology exerts pressure on particular points of the foot in order to stimulate corresponding parts of your body. Put simply, the idea is that by pressing the top of your big toe, for instance, you can improve the health of your head.
Many also believe that discomfort during the treatment reflects the state of the body. Therefore, if it hurts when the reflexologist rubs your big toe, there's something not quite right in your head.
While there are various theories behind the practice, involving meridians, chi - flows of energy in the body - there is no scientific proof of the effectiveness of the practice.
Foot fetishes may be
linked to the genitals being next to the foot on
the brain’s body map
Consequently, it all comes down to conviction. Do you believe you can improve the functioning of your liver after a big night out by pressing the bottom middle of your right foot? Can pressing the top middle sole of your left foot fix your hurting heart?
Foot massages, whether they purport to bring you the benefits of reflexology or not, are generally cheap, calming and relaxing. If they sort out your intestines and make your skin look healthier as a side effect, so much the better.
In Phnom Penh, Master Kang on Monivong Boulevard is popular for its mean foot massage that claims to "create balance in the inner human body". The massage is usually rather painful and leaves you wondering what your feet ever did to the masseuse to deserve such treatment.
A great off-the-beaten-track choice is the Chinese masseur at Juliana Hotel. Unlike at Master Kang, you're not wincing in pain throughout the treatment, but you leave feeling like you're walking on clouds.
A neuroscientist once argued that foot fetishes may be linked to the genitals being next to the foot on the brain's body map. The contentment felt after a foot massage may thus come as a result of not only sweet hands rubbing your tootsies, but also from your brain registering a rather different kind of pleasure. Now there's a happy ending.