Piscatorial powerhouse provides podiatric polishing

Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November....
Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November. Photos supplied.
Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November.
Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November.
Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November.
Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand in November.

Hamish McNeilly gets the dead skin nibbled off his feet while on holiday in Thailand.

This  is the story about the fish that nibbled my feet that lay in the tank in Thailand.

It was the sign that lured me.

''Fish Massage.''

Hook, line and sinker.

And the sign continued: ''For treatment of skin diseases fish nibbling away dead skin cells to leaving the healthy skin to grow nice and smooth.''

Go on.

And the catch? Just 200 Baht for 15 minutes - about eight New Zealand dollars.

Not sure how much it would cost in New Zealand to have dozens of fish nibble away the dead skin from my rather battered looking feet, but it seems like a bargain.

The fish tank is located across the road from the picturesque Ao Nang beach.

With my partner Ana and I due to fly out in several hours, I seize the chance to squander my remaining Thai notes on a tourist gimmick.

So the sucker meets the sucker fish.

I do the New Zealander abroad signal for wanting attention; I raise my eyebrows and reach for my wallet.

Earlier, we had spotted the female attendant casually flop her hand into the tank, as circling fish attach themselves.

Seems legit.

After handing over the cash I receive my first and only instructions: ''Wash your feet''.

I comply and she motions for me as to sit down and put my feet in.

She is smiling.

I, however, am not.

Ana is armed with a camera, and also a smile.

As my feet hover over the water the fish began circling directly underneath, breaking the water's surface to try to get the first nibble.

I plunge my feet in and immediately feel dozens of tiny pin pricks of the fish gobbling up the dead skin.

Half-smiling for the camera my eyes dart anywhere than the inside the tank.

After a minute the feeling changes into a slight tickling sensation and I begin to relax so I can examine my new-found finned and scaled friends.

Poor fish.

The brown spotted fish are just over 5cm long and remind me of the large tadpoles I used to catch as a kid.

I ask the attendant what sort of fish they are and she shrugs her shoulders and says she doesn't actually know what sort.

Whatever they might be they sure are hungry.

Despite just my feet dangling in the water, one of the little tiddlers emerges from the water and begins to eat its way up my left leg.

I brush it off while another one tries the same trick up my other leg.

This is getting weird.

After a while the sensation becomes more relaxing and I feel game enough to dip more of my admittedly sunburnt legs in the tank.

After 10 minutes the fish appear less hungry, and like anything after a good meal appear in need of a lie down.

But I didn't pay $8 to have a bunch of fish not eat my dead skin so I begin moving my feet around to whet their appetite.

The last few minutes and my attention span begins to wane, and I begin watching the Russian couples sporting tattoos and piercings walk up and down the beach.

With time up I shake the water - and the last few fish from my feet - dry them off, and once again slip on my jandals.

Walking away my feet suddenly feel very much lighter.

Bloody good, I say.

The even feel good on the flight home that night, and especially good once I reach terra firma.

Bloody good, I think.

I decide to google to discover the secret behind the fish.

I wish I hadn't.

The first result, admittedly from the Daily Mail, screams ''Fears fish foot spa pedicures could spread HIV and hepatitis C''.

I immediately utter a four letter word beginning with ''F'' that is not fish.

The Health Protection Agency says the fish tank water contains micro-organisms, and problems could arise from bacteria being transmitted by the fish, from the spa water itself or from one customer to another if the water is not changed. If a user is infected with a blood-borne virus like HIV or hepatitis and bleeds in the water, there is a risk infections could be passed on. It is only the sixth paragraph where I find the risk is ''extremely low''.

That risk of infection has caused several places, including more than a dozen American states, to ban the practice of using toothless garra rufa fish, also known as ''doctor fish''.

The Bangkok Post reported there were 1341 registered fish spas in Thailand, and 3000 unregistered. The president of the Dermatological Society of Thailand told the newspaper fish spa operators who failed to keep hygienic standards were putting their customers at great risk.

''It's both the fish and the water that could cause infection,'' he said.

Poor fish.

So this was the story about the fish that nibbled my feet that lay in the tank in the Thailand.

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