Samui Wining & Dining
You For Dinner?
Have your worries nibbled away by the tiny team at Dr Fish.


You For Dinner?What do you do to relax? Well, if you’re on a tropical island like Samui, there’re plenty of options. You could take a book to the beach, browse around the roadside shops, have a beer whilst watching the world go by. But there’s another relaxing thing to do here that most people wouldn’t think of, especially when it involves water and swimwear. It’s not sitting on the beach then going for a dip – it’s getting into a tank and being nibbled by hundreds of tiny fish.


This is what you do at Dr Fish, a place in Chaweng that has one of the biggest fish therapy tanks in the world. You’ve probably seen something similar before, with people sitting outside shops with their feet submerged in water whilst fish nibble at their toes. But at Dr Fish it’s quite a bit different.


For starters, they use only garra rufa fish, known worldwide for their therapeutic and healing properties because of the enzyme, dithranol, which they secrete. This moisturises and cleans the skin so any dead and flaky skin is taken away, and conditions like psoriasis and eczema can be helped or even healed. And before you start wondering if they have any piranha-like characteristics, you can be assured that garra rufa fish don’t have teeth! So you’re not being bitten, just gently nibbled by their lips. It’s an odd sensation at first, but it only takes a minute or two to relax into it and let the therapy begin.


The man behind it all is Alex Prestwich, a British native who came to Samui in 2009 with his partner, Lola Lavaud. Lola had been teaching yoga all around the world for years and wanted to look into the possibility of opening a ‘Bikram’ yoga studio here – the form of ‘hot yoga’ that uses 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a heated room to boost energy and stamina. Like so many people before them, Lola and Alex quickly realised that Samui was the perfect spot and so they bought a two-storey building just off the Chaweng Beach Road (it’s down one of the entrance lanes leading to Tops Supermarket, opposite the Via Vai Italian restaurant). Lola opened her yoga studio on the top floor and the business was born.


But this left Alex wondering what to do with the building’s ground floor. And as he’d been fascinated by the healing and relaxation properties of the garra rufa fish for many years, it didn’t take long for him to decide what to do. He opened Dr Fish shortly after and the centre has been helping people relax ever since.


“The fish are known for their healing properties and for helping with skin conditions, but the main part of Dr Fish is just about people relaxing and having fun,” Alex says. “We get so many people in who are squeamish at first – you might get a boyfriend having to ‘help’ his girlfriend into the pool – but after the first couple of minutes everyone relaxes and enjoys it. It’s why we offer 30 and 60 minute sessions – ten minutes isn’t really going to be enough time to really get into the relaxing.”


It’s an easy place to relax in and world’s apart from the grubby tanks you can see people dipping their feet in at other locations in Chaweng. The ‘fish room’ is bright and airy, with one huge tank containing 17,000 litres of water divided into three separate areas. There are over 5,000 fish here, all keen to nibble at you – even standing by the tank you’ll see hundreds of them rush up in the hope of getting to meet you. The water is as 100% clean and is filtered every 30 minutes.


If you’re going for the full body session – which is only a few hundred baht more than the 600 baht price for a toe dip – you’ll be given a towel and directed to the men’s or women’s changing rooms for a quick shower. Remember not to use soap! Then it’s over to one of the three areas of the huge tank, with the fish already coming over to greet you to see who’s come for dinner. As soon as you ease your feet into the water, the little garra rufa are straight over, nibbling away at your toes and feet. Then it’s a deep breath and into the tank up to the shoulders.


The fish at your feet will stay where they are, but that’s no problem as within a second or two there’ll be hundreds more all over you, gently nibbling. It feels a bit like being in a Jacuzzi or when you’re leaning against some gently vibrating machinery. There’s nothing else on the island like it and, as Alex says, once you get used to the sensation and relax, it’s a very peaceful experience. There’s soothing music in the background and you’ll get a pot of green tea as well – watch the fish dart away for a second when you go to pick up your cup.


In fact, the only real problem at Dr Fish is when it’s time to get out as you’ll be tingling all over and completely relaxed, and won’t want to leave. It mightn’t be the first place where you imagine being in your swimwear on a tropical island, but do give it a go – it’ll be one of the most relaxing things you can do here and leave your skin silky smooth in the process.


Lisa Cunningham


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