Thai me up, Thai me down

The Scotsman, 22 December 2002, TRAVEL

GLASGOW to Heathrow and then on to Bangkok is a long time to hang in the sky, but with the prospect of what lies ahead, I grin and bear it and arrive in Thailandís capital city slightly jet-lagged but excited and check in to the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit, a luxurious and beautiful hotel with 445 rooms and suites.

My first stop there is the hotelís spa with its free-form tropical swimming pool and fully-equipped health club. While here I seize the opportunity of a Thai massage, my very first. Half an hour of pulling and pounding, kneading and stretching is a bit of a shock to the system, but well worth it. Now I feel ready to take on Bangkok, so I head for the elevated Sky Train.

Day two I go sightseeing at the flower market, where women sit making offerings for worship, their babies next to them in baskets. On to Wat Po, the Reclining Buddha - an awesome sight. The Grand Palace is absolutely amazing. I have never seen anything like this before - so much gold and so much work. I sit in the presence of the Emerald Buddha and feel very calm, it is as if Iím part of something very special. The Thai massage school is fascinating and the students there will give you a massage for about 400 bahts (£5.80).

From the palace we take a trip on the long-tail river boats into the network of canals, known locally as klongs, for a really different perspective of Bangkok.

Dinner tonight is at the seafood market, which looks something like a bowling alley and acts as a fish supermarket and restaurant all in one. We order a selection of dishes; my favourite is sweet and sour red snapper, which only minutes earlier was swimming around in a giant tank.

After a good feed, weíre off to Patpong and the night market. It felt a bit intimidating at first but seems friendly enough as we wander past luridly-lit bars where the girls and Ďladyboysí try seductively to lure punters in for a drink or two. I am not tempted, but it was a bit of an eye-opener.

I take a tuk tuk (three-wheeled motor scooter) back to the hotel. This turns out to be an adrenaline-filled roller-coaster-ride of a journey which actually took only a few minutes but seemed to last for ages.

Day three Leaving Bangkok we head for Koh Samui and land in paradise. Literally, since weíre staying at the Paradise Beach resort, right on Maenam beach on the north of the island, only a short journey from Chaweng, the main town. I take a short bus ride to soak up the atmosphere of this busy place.

Day four We get up early and head for Bo Phut port and a two-hour boat trip to the Angthong national marine park, north from the port and into the 40 islands of the Angthong Archipelago. On Wau Ta Lab island we climb the hill - itís a must - and are rewarded with a view from the summit that is simply spectacular. Then on to Mae Koh island where, again, we take to the hills, this time in search of an inland salt lake which proves to be a turquoise dream.

Day five We wave farewell to Thailand and head for Singapore, where Changi airport is everything I had been led to expect - clean, orderly, and hi-tech. Here we stay at the Gallery Evason, a super-cool hotel with 224 rooms. It, like the airport, is clean, modern and very stylish, however, the in-room technology was too much for me and it took a day to discover how to turn off the lights in my room! There is a great rooftop pool where you can swim and view the cityís skyscraper landscape.

Day six Breakfast this morning at the Jurong Birdpark, housing 8,000 birds. Over our meal we were entertained by a cabaret act performed by the bird keepers and some of the inhabitants. I am particularly impressed by the flamingos - hundreds of them. A monorail takes groups around the park, but itís better to walk if you have the time.

We take a sightseeing boat trip around the bay and get a glimpse of the smart new opera house which looks exactly like two durians - a very distinctive local fruit that tastes great but has a repellant smell. Next, weíre off to the botanic gardens with its display of 60,000 plants and orchids and then the Bukit Tinnah nature reserve.

Dinner is at Boat Quay by the Singapore river, then on to one of the areaís most popular tourist attractions, the night safari. There are 1,000 animals, including tigers, giraffes, even rhinos. Later, I take a late-night stroll along Singaporeís main shopping street, Orchard Road, boasting huge shopping centres and malls.

Day seven Breakfast at Arab Street, a great place to buy gifts, then on to Little India, a vibrant bustling district of markets and shops. Our final outing takes us to the Chinatown area where busy street vendors sell everything from trainers to Chinese decorations. Out of this visual feast emerges a Chinese chemist shop filled with pills, potions and raw materials of uncertain origin which offer a cure for all ills. We have lunch at the Imperial Herbal Restaurant where every dish is said to have health benefits. The food certainly tasted wonderful and was the perfect tonic before the long flight home.

Fact file

AsiaWorld (08709 908 228) has an 11-night combination offering three nights at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit in Bangkok, five at the Chaweng Regent in Koh Samui and three at the Swissotel Stamford in Singapore. Prices start at £1,229 per person (twin share) and include return Edinburgh or Glasgow flights, via Heathrow, to Bangkok and homeward from Singapore, as well as internal flights and transfers.

Bangkok single-centre deals cost from £785 per person (twin share) for five nights at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit, with return KLM flights to Edinburgh or Glasgow, via Amsterdam.

Koh Samui single-centre holidays start at £859 per person for five nights at the Chaweng Regent and include return flights from Glasgow or Edinburgh, via Amsterdam, to Bangkok and Koh Samui.

Singapore single-centre deals are £755 per person for five nights at the Swissotel Stamford, based on KLM flights from Edinburgh or Glasgow via Amsterdam.