Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a must-see when visiting Bangkok. It’s 100km from the city but well worth the trip.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a must-see when visiting Bangkok. It’s 100km from the city but well worth the trip.

Much more to Thailand holiday than Hangover

"BANGKOK has him now, and she'll never let him go".

Thailand may be one of Australia's most popular holiday destinations, but almost everything I knew about this country came from watching The Hangover II.

However, a whirlwind tour of four unique Thailand hotspots showed me there is so much more to this warm tropical country than dodgy encounters with Thai lady boys and waking up with ill-chosen facial tattoos.

Non-stop shopping

After arriving in Bangkok late on Sunday night, we're whisked away by cab to our first port of call - an ultra-modern, sexy purple hotel called Mode Sathorn.

While I love an old Queenslander as much as the next person, I also love this place.

It has a futuristic feel but is never tacky or plasticky.

I opt for a mix of East and West to break my fast. There's the mandatory bacon and eggs but also smoked salmon and some spicy Asian pasta salad.

After brekky, Australian travel guru and our host David Baker shows me how to get to Bangkok's premier shopping mall by BTS Skytrain.

The roads choke up with cars, buses and cabs, while motor scooters buzz around the gridlock like flies at a picnic. I note that the traffic rules seem to belong to a certain Mr Rafferty so a cab ride could be an exercise in patience.

But the Skytrain sails effortless above the choked streets so it's a stress-free ride and you'll enjoy the sights as you go.

The 10-block or so ride to the city heart takes about 15 minutes and costs me the equivalent of one Australian dollar. Certainly cheaper than training it around Brisbane.

Bangkok's shopping centre is a fashionista's paradise. There are all brands, tastes and budgets catered for here.

The Siam Center is all top-end shopping and would probably be a treasure trove for deep-pocketed fashionistas and David Jones fans.

It's a little too rich for my blood so I cross the busy road - thankfully, there are pedestrian flyovers everywhere - to explore the Central World Plaza.

This is a more pleasing mix for my palette - there are high-end fashion and jewellery shops but the indoor mall then morphs into sprawling indoor markets.

Clothing, phone accessories and knick-knacks dominate these markets.

Ralph Lauren polo shirts are a favourite here and I stop counting polo shirt shops after the 10th one.

Scores of stalls are everywhere.

It's not packed, the stallholders are friendly - but not pushy - and the prices, by and large, are excellent.

I pick up a couple of surfbrand T-shirts for about $A8 each and some Chinese-style white cotton shirts for about $A10 each.

European playground

To get to our next destination, we fly from Bangkok to Phuket, then catch a mini-bus for an hour's ride to the north.

The countryside is lush and green and hilly. I'm constantly reminded of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Our van pulls into the adults-only Sensi Mar Khao Lak Beachfront Resort, which features stylish, modern buildings set around a series of pools.

We meet Sensi Mar Khao Lak Beachfront Resort manager Ciaran McNeil, who fills us in on some of the history and news of this mountainous region.

As Ciaran explains, Khao Lak doesn't have the international fame of Phuket but it's easily a more beautiful area and certainly less commercial or over-exposed than its more famous southern neighbour.

You won't get hassled on the beach by vendors selling their wares in Khao Lak, Ciaran tells us.

You won't see any jet skis buzzing the beaches here, either.

Oh, and Sensi Mar is an adults-only resort.

That doesn't mean there are any pants-free shenanigans going on here outside the confines of guests' rooms.

It simply enables guests to come here knowing there are no littlies running around or dive bombing in the pools.

And, I note that a poolside sign says guests "must wear bathers in the pool". Damn those Germans and their love of a good nuddy swim, eh?

We enjoy a wide array of curries and beers by candlelight, with the relaxed candle-lit ambience enhanced by the gentle lap of waves on the sand about 20 metres away.

A cold Tiger beer costs the princely sum of about $A2 and a mouth-watering green curry is about $4.

Thailand's Noosa

We bid goodbye to the beachside luxury of Sensi Mar, board another minibus and are soon winding our way through the tropical forests as we head to the southern coast for the upmarket beachside town of Krabi.

While Khao Lak is a lovely place to visit, I could happily live in Krabi.

This busy beachside town looks like Noosa and Airlie Beach's love child.

The following day we explore some of the nearby tourist attractions, such as hot springs, the Kong Tom Temple museum and a gorgeous emerald-coloured pond.

As the sun sinks in the sky, we pile into the van again and make our way to a cooking school run by Krabi's equivalent of Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef Chonlaya Laothong "Ya".

The affable and charismatic Ya, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay, runs the Krabi Cookery School.

Under Ya's patient tuition, we make amazingly good Tom Yum, green curry, satay curry and coconut milk curry soup.

From Ya', we head to downtown Krabi to explore night markets.

These markets feature a pleasing mix of crafts, hot foods, produce, clothing and knick knacks.

We explore the stalls, along with a bustling crowd of Asians, Americans and Europeans before the markets are brought to a sudden halt by a tropical downpour.

Island paradise

For our next stop, we bid goodbye to my beloved Krabi, board a speedboat and head out on to the dark blue waters of the Adaman Sea.

A speed boat tour of the islands off Krabi will cost you only about $50 for the day.

If you're more budget- conscious, you can hire a long boat for a group for about $30 for the day.

I soon discover a treasure trove of reef fish, comprising literally all colours of the rainbow. A few of the fish I meet down deeper are certainly big enough to excite any fisherman. The whole time I'm snorkelling, a school of small stripies follows me around like a faithful Labrador. I enjoy their company, even if a couple of its members take small nips at me from time to time.

We touch down at a cluster of three small islands that are connected by sandbars at low tide.

It looks like half of Europe is here.

To say this place is an island paradise is underselling it.

We step off the boat on to virgin white sand. The waters are crystal clear in the shallows, before becoming an almost impossibly perfect emerald blue.

The waters actually look Photoshopped.

Two beautiful, bikini-clad German girls stand knee deep in the water, feeding a voracious school of luminescent reef fish.

A few metres away, a monkey blissfully ignores a group of camera-toting admirers as he gorges on an open coconut that a tourist handed him.

Because it's hot, we do the only decent thing and make a beeline up the beach to a beach bar, staffed by smiling Thai girls.

Local beers are $2 each.

Ridiculously cheap.

We're a decent boat ride from anywhere and yet the prices are still brilliant.

From here, it's a one-hour boat ride to our destination, the Crown Lanta Resort, which is on a stunning private peninsula on Koh Lanta.

After being shown to our villas, set high on a hill overlooking the ocean on all sides, we meet for dusk cocktails at a bar set literally right on the rocks on the ocean's edge.

This bar faces west so we quaff beers and watch the sun sink into the blue waters as a tiny long boat putts past. Forget the bucket list, this will do me.

The next morning we bid our friendly Thai hosts and staff farewell and return to Phuket.

Once back in Phuket, we cab it to the airport, fly to Bangkok airport, then wing it home to Oz.

I'd happily stay for at least a week at any one of the four resorts we visited.

The countryside is beautiful and lush, the beaches are tranquil and serene, the people are polite and friendly and the prices for food, transport and accommodation are so cheap it feels like you've stepped back 20 years in time.


Latest deals:

Mode Sathorn Hotel: Four nights in a deluxe room with daily breakfast, from $255 per person, twin share. www.modesathorn.com

Sensi Mar at Khao Lak: Room rates start at $128 per room, including breakfast, for the northern summer months of May through October. If you book 90 days in advance, the room rates, including breakfast, start at $81. www.khaolakbeachfront.com

Aonang Cliff Resort: Four nights in a superior room, including daily breakfast, start at $169 per person, twin share. www.aonangcliffresort.com

Crown Lanta Resort and Spa: Prices for a four-night package start at $219 per person, twin share. www.crownlanta.com






The writer was a guest of Thai Airlines and Randall Marketing.