It was Halloween night, so I packed a blonde wig and my skimpy black leather and velvet costume, ready to party the night away on Phuket. But there would be no celebrations at the Banyan Tree resort. In the lobby decorated with fresh lotus buds in brass jars, three Thai musicians were sitting on a table playing traditional instruments and the music was like trickling water. A few people were sipping cocktails at a bar next to a lotus pond, and couples were sitting at candle-lit tables - intimate, romantic and cosy, but not a hint of festivity in the air. After a feast of Phuket lobsters, I was escorted in a battery-powered car to my villa, in traditional Thai style with a high ceiling and teak floor. The sliding bedroom door opened on to a pool lined by hibiscus and birds-of-paradise plants. Everything in the hut was environmentally friendly. Even the shampoo bottles were pottery. I buried myself in a foamy bath in a tropical garden at the back; a fountain of warm water poured down my back, the steam rose among lush tropical plants. Drinking wine in a hot bath under the stars to the sounds of crickets was not bad compensation for the loss of a big night out. The resort was recently voted the world's best spa resort by readers of a leading international travel magazine. I had been warned that the spa centre was extremely busy and I should make a booking as early as possible. The service menu exhausted my eyes. There were dozens of programmes under various fancy names: Spirit, Chi, Earth, Romance, the Asian Affair, Sea of Senses, and so on. Booking the spa involved a few phone calls: the reception had few time-slots left. The receptionist suggested 1pm, but I knew a full stomach would not enjoy being rubbed. But there was no choice. I was booked for 50 minutes of body treatment and another 50 of massage. Inside the reception, a line of people was waiting, and a Taiwanese woman was pointing her finger at the receptionists: 'I booked the massage from the Internet, how come the price you just quoted is different?' It was finally my turn. I was recommended a mud body masque for my bones and an Indonesian deep-tissue massage for my sore back. I was led to a tropical garden. The warm scent of herbal oil embraced me. I lay on a bed in a pavilion after a quick shower. A quiet-spoken Thai lady holding a jar of smooth black substance stood by the bed - she was my mud master, and the mud was from America. The mud master smeared me all over and wrapped me up in a huge plastic sheet. My skin started to tingle, and I drifted away in my warm cocoon. After another shower I was led to a hut where bamboo blinds had been closed and herbal oil was burning. I was told to wait for the masseur. I had asked for a jacuzzi pavilion for my massage. After a few minutes, the masseur emerged and said all jacuzzi pavilions had been booked out. I asked her to check my booking at the reception. She finally returned and promised I could get into a jacuzzi after the massage. As it turned out, my massage time was shortened and I was nowhere near a jacuzzi afterwards. Daniel Haber, a visiting journalist from Bangkok, complained he was not given a full body massage as promised and his seaweed masque made him smell like dead fish. Maybe a spa consultant would have helped. The facilities are tops and so are the masseurs, but a bit more organising would not hurt. The resort's general manager, Abid Butt, said the spa centre was non-clinical in nature, unlike many popular European and North American spas. 'It's about working on all your senses,' he said. 'We use century-old Asian treatment and develop our own therapies and oil blends.' Kelly Meng, a Taiwanese woman who travels around the world checking out various spas, said she preferred the massage techniques at Banyan Tree to those in Europe, while a Melbourne woman said she would rather have a 300 baht massage on the beach than a 2,750 baht body treatment at Banyan Tree. The 243-hectare resort has 110 villas of various sizes. It is hard to imagine this fairyland by Bang Tao Bay in northwestern Phuket was developed from an abandoned tin-mining site. The resort opened in 1994 as a chain of hotel resorts operated by Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Wah-Chang International. Four other resorts along Bang Tao Bay offer various accommodation with different rates. Guests at any of the five resorts can enjoy facilities in all other resorts. Despite the Asian financial crisis, Banyan Tree has been enjoying an occupancy of about 80 per cent for the past year. While many luxury hotels and resorts in the region drop their rates in fierce competition, Banyan Tree raised its rates by about US$100 (HK$778) this year from 1997. After two days of pampering myself at Banyan Tree, I felt more relaxed than ever, despite a few hiccups in the famous spa centre. My voice had softened, probably from being lazy or drunk; my skin was glowing from the sun, if not from the wine, or the mud. But it is not quite a paradise if you are alone. I sent an e-mail to my boyfriend. I missed his company. The sanctuary made me feel more sensuous, but also more lonely. I packed my party gear and headed for Phuket town, looking for action.