No visit to Thailand would be complete without a stay in Bangkok. The 2016 Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index, which ranks the 132 most visited cities around the world, ranked Bangkok as the number one destination city by overnight visitor arrivals. Bangkok was projected to receive 21.47 million international overnight visitors in 2016 followed by London with 19.88 million visitors; Paris with 18.03 million visitors; Dubai with 15.27 million visitors and New York at number five with 12.75 million visitors.
In addition to being ranked as the number one destination city, it also has the distinction of being the city with the longest place name. Bangkok’s full ceremonial name, at 168 letters, is listed in Guinness World Records. Bangkok’s full ceremonial name is: ‘Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit’ and translates as ‘City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.’
There are literally thousands of hotels in Bangkok but somehow The Atlanta Hotel has managed to differentiate itself from all the others. I somehow doubt there is another like it in all of Bangkok and it would certainly make an interesting case study from a marketing perspective. The hotel was built in the 1950’s by Dr. Max Henn and claims to have the oldest unaltered hotel foyer in Thailand which they also claim is the most photographed and filmed hotel foyer in Thailand.
It is however not the hotel foyer that sets them apart. Sex tourism is big business in Thailand. A study by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul of Chulalongkorn University in 2004 estimated that there were 2.8 million sex workers in Thailand although this figure has been disputed by some. One study in 2015 estimated the annual revenue from sex tourism at US$6.4B or about 10% of Thailand’s GDP. A large part of this revenue flows to hotels in Bangkok but The Atlanta Hotel wants no part of it and are not shy about their intentions either.
“The Atlanta is against sex tourism. Sex tourism is exploitative, socially damaging and culturally demeaning; those who want to buy sex should do so in their own country.” In addition, “The Atlanta also does not welcome undomesticated people – the sort of people who do not know how to sit on a chair or at table, who do not know how to behave, and whose appearance and manners are so disgraceful as to bring disrepute upon their own countrymen. Their presence puts other people off. These undomesticated people should stay home lest the Thais take one look at them and say, “Mother, father no teach”, which is one of the most opprobrious reflections that can be made about a person in the Thai idiom.” (emphasis not mine).
There is no doubt that The Atlanta is an important part of Bangkok’s hospitality industry. In addition to having the most photographed and filmed hotel foyer in Thailand, it also boasts the first hotel swimming pool in Thailand. It was, in its heyday, a fashionable establishment with white table cloths and waiters in white ties. By the 1980’s it had however been taken over by a “rump of larger louts”. The owner’s son, Dr. Charles Henn, at that point decided to reclaim the hotel and make it what it is today. There are signs everywhere of a zero tolerance for ‘trouble-makers’ and ‘illegal substances and activities’, there are no TV’s in the rooms and they also do not entertain complaints, if you don’t like the way they run the hotel, they don’t care.
Making a reservation was a rather interesting process. A detailed form had to be completed and submitted before the reservation was confirmed. They wanted full names, passport numbers, nationalities and dates of birth for all the guests. I somehow suspect that if one guest has a western passport and the other a Thai passport the request for a reservation will be denied.
The danger of sitting in judgment of others is that it can quickly lead to arrogance. Many of the staff have been with the hotel for long periods and the ‘if you don’t like it, I don’t care’ attitude of Dr. Charles Henn certainly comes across, especially with the ladies managing the reception desk and the restaurant. It actually feels like they are doing you a favour when they provide a service that you are paying for. It’s almost as if by providing poor service the staff are daring you to complain or make a suggestion so that they can ask you to leave. The only exception was Lek, the lady who manages the travel desk. In true Thai fashion she was helpful, courteous and friendly.
It was apparent from our first dinner at the hotel that there is an air of arrogance in the hotel. Our drinks were placed on custom made coasters titled ‘BANGKOK’S HISTORIC HOTEL. LODESTAR & CYNOSURE OF WHOLESOME TOURISM’. I must confess I did have to go and look up the meanings of Lodestar (something that serves as a guide or on which the attention is fixed) and Cynosure (something serving for guidance or direction).
The coaster that really got my attention was ‘Number 4 of an indefinite set’. On the back of the coaster was a quote by Dr. Charles Henn to a guest who complained in an intemperate manner, “What do you expect for the little you pay? Go to a luxury hotel and pay twenty times more if you don’t like it here – then you can complain all you like. Better still, go to hell!” (emphasis mine). When owners of hotels start telling their paying guests to ‘go to hell’ and boasting about it, I think they have been in the business to long and it is time for them to find something else to do.
We had booked into The Atlanta Hotel for 5 nights and unfortunately I paid for all 5 nights on arrival, another of their requirements, cash up front. Had I not done so we would probably have moved to another hotel after 2 nights.
As we were not allowed to complain (and if we did, they would simply ask us to leave), after 4 days of our room not being cleaned properly Margaret got fed up and took matters into her own hands. She found the cleaning equipment and set about cleaning our room properly. It is probably now the cleanest it has been in a very long time! We have stayed in many hotels around the world and this is the first time we have ever had a problem with cleanliness. We have no idea if the kitchen has the same cleanliness problem but this was the first time in our two month stay in Thailand that either of us had an upset stomach.
I think that the heading ‘BANGKOK’S HISTORIC HOTEL. LODESTAR & CYNOSURE OF WHOLESOME TOURISM’ on the coasters should be changed to ‘A BUDGET HOTEL RUN BY A GRUMPY AND ARROGANT OLD MAN’. Perhaps they should also display similar warnings on their website and at the front door.
We will treat our visit to The Atlanta Hotel as we did our trip to Mexico. Having been once we have absolutely no desire to return. If you are thinking of staying at The Atlanta Hotel our advice is, don’t.