Feb 13, 2009

Sex Tourists Not Welcome

Entrance to the Atlanta Hotel

I first stayed at the Atlanta about thirteen years ago in the middle of the wet season 1996.

My mom in law, my soon to be wife, and I were coming from Vientiane. We were sick of guest houses and wanted to stay someplace a little nice without breaking the bank. A taxi driver recommended the Atlanta. It was a perfect choice.

The Atlanta in it's time was probably one of, if not the, finest hotel in Bangkok. The place had retained it's charm even if a modern metropolis had grown up around it. The lobby isn't air conditioned as indeed probably no buildings at the time had central air. Instead it sits lower than the street and is shaded from the sun. Ceiling fans turn slowly and you don't get that sealed from the real world, feeling that comes from central air. I remember no windows on the street side of the lobby and towards the rear open doorways leading to the shady garden and the swimming pool. The feeling was of being hushed and at ease, a place to relax from the rat race of modern Bangkok.

The lobby itself had deep leather chairs and nice wooden writing desks with hotel stationary supplied free. Potted plants, and old photographs. There was a restaurant with high booths. We ate those club sandwiches cut diagonally twice, toasted, and with the crust cut off, even had those tooth picks through them. The restaurant only played jazz music pre selected by the German owner.

A great rumor had it that the owner was somehow connected with the CIA, love rumors even if based on nothing. I think while we were there the embassy was using the Atlanta to warehouse a citizen waiting to be repatriated. I'm not sure what his story was but they were picking up the tab for his room and board. Maybe he ran into bad circumstances in Bangkok.

We stayed there a week or ten days while I figured out how in the heck we were going to get my wife to America. I can think of worse places to spend a week. Mostly we swam in the pool during the day and hung out watching TV or talking at night. There were street stalls on the soi for the construction gangs building across the street. No lack of sticky rice to be had. Often my Maetou (mom in law) would gamble for small amounts with the guys staying at the hotel, and kid them without mercy for losing.

I think they were playing for coins only, and this was before the ten baht coin. I did have to buy a lunch once so maetou didn't win every time, but almost. She loves to gamble. The guys were mostly middle aged Europeans in Bangkok to chase the girls. They'd usually appear at the pool around noon exchanging gossip from the night before, who ended up with who or what old girlfriend had gotten angry or whatever. My mom in law would kid them accusing them of being taken advantage of, or being too old anyway. She's a great kidder.

There was also a young American guy who had lost an arm to the shoulder, some kind of accident I think. He loved to swim even though one armed. He ended up meeting and then going out with an attractive Canadian girl who was staying at the Atlanta. She had just finished writing for the Vientiane Times for a couple of years. She spoke great Lao. Two months later we met them at the airport when we were headed out with our visa. I think they were also headed back to North America... together.

I went back to the Atlanta late last year. I needed to go to the hospital on the other side of Sukumvit and I figured it would be close. I read the web site and I'd seen warnings online. They have all kinds of anti sex tourist notices. I wasn't headed to Bangkok for women anyway so I figured it wouldn't matter, it did.

Big Bad Bangkok

View from my window, skyscraping hotels and apartment buildings seem to have sprung up everywhere

The elderly Thai woman who used to run the place is no longer to be seen. I think her son is running it in her stead. Perhaps he has an issue with sex tourists. Maybe I would too if I lived in Thailand and was the product of a mixed marriage. In any case the effort to exclude sex tourists has exceeded what is called for. It crosses the boundary of being rude and even racist. The hotel has also gone to seed somewhat. Dingy and tattered. The night guys are no longer awake. The many services that come with a full service hotel are no longer there.

A couple weeks ago I met my mom in law at a Vientiane fern bar and we had a glass of wine together. I told her I'd stayed at the Atlanta, hoping she'd remembered the good times we'd had there so long ago.

Turns out she'd tried to go to the Atlanta herself. My Maetou went to Bangkok with a couple of her girlfriends to go shopping and so she could brag to her other friends back in Vientiane about it. Maetou no longer gambles for baht coins but for Vientiane real estate which has skyrocketed.

The Atlanta wouldn't let her in. Said "we don't let Thai women stay here", she said, "I'm Lao not Thai", they said "you still can't stay here". She wasn't happy. She had been all excited to show her buddies the little gem that the Atlanta used to be. She had remembered the Thai owner who so warmly welcomed her and chatted about the weaving on the sinh my mom in law wore.

Maybe the changes have something to do with the changes on Sukumvit itself. There always used to be a little baby Patpong on soi 4 called Nana Plaza. The beer bars have spilled out of the plaza and onto the soi itself. Lots of drunk guys at noon, lots of women of leisure.

If anyone knows of a decent clean hotel in the area or across Sukumvit in the soi 3 area for four of five hundred baht I'd love to hear of it, chances are I'm going to be headed back to Bunrungrad hospital again over the coming years.


Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything on Suk for 500 Bhat. I often stay at the Federal, on Soi 11 but it's very popular. There's also the Stable Lodge, which is very nice, around 1200 Bhat. I usually stay at the KT Guest House, up by Huay Khwang market (Inthamara, Soi 44); even though it's away from the center, it's near a BTS station so I think it's easy to get around. Also, the IT center at Fortune Towers is nearby - it's just as large as Pantip but it's easier to breathe.

I've always wondered about the Atlanta Hotel; I tried to find it once and thought it had been engulfed by construction.

PS Found your blog via Google alerts.

Anonymous said...

Glad that you are back to blogging. I enjoy reading about Lao. Kop jai.

Somchai said...

Thank you both.

For the tips on places to stay, and for the encouragement to write more. I have lots of photos and a few stories from my latest trip, (some stories even true) but not much spare time. I'll try to write before memory fades.

Laos said...

How many times have you been to Laos?

Somchai said...

Not sure 8 or 9 times but then with all the back and forths for vacations in Thailand and what not maybe closer to 15 or more? Have had pages attached to 2 passports.

raoul said...

I stayed with my wife at The Atlanta in 2004. I had found it by doing some private research. We were breaking the journey to New Zealand from England.
Unfortunately at about 4am I found my wife in the children's swimming pool. She had apparently gone out into the grounds and suffered a heart attack, andfallen into the pool.
The staff of the Atlanta were very supportive and allowed me to stay on while I was interviewed by the police and then contacted the British Embassy, who got me a flight back to the UK.
In spite of what happened or maybe because of it I would recommend The Atlanta to anyone wishing to experience Bangkok 'off the tourist trail'.