Guest Review by Carly Hammond
One of the joys of travel is stumbling upon a special place to stay that defies the status quo, yet is traditional and remains loyal to its origins. These rare gems become a destination in themselves. Such is Bangkok’s Atlanta Hotel.
The neighborhood: Nestled at the end of the long and uneventful Soi 2 off Sukhumvit Road, the Atlanta is an oasis in the concrete jungle of Bangkok. Its sense of refuge is remarkable, despite being only a few minutes walk from the red lights of Soi Nana, 10 minutes away from the bustling Arab quarter and 15 minutes from some of Asia’s best shopping malls.
The hosts: The Atlanta has an intriguing history, founded by German Dr Max Henn in the 1950s who converted the hotel from his pharmaceutical factory. These days the hotel and its philosophy are the product of Max’s reverent son Dr Charles Henn, who you may catch a glimpse of if he’s not abroad pursuing his academic career.
The hotel: If you’re after a hotel with an impressive facade, this place isn’t for you. The Atlanta’s dull, non-descript exterior works to repel those with an inclination towards the conspicuous. Says the welcome sign: ‘This is the place you are looking for, if you know it. If you don’t, you’ll never find it.’ (This sign is accompanied by another to repel the licentious: ‘Sex Tourists Not Welcome’.)
However for those who do ‘know it’, a feast for the senses begins through the front doors. The hotel’s iconic lobby transports guests back in time with its art deco grandeur and class. It is complemented by other charming features not least the guest’s writing room, ornate winding staircase and original swimming pool, making the hotel very popular with – in the Atlanta’s own words – ‘cultured occidentals’ and ‘innocuous eccentrics’.
In fact, eccentricity defines the Atlanta with its numerous claims to fame (most photographed hotel lobby and home to one of Thailand’s oldest travel agencies are just the beginning), uncompromising moral proclamations and annotated restaurant menu that reads more like a PhD.
Yes epicureans, no description of the Atlanta would be complete without acknowledgement of its fine restaurant, open only to hotel clientele, and offering an extensive array of quality Thai food and more-than-adequate western favourites (note to readers: when in Rome, please…). The relaxed yet refined old-world ambience is made complete with the playing of classical music or jazz music composed by HH the King of Thailand. (Kingly jazz video here.)
The room:We live in an imperfect world, and serious hotel-buffs may encounter disappointment with the Atlanta’s basic, functional rooms, unless they manage to score one of the more coveted first-floor suites. However the rooms are all clean and, with a basic bathroom and cooling that works, are perhaps the reason the Atlanta remains one of South East Asia’s best value hotels.
What we love: With its inimitable style and reliable features, the Atlanta Hotel is a home away from home for many an intrepid soul. It provides romantic splendour with a dash of ‘mai pen rai’, and offers the perfect antidote to a big day out in the steamy megalopolis. Indeed, where else in Bangkok will you receive a complimentary fruit shake at check-in, have a porter lug your bags up four storeys of stairs and get to laze by a pool ALL for the price of a music CD?
Tips: While The Atlanta offers free wireless internet for guests, its own booking services remain in the last century, with fax the preferred communications medium. Given the hotel typically books out weeks in advance, we highly recommend confirming bookings a couple of times including a day or so before arrival.
Tariffs: Prices ranges from 1700 baht (US$56) for an air-conditioned family suite, sleeping four people to 500 baht (US$17) for a basic fan-cooled room for one. As another small sign in the reception area states ‘Complaints are not permitted – not at the prices we charge’.
Suggested lullaby for this hotel: The Very Thought of You by Billie Holiday.
Contact Info: The Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok.
For bookings: fax (yes, it’s back to the future via the 80′s): +66 2 656 8123 or +66 2 656 8124.
Alternatives: In the event that you think The Atlanta is just a little too weird or their rooms not sufficiently salubrious, alternative hotels in Bangkok include: the charming and eclectic Phranakorn Nornlen which has a lovely garden and grows its own organic veggies; the modestly priced but very cute Seven, a six room art hotel by a cool 30-something Thai (the seventh room is a communal space); cosy, ‘an-teaky’, elegant and a bit more grown up is the Old Bangkok Inn with good green credentials; the tiny three-room Ibrik Resort takes you out of the concrete jungle to the breezes of the Chao Phraya river (order a Singha and watch the world float by); finally The Eugenia is insanely beautiful, your address for exotic nostalgia (wear a linen suit, carry a vintage camera and look enigmatic). All are popular, so book ahead!
Carly Hammond is a Melbourne-based communications and community engagement specialist working with environmental and international development organisations. She has written for various publishers and websites including Lonely Planet, and lived in Thailand, Kenya and Belgium. In her spare time, she blogs at The Other: Dispatches from Humanity, discussing migration, multiculturalism and human rights.