An Ode to the Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok
The Atlanta Hotel in Bangkok is one of the oldest hotels and one of the quirkiest places to stay in this thriving and expanding city. Set deeply back in the 1950’s, lacking the ultramodern comforts that have become standards in city hotels, and applying a moral policy that some find not just obsolete but offending, it wouldn’t be an obvious choice for the independent traveller.
So why stay there?
Just check this out:
A cat concierge. That alone would be a reason to visit, right? In fact, about twenty to thirty rescue cats live at the Atlanta. They mostly live with the staff in the staff quarters, but you will often see a few working in the hotel.
Apart from the cats and their caring attitude to animals, his place is, in some ways, really homely with its old-fashioned air and lovely public areas. It has communal areas that put you straight into a bygone era when people wrote letters, looked at film slides, and a trip to Southeast Asia was a grand undertaking. And sometimes, as a single traveller, you just need a bit of homeliness.
I first came across it reading the Guardian in 2005 when reading an article titled “Bangkok’s Original Hip Hotel”. Hip Hotels were Big Business then – remember the “Hip Hotels” book series of the 2000’s? If a hotel was in there, it was certainly the place to be seen in. Except, this place is really not hip nor is it a boutique hotel, but a time warp way back to the Steam Age. It was built in the 1950’s by a German chemist, Dr. Henn, who was a resident of Bangkok. It boasted the first hotel swimming pool in Thailand and was quite the modern travellers dream. Then came the Vietnam War, American soldiers used Bangkok to prepare for and as a respite from combat, and the area around Sukhumvit became one of the centres where prostitution was big business. And suddenly, the hotel was in the centre of action, geographically. Some image that the city hasn’t been able to shake off (there are such industries in pretty much every city, regardless of culture and religion), and the beginning of Sukhumvit Road is not exactly a modern city planners dream with its narrow street lined with bars and yes, prostitutes aplenty.
And the Atlanta? Somewhere along the line, they made rules. Only proper “wholesome tourists” are welcome at the Atlanta, and they make that very clear. Also, about ten years ago it was deemed proper that, as a wholesome tourists, you don’t just book your accommodation online, or perhaps phone, no, reservations had to be made by letter or fax. You didn’t even have to leave your credit card details or prepay, that wasn’t the point. It was based on an honours system.
I remember even back in 2009, I sent a polite fax letter from work, requesting a first-floor suite, and then, funnily, received an email back to say that our reservation was granted.
Once I just decided to turn up at 9am (I had decided to take an earlier train back from Vientiane and try my luck), and was warmly welcomed, my bag stowed, given a room to change into my swimsuit and then hung out by the pool until my room was ready.
As for the Rules, they are everywhere. First, on the website. Read them again at the door. In the hotel room. And, in abbreviated form, on the drinks coasters and business cards. They say: Absolutely no sex tourists. No non-guests to visit rooms and stay overnight. No prostitutes, of course. Basically, no one who wants to party loud and be a lout are to show their faces here. I have also heard that they will turn away people with Thai wives and girlfriends and gay people. I find it difficult to judge because I am neither part of a single-sex couple nor do I have Thai relatives. All I can say is that this place is run by Thai people, why would they prejudice against Thai customers? I am not sure on this one. But hello, they didn’t bat an eyelid when I booked in with my female friend – we could have been a couple for all they know.
In short: I can abide by these laws.
Also, they rescue cats, and staying there will in some way, support them. What’s not to love? There was usually a friendly cat (or two) in the foyer, and before you wonder if this is a crazy cat lady place, do not worry. I think they live in the garden or in the staff quarters, and apart from some very well-behaved felines brushing my legs every now and then, I barely noticed this place is part animal sanctuary.
So, what can you expect once you passed this reservation process, arrived, trotted the kilometre or so Soi 2 of Sukhumvit Road, read and accepted the rules by the door, and perhaps face control by reception? We were rewarded with an incredibly well-priced, clean, classy accommodation, as well as a rather decent swimming pool and a great cafe-restaurant which only hotel guests may use.
And lets not forget the purrfect welcome.
The lobby is straight out of the 1950‘s, including fittings. Its amazing how they have managed to kept this running in a modern metropolis. As you enter, you find a travel desk by the entrance, then ahead, once you manouvered round the circular red settee, is the reception desk. Cast an eye to the right, the double doors to the Dining Room, usually open, with tables laid with white linen and china.
But let’s stay in the lobby. Everywhere you look, genuine 1950’s patina. You don’t need anything retro, this is real.
There is somewhere lovely to sit everywhere. Oh, yes, and they also display The Rules, but I understand they weren’t too keen for you to photograph then. However, you will find them on coasters and in abbreviated form on their business cards if you need a reminder.
I just love this. Excuse the many photos. I get stuck here every time, and the camera just wants to come out and play. I used a “Classic Film” Setting on the NikCollection on this. A bit of bygones nostalgia, a little underrated gem, just like this place.
I believe that a great mixture of people stay here. It certainly doesn’t offer the prices and party scene of Khao San Road, but there are some budget travellers who appreciate the hotel pool and want private rooms. People who could probably afford to stay in four- or five-star hotels (Bangkok’s competitive hotel rates make this even easier). Some long-term travellers love to return here, and some even write books here. Some of them are displayed in these cases, and if you look carefully on the right, you will see Elizabeth Gilbert’s most famous work. I don’t think she wrote it here, but she stayed here.
If you are a guest here, you may venture into the Writing Room, which I love in particular. Its really just a narrow corridor off reception, set with dark wood writing desks, writing paper, envelopes, and (get this!) slide viewing tables. Climb a ladder, and you are in a compact library, and of course, they have a couple of computers, too, and free internet access. No surprise that people who write stay here, as this is really a lovely snug area with everything you need to write.
Any self-respecting hotel would have its own stationary, of course.
Here’s a better view of the library.
And more seatings. There’s a decent selection of newspapers not far away.
Walk past reception and explore the small garden. For a property right in the centre of Sukhumvit, it is quite large, and reminds me of Route 66 motels…
Could this be why?
There is a swimming pool that may have seen better days, but charmingly old´fashioned with hammocks and tiles, and kept very clean. But you can bathe in history here, in the first hotel pool of Thailand.
But what are the rooms like? Surely it would cost a bomb to maintain that style faithfully, and would not be comfortable? Well, worry not. Rooms used to be very simple some years ago, but on recent years were gradually refurbished to include new beds and neutrally tiled bathrooms. They may be simple, some even with no aircon, but believe me, you will sleep soundly there, as all the essentials are done well: good beds, nice bedlinen, goood pillows, clean floors and functional bathrooms.
In 2009, our suite turned out to be a first generation traveller-style room with formica twin beds, a pink painted bathroom and a dark red tiny sitting room with a huge gilt mirror, and a general theme of pink and red.
Sadly, we didn’t use our formal sitting room that much.
I loved the pink bedroom, though. You could eat from that floor if you wanted to.
In recent years all rooms I stayed in (having said goodbye to suites after we found we spent much more time in the cafe or by the pool) were light, simple and reduced to the essentials. I found my stay here much more enjoyable than a night at the very classy Sukhumvit Hotel (which was very nice, believe me, but lacked that great easy mood and there is not much going on outside the hotel plus its a long way from any transport unless you take a cab).
They play classical music in the lobby all day and you may sit in the Dining Room and read newspapers with your third cup of coffee (they keep quite a few, plus magazines) and then casually swim a few laps in the pool then wonder whether to really go out and brave the traffic again or play board games with the couple on the other table. I‘ve been here alone, with a significant other and with my best friend, and always were we welcomed warmly.
A small third floor room with aircon, overlooking the street.
I did not takle any photos on my last visit, where we had a spacious second or third floor room overlooking the garden, which was huge and had three or four beds in it.
A whole chapter should be dedicated to its restaurant, too. Their rates do not include breakfast, so you will peruse the restaurant at some point, and while it looks like a station dining room, it’s one yet another gem. I was presented with a huge laminate A3 file called menu, with an extensive selection of foods, many served all day. The breakfast choice is extensive, and all is cooked to order. Fancy fried rice or noodle soup for breakfast? You can have this, and the quality of all dishes is very good. At lunchtime and at night this bright place with international newspapers and magazines becomes a genteel dining room for hotel guests only, and if you are a vegetarian, rejoice: they have a absolutely humongous choice of vegetarian dishes. I have not even managed one tenth of the menu yet, and I have tried hard. Even though the menu is huge, the quality of the dishes is great, and all are freshly cooked. Because they say the restaurant is for guests only, it is never really full, yet they still take their tome to serve everything, but when it comes, its great. We have actually dined in there with people who were not hotel guests, but we asked beforehand, had a short discussion with the matron, and were given permission to bring them, no big deal at all. It was a bit too much to slap it on here, so here’s a bit extra.
Their prices, like prices in most other places, have, of course, somewhat increased over the years, and its by no means a very cheap hotel. But for a clean private room with a window, a pool and a really nice common area, functional if somewhat rustic bedrooms, I couldn’t think of a better place. Sukhumvit is a very central area with good transport connections (above all, the Sky Train), and once you have walked up the Soi (that is a bit of a long trek, that one) you can easily get almost anywhere in town.
They even accept online bookings now: http://theatlantahotelbangkok.com.
And while you’re there… check out their Restaurant. It has one of the most extensive vegetarian menus but is not entirely vegetarian. Some of the tastiest food I had in Thailand, served up in classic cafe style.
78 Soi 2 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel: (+ 66-2) 252 6069 or 252 16501
Fax: (+ 66-2) 656 8123 or 656 8124
เลขที่ 78 ซอย 2 ถนนสุขุมวิท
โทร. 02-252 6060
โทร. 02-252 1650