Laos

No Bangkok sex tourism


“No Bangkok sex tourism allowed”

Down a dark alley in the main tourist centre of Bangkok (where the American GI “Cowboy” opened the city’s first gogo bar after the war and started a bit of a trend), right amongst the ping pong shows and sleazy tourist traps quietly sits this grand old lady of the city.

Approaching the hotel the first thing we see is a large red sign proclaiming; “No Bangkok sex tourism” Inside the musty lobby above the quietly efficient receptionist is another large sign with more rules:

  • No Bangkok sex tourism (just to be sure)
  • No noise after 11pm, no exceptions
  • Remove shoes
  • No loud swimming after 10pm

…amongst others. This quiet hotel away from the groups of viagra and beer swilling men who infest Bangkok will suit us perfectly. I have just picked up Jette from the airport after her big commute from Denmark to Bangkok, despite having had four seats all to herself she is still a bit tired. I am also tired after a busy few days with my sister and her family in Jakarta. We drop our bags in our room and walk back to the lobby, which sports a sign proclaiming the hotel’s 60th anniversary. We need internet to do some planning.

A very drunk and seemingly stoned man is bleeding from his knuckles all over the reception desk, he is trying to explain to the lady that he is not a trouble maker and that it was an accident, whatever ‘it’ was. We grab the internet code and find a quiet corner. “Only drinks and books on the table, no feet or bags” …the rules continue. I take a risk and put my computer down on the table.

Two hours later we have flights and an airport transfer booked, and we are fed. We are flying to Luang Nam Tha in Northern Laos for a few days of trekking before making our way south down through Laos and into Cambodia. Planning and eating done we go back to our room for an early night. I look at the only decoration in our musty room, an interesting article about the hotel’s history.

The Atlanta Hotel was the first hotel in Bangkok to have a swimming pool. The owner filled the bomb shelter with water when the war finished. In the 70’s this stately old hotel was used by the dregs of society as a brothel and opium den, the writer alluded to unspeakable acts being a regular theme during this time. The original owner’s son returned to Bangkok and, upon seeing the state of his first home, kicked out the drug users and took back control. Eventually he renovated the building to its former glory. Since then the Atlanta has passed through many hands and is now a quietly grand, if run down, budget hotel in the heart of Bangkok…and no sex tourism allowed. Despite the musty no doubt legionnaire contaminated air conditioner and the ghosts of its past life who haunt the corridors I would highly recommend this hotel, unless your reasons for a visit to Bangkok are less than noble.

grey No Bangkok sex tourismA restless night’s sleep under the rattling air-con, an early taxi, two short flights in aging planes with frayed seat belts, a short tuk-tuk ride to town, drop our bags at the nearest hotel, take a short stroll and POW, we are on a shiny new red scooter wobbling along a dirt track in Northern Laos.

We are glad to have survived the second flight into Luang Nam Tha. As we walked up to the plane off the hot tarmac I spotted a growing pool of liquid dripping from the fuselage down to the right rear wheel. On top of this the pilot left his intercom on as busily dodged the mountains to land. This treated the whole cabin to an auditory peek into the cockpit. The pilot’s terse instructions to the co-pilot were over laid with a mechanic voice repeating over and over in her tinny voice “Avoid terrain, avoid terrain, avoid terrain….”

Need less to say we are glad to be on the ground on our scooter. We are also determined not to waste the afternoon lazing about we set out to explore and hope that jet lag does not find us until tonight. Jette was in her office in Denmark less than 40 hours ago, now she is wearing an ill fitting helmet and clutching my waist as we explore far flung Luang Nam Tha in forty degrees of humidity.

We are among the very few travelers in this region and enjoy a few hours riding along dirt tracks through small agricultural villages, bouncing up steep dusty driveways to various Buddhist Stupas and through a long jungle corridor to a waterfall. A toothless old lady at a cafe scuttles out of the shadows to demand her 4, 000 kip entrance fee before scuttling back into the building to leave us and the valley alone. The slippery mud track in proves a challenge in our thongs, navigating bridges washed away in recent flooding even more so. When we make it to our destination a buckled bamboo shelter standing over a small brown waterfall greets us along with a lone cricket chirping. The muddy water is not at all inviting but I slip down to the bank to wet my hair and wash off road dust.

Back down the valley a lone teen throws a circular net into the stream and watches us depart on our scooter. I am covered in sweaty dust again before the first corner. Small bamboo huts with corn drying in front and young curious faces peeking out mark our progress along the pot holed road. We dodge school children on pushbikes, buffalo and pigs (not on bikes).

grey No Bangkok sex tourismOn one straight stretch I stop and explain the mechanics of riding a scooter to Jette. I relinquish the drivers seat and watch her grinning manically as she carefully picks her way between tractors, cows, chickens, bikes and other scooters, I am left to wait nervously by the side of the road for her triumphant return. We drop the scooter off and pay the $3 us rental charge. Back at the hotel room we shuffle our gear around in an effort to decide what we need to survive two days in the jungle.

DEET, DEET and more DEET, lots of water and lollies.

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