Road to ASEAN

Glamorous, retro, intimidating: Bangkok's photogenic Atlanta Hotel

Richard Ehrlich, for CNNPublished 4th December 2015
Editor's Note — CNN Travel's series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However, CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.
Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — In the often licentious Thai capital of Bangkok, one of the most prudish, eccentric and inexpensive places to stay is the draconian, heavily sanitized Atlanta Hotel.
At the street entrance, the front door displays a crude introduction in big letters: "THE ATLANTA. SEX TOURISTS NOT WELCOME."
Inside at the reception desk, "House Rules" warn: "No bar girls. No catamites."
If you aren't hip to archaic nouns, a dictionary defines a catamite as "a boy kept for homosexual practices."
Open in 1952, The Atlanta, however, is also one of the most photogenic hotels in Bangkok for those who aren't intimidated and have a great sense of humor.

Art deco heaven

Visually, the small ground floor's splendor displays an intriguing and delightful mix of antique decor flourishes and designs, creating an impressive yet strangely weary time warp.
"There are strong art deco features," the hotel's reclusive owner Charles Henn tells CNN.  
"There are elements from the 1950s, notably the red wall with white stripes on one side of the stairwell, but the rest and the general atmosphere is from the 1920s and 1930s."
A grand stairway, a central round sofa under a Bohemian crystal chandelier, old-fashion landline telephones, wooden roll-top writing desks and other quaint items adorn the lobby and small "scriptorium."
The swimming pool area and garden include large turtles basking on rocks, fenced off from the hotel's relaxed cats.

The Atlanta: Frozen in time

The Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
The Atlanta's owner claims to have the oldest unaltered hotel foyer in Thailand.
courtesy Richard Ehrlich
"The Atlanta is frozen in time," Henn says.
"That is why our regular guests -- friends -- come back, because they know that walking into The Atlanta they are walking into another world, a different world from the world around them elsewhere in Bangkok.
"The lobby looked the same when the hotel opened -- even the old telephone exchange is still here and in use.
"They say there is a distinct 'Atlanta type.'
"More bookish, perhaps, certainly more cultivated, more educated and more interested in the world in which they live. Courteous. Pleasant. Decent," Henn says.

Hotel with an attitude

"Outsiders are not welcome," says the owner, who inherited the hotel from its founder, his father Max Henn, who died in 2002.
"If they wander in, they are unceremoniously evicted. There are also many recording closed-circuit television cameras."
If the sometimes scornful, prissy staff permits you to be a paying guest, you'll be cautioned about Bangkok's "decadent, criminal-infested streets."
"There is nothing a Thai -- and others in the developing world -- produces without cheating on the specifications," reads one pamphlet conspicuously mounted on a reading platform in the lobby, despite the irony that the owner's mother is Thai.
Other warnings are posted throughout the building, swimming pool area and garden.
"We like the garden, and the pool, and the art deco thing is nice," Rebecca Biggs, 21, from Hobart, Australia, tells CNN after her first night.
"The rooms are a bit basic, but that's to be expected in a budget hotel. So I think we're getting what we paid for. So that's good."

Mean signage 'is an attraction,' 'cracks me up'

The Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
courtesy Richard Ehrlich
The stringent signage is a plus, she says.
"I would say that is an attraction, rather than a negative thing," Biggs says. "It is quite amusing."
"I think it's good that they've got moral codes that they want to stick to."
Her traveling companion, Clare Strong, 22, agrees about the ubiquitous signs.
"I suppose they're there for you to notice them, and read them," Strong says. "But after a while it does get a little bit funny about how big it is."
"I love the ambiance, I love the history, I love the winding staircase, I love that there is no TV, I love that everything in the room is comfortable and works, and the staff is great, and the food is really good," says Jan, 58, a teacher from California.
"I've been here, like in the past 20 years, over and over," Jan says. "For me, as a woman traveling alone, it's great."
The strident signage?
"Oh, it cracks me up," she says laughing. "I love it."

'Undomesticated people' unwelcome

Shrill exhortations are also splattered across the hotel's website, to prevent reservations "booked by a motley cohort of strangers who are unsuited to The Atlanta."
The website explains: "The Atlanta's brazen dauntlessness in the midst of the Sodom and Gomorrah of the 21st century has turned it into a respected Bangkok institution in the eyes of the more decent portion of humanity, and an object of ridicule and attack in the eyes of the degenerates."
Even if you aren't a sex tourist, you may be condemned as one.
"The Atlanta does not welcome SEX TOURISTS, and does not try to be polite about it. Borderline cases are not given the benefit of the doubt, but are treated as sex tourists," the website says.
Also, don't slouch or appear grungy.
"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."