It’s naughty, it’s sexy, it’s everywhere – if you know where to look. Chiang Mai is home to dozens of short term hotels, euphemistically called love hotels. They range from the seedy drive-in and curtained-off rent-by-the-hour dives to some exquisite playgrounds of love (ok, lust) where couples (even oddly enough, families) can go and stay for a night or two, enjoying a variety of themed rooms and wholesome (…or not) sexual fun.
The Thai cultural scowl on sex has often led to oddity and hilarity. And what could be stranger than hotels specifically designed for just that. The colloquial name for these hotels are “man rood” or drawn curtains, referencing the privacy offered once cars are parked in garages with direct access to rooms, so that nosy spouses or passing acquaintances will be unaware of the identity of horny punters – should they, of course, be within the vicinity. In spite of the powers that be’s relentless and continuous campaigns to purify Thai society, the fact is that this country has a notoriety in terms of sex.
Prostitution is illegal but there are a predicted number of up to 300,000 sex workers in Thailand according to the US government’s human rights report in 2008, and Thailand also tops the chart as having the world’s most unfaithful lovers according to a study in 2012 by the condom manufacturer, Durex.
Out of professional interest, of course, I felt the need to investigate this cultural phenomenon. After all who wouldn’t want to spend the night in a faux USS-Enterprise themed room designed for love?
My first venture was to one of Chiang Mai’s most famous love hotels, the Love Boat. Yep you guessed it, it’s shaped like a boat. There is no reception; (no human interaction being key here) and you simply follow the driveway which snakes around the outside of the building, drive in, do your business and leave your money in a box.
As I drove around I had the exciting choice of “regular”, “regular”, “regular” or “cowboy” rooms, as long as there is no car already parked and no curtain pulled, you can simply park your car and enter your love shack. Obviously I chose cowboy. I pulled up, strolled into my love saloon and immediately received a phone call. “How many hours ka?” a pretty voice asked. I asked how much an hour was, I was told that it was 250 baht and agreed upon that time frame. As I looked around I discovered that snacks and drinks were included in the price, though oddly enough the alcohol in the decorative bar was definitely not real alcohol. I switched on the TV and found all sorts of porn and finally flopped down onto the plastic covered mattress to take in the d้cor (after all I was working!) There was some real effort put into this room, US flags, bull horns and even an old switchboard in the corner, acting as some kind of kinky prop no doubt.
I was slightly disappointed, when I headed over to the office for a chat with the staff, however, to discover that there were only a few themed rooms. The only intriguing sounding room was the VIP room with two bedrooms and a communal living room…sounds delightfully deviant. As I was in an establishment clearly dealing with sex, I asked bluntly whether swinging parties ever happen. I was greeted with shock and was responded to with a firm “no.” The staff member said “mostly it’s just one couple that rents it out.”
Once you’ve left your cash, punters pull out quickly…much like they would have fifteen minutes ago.
My next visit was to The Time Movement. One of the top three love hotels of Thailand according to Zogzag Magazine. This love hotel is owned by the father of Paranyu “Tec” Rojjanawuttitam, a Thai TV star currently in the lead role in the controversial soap opera Pua Chua Kraow (Temporary Husband).
The owner, Somchai Rojjanawuttitam, explained how he got into the business; “When I was younger, I loved going out and meeting girls. Taking girls back to hotels was expensive and also not that exciting. I wanted to change that,” he said with a grin.
“Come for one day and you can travel the world,” Somchai exclaimed as he walked out into the central plaza, spreading his arms out in obvious pride of his sexual kingdom.
The Time Movement has 22 themes to suit anyone’s fancy (or fetish). Somchai’s favourite room is the Cowboy Room, but he did explain to me that most younger people prefer the Playboy Room or the Crystal Room, as they have the most mirrors. There is even a Roman Room, fitted with a metal chair which is reminiscent to those found in gynaecologists’ offices. Or so I’m told.
If you are willing to pay big money, around 2,500 baht a night, you can treat yourself to a two bedroomed “world class” suite. Boasting a shared “entertainment room” and also a shared Jacuzzi, perfect for swingers. “Do you want me to set you up with one? I know some girls,” he offered kindly and very sincerely. As tempting as it was, the giant erotic superman mural and the thought of my girlfriend kept me on the straight and narrow.
I finally opted for the 60s style room, with a car for a bed and flashing disco lights. The bed was comfortable and as I lay back I enjoyed a great selection of “Adult Cartoons” on the TV. In spite of the horrifying thought of the sheer volume of bodily fluids this room had witnessed, I was impressed. It was clean, comfortable and really just like any quality hotel…which is shared by up to ten couples a day. The complimentary single shot of mouthwash was a cute touch.
At The Time Movement you pay on arrival, so when you are finished, you simply drive out, no pesky calls for housekeeping and room inspections. One hour here is only 160 baht and well worth it just for the fun decor alone. Phone bookings are possible but pointless if you are coming for one hour – love motels cater to the spur-of-the-moment type passion. Oddly enough, Movement also attracts its fair share of families, often from out of town, with kids who enjoy rooms with cartoon characters on the walls. Somchai laughed and said “all you need to do is warn the parents about the adult cartoons on television and there is never any problem.” Let’s hope that the ‘families’ with kids are as above board as Somchai proclaims, though my cynicism leads me to suspect the worst.
The slightly run down Adventure Hotel with truly whacky rooms is probably the city’s most famous, though they only sell by the night, not by the hour. Another more upper-class love hotel is the Bises Resort, with luxury style rooms and a starting rate of 280 per hour, including a Jacuzzi and up to 1,500 per hour (!?) for the Super VIP room.
Yes there is porn, yes it is illicit, yes these hotels probably don’t do great things to support the traditional marriage, but they are not seedy dens of iniquity I was led to believe. Where else can you spend the night in a bed-taxi car or a circular bed in a room themed like a beach, or a boxing ring complete with punching bag, or a Starship Enterprise room right out of Star Trek? Couples looking to spice up their love lives can take the afternoon off work and live their fantasies for a few hours, and there is nothing wrong with that.
While there will always be the old fashioned seedy man rood hotels, today’s love hotels are more focused on design and concept, providing a safe and hygienic playground for consenting adults seeking some added excitement to their lives. Definitely worth the visit at least once in your life.
The Love Boat
Photharam Road, Jet Yod, near the 7-11.
Tel. 053 224659
The Time Movement
Photharam 1, Jet Yod, next to China Chic
Tel. 053 357991
Nonghoi Intersection, Mahidol Road
Tel. 053 802444
156 Super Highway, Patan District
Tel. 053 412413