Red Rose of the North

by Kenneth Champeon, Nov 20, 2003 | Destinations: Thailand / Chiang Mai

Living in Thailand can often be surreal, but I was beginning to think I had heard everything until I heard about the Red Rose Hotel. Friends told of awaking after a night of revelry in boxing rings, Aladdin's lairs, distant galaxies, or in the voluptuous arms of Winnie the Pooh. The Red Rose, they'd say knowingly. Or just the Rose - all very sub rosa, you know.

The Rose is located in Chiang Rai, which was already pretty surreal. Tribal-Kuomintang bar girls were yelling Chinese; some guy on the bus appeared to be hitting on me; and I had taken a mile-long cycle rickshaw ride at 2 AM because a tuk-tuk driver dropped me in some bar of no return. Twelve hours later I was in Burma, refusing the attentions of a cigarette vendor convinced that a genuine carton of Marlboros could cost $2.

And then came the Rose.

The Rose might best be described as a cross between Pattaya and the Epcot Center. It is both grim and awe-inspiring, innocent and deeply perverse. Most locals know it as a place to sing karaoke with their friends. But it's also a "love motel", catering to the needs of lovers, adulterers and johns. Like Bangkok's love motels, the Rose is laid out rather like a car wash, blocks of suites each with its own petite (and often pink) garage. The place positively oozes kitsch. So much so that I was rather surprised when its proprietor Nippon told me that an elaborate console found at the back of each bed was used merely to adjust light and music settings. I thought it might make the bed vibrate, or liquefy, or talk.

A little aloof at first, Nippon became increasingly enthusiastic as we went from suite to suite. You wouldn't know it, but the Red Rose has been around for over three years, and eight months ago it underwent expansion. When I asked him the total cost of construction, Nippon just laughed. So business seems to be booming. Although he says that Chinese and Japanese dominate his clientele, the occasional farang will ring up from Chiang Mai with a detailed reservation. And there's something for (most) every budget. Several of the twenty or so suites cost about 800 baht, others 1600. Another, with two beds separated by a glass pane, goes for over 3000, as does a two-floor ensemble with some kind of jungle motif. You can also rent the places for two hours, to watch a movie, play video games, or the other thing.

After serious deliberation I chose the Love Boat room. My bed is a covered gondola resting majestically in a pool of water. I am sitting in one of two deck chairs, each below a faux coconut palm. The walls presumably depict the Mediterranean, and a TV is nestled in one of those Play-Doh rock formations found in amusement parks. Painted on the translucent door to my bathroom is a bare-breasted woman in a hula skirt, near the toilet is a sign warning me not to flush grimacing condoms (especially the grimacing ones), while above the toilet roll is a gorilla picking its nose. Another gorilla, near the sink, holds a hair-dryer. The mouthwash is called "Love Catcher". Can you feel the love?

The Rose is somewhat out of the way but there's no mistaking it. Flashing sirens extrude from an enormous wall straddled by King Kong. As you enter you are greeted by statues drawn from Snow White, as well as two giant hands that read STOP. Even more bizarre is that the surrounding area is rather shabby, almost as if Universal Studious were in Appalachia.

The hotel's brochure is mostly in Thai, but Nippon has been good enough to highlight KING SIZE 6' X 6', TV 25", Computer Control, UBC, Karaoke Song, Movie World, Music Entertainment, Game Zone. Spa Life is apparently the aforementioned suite containing a JUNGLE TREE HOUSE. Showing me a Jacuzzi, Nippon somewhat needlessly explained that its foaming action makes you sabai. Even the Love Boat's amenities are impressive. It's got air con, a hot shower, a fridge, toothbrushes - even two discreetly placed condoms. The Boat's starting to creep me out. What's worse, I've got no Love. And Nippon provides none, just digs. Just as well.

And so, loveless and adrift, I dream of Jessica Rabbit and awake into a somewhat frigid Venice. Maybe next time I'll try the Naruk Room. Pooh's better than nothing.

- The End -