Supporting the Tourist Industry
The tourist business here is suffering badly. At what is peak season, when hotel rooms would normally be about 75% full, a mere 25% of rooms are occupied. The situation for 5* hotels is even worse, with some establishments having occupancy rates of as little as 6%. Curiously, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has just stopped publishing statistics for tourist arrivals in the country. Perhaps they don’t want people to know just how bad things are, and just what a failure their various promotional campaigns are.
Anyway, I thought it my duty to help boost the tourism industry and booked myself into a 5* hotel in Uthai Thani (2 ½ hours drive north of here) for the weekend.
Well, I thought it was a 5* hotel, and from the outside it looked suitably imposing:
(At least, it would impress members of the Third Reich.)
The lobby was similarly grand. I almost wished they have a travellator from the front door to reception.
However, the place was almost deserted. The main restaurant was closed, there were no elephant rides, and the sports facilities looked as if they’d been abandoned some time ago.
I won’t go on about the failings of the place, apart to mention:
- the beds had foam mattresses (not sprung)
- there was only cold water at the bathroom sink
- the shower never got above lukewarm
- there were ancient cobwebs above the shower
- the front door didn’t fit properly, letting in insects
- no wardrobe or other hanging space for clothes
- the TV picture was grainy, and the selection of channels very limited
- there was only a small selection of soft drinks in the minibar; no alcoholic ones at all
- no kettle or facilities for making tea or coffee.
Oh, and the service in the restaurants was pretty abysmal.
Anyway, this area is not on the regular tourist trail, so the usual guides such as Lonely Planet were of no help. I therefore decided to rely upon the TAT website for local information. Big mistake.
TAT describes a beautiful botanical garden, just 5 km from the city centre. None of the receptionists at the hotel had heard of it, and it certainly wasn’t on any maps.
TAT enthuses about the ancient city of Uthai Thani, comparing it to Phanom Rung. Now, Phanom Rung is an amazing Khmer temple which I visited last year.
The ruins of Uthai Thani are a little less impressive. To be honest, despite the signpost on the Asia Highway, I had trouble locating them. I asked a woman at a local market and she explained that they were in the rice fields I had passed, but were little more than bumps in the ground.
A short drive north, in Nakorn Sawan (City of Heaven) is the source of the Chao Phraya river – a river of almost mythical status in Thailand. Here two rivers (the Ping and the Nan) converge. One is muddy brown, the other a slate grey, as you may be able to see in the following ‘photo.
(I forgot my camera for this trip, so the ‘photos were taken with a mobile ‘phone – hence the poor quality.)
To be honest, I’d have thought that an heavenly city might have had a few more attractions.
My final misadventure was to drive for hours to the Cyber Falls. (Actually, that’s more like Sai Beu in Thai, but the cute name has rather stuck.) To get there one has to drive for a few kilometres along a rutted, single track mud path. (Four wheel drive recommended.) Then, when you arrive the guards want to extract 200 Baht from you if you have a pale face (but only 20 Baht if you’re Thai). I was able to negotiate that down to 100 Baht – only 5 times the Thai price, despite the fact that I live here and pay taxes. This sort of petty racism really spoils the experience of visiting Thailand’s national treasures for me.
Not that the waterfall was a national treasure. More a case of a stream meandering through some large boulders. Pleasant enough, but not worth the long drive there, and the even longer drive back to Ayutthaya.
Next time I get a sudden urge to support the Thai tourism industry I think I’ll just stay home.