food / travel

Welcome To The Worst Hotel In The World: "Proudly Disappointing Travelers For 40 Years"

"Proudly Disappointing Travelers For 40 Years"
"Proudly Disappointing Travelers For 40 Years"
Anna Warnholtz

AMSTERDAM - A filthy hotel room and food poisoning are definitely up there on the list of things that can ruin a trip. But for the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam, they are part of the sales pitch -- proud to be dubbed the "worst hotel in the world."

The low-cost establishment has enjoyed 16 years of success thanks to its confrontational, negative advertising. The approach has regularly attracted guests who want to see for themselves if the place is as awful as it claims to be.

A “legal note” posted on the hotel’s website states that guests book there "at their own risk and will not hold the hotel liable for food poisoning, mental breakdowns, terminal illness, lost limbs, radiation poisoning, certain diseases associated with the 18th century, plague, etcetera.”

The website describes the Brinker as a “cheap, dirty, cold, poorly lit youth hostel” that offers a "rusty bed" in an "awkwardly shaped dormitory" and “spectacularly un-spacious suites, each of which does not feature a flat-screen TV, a double bed or free access to our non-existent swimming pool and spa area." Is this painful honesty or a savvy branding gag? No one has died of plague at the Brinker (yet), but one thing is for sure: more run-down and scruffy would be hard to find. And guests just keep on booking.

"Some people bring sleeping bags with them," says marketing manager Dave Bell. "They’re surprised that we actually have mattresses and give us a positive evaluation."

Well – maybe sometimes. Sites like Tripadvisor and tell a different tale, of ignorant staff, bad breakfasts, bedbugs; small, dirty towels, hardly any water coming out of the showerheads; hairs from previous guests in the beds, torn sheets, missing toilet lids.

Questionable, but functional

But guests can hardly complain – the hotel has, after all, kept its promises. According to Bell, "We see it this way-- for the Brinker, a bad evaluation is a good evaluation."

It is also true that a night here is cheap -- €22.50 is the cheapest option (in an eight-bed room). Every room has a toilet and shower. “The quality of the showers is questionable,” says the small print when you book via the hotel website, “but they do normally work.”

Other features of the establishment, which is named after the fairy-tale Hans Brinker, a Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a dyke to stop a leak and prevented a flood, include a “concrete courtyard,” “intermittently open canteen,” and a “basement bar with limited light and no fresh air” and “watered-down beer.”

"You often see our hotel referred to as "the worst hotel in the world,"" Bell says. "In actual fact, it’s a more or less clean hotel in a central location. Of course it has its shadow side: basic plumbing, windows looking onto a wall, and cleaners who sometimes wake guests up at ungodly hours of the morning."

It all started with a book called The Worst Hotel in the World, a caricature of the high-gloss luxury publications sometimes produced by the posh hotels of this world. The book brags about “even more dog shit at the entrance,” “even more noise,” and “even less service,” and sums up the vibe as "similar to hell but without the heating.”

How does the hotel react to serious complaints from guests? It doesn’t. Instead of undertaking costly improvements, the policy is to take the complaint and use it as a marketing plus-point. According to Bell, "Anybody who books at the Brinker knows what they’re getting into." The hotel business, with its penchant for glossing things over, could actually learn a thing or two from that.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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