Blessed to be a witness

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Thursday, March 24th

The worst hotel in the world

Normally when people talk about a bad hotel, they refer to it as "like Fawlty Towers". The Zhu Feng View and Admire Floor at Rongbuk makes Fawlty Towers look like the Ritz Carlton.


Hotel: shit

Opposite the monastery at Rongbuk, in the blasted valley, sits a hideous pink castellated monstrosity. According to what I could decipher from the Chinese plaque outside the front door, the hotel was built between 2002 and 2003 by a Shanghainese consortium. It is my opinion that not only was the place never actually finished, but that the Shanghai businessmen had never set foot in the place since, while the staff are having fun running it into the ground.

Tibetans are not well versed in the service industry, and the lack of amenities and a certain necessity for DIY is completely acceptable once you get used to it: we're in their country after all, and why the hell should they be as obsequious as they are in the west, when it's not in their nature? Yet not even in the direst guest houses have I experienced staff in the service industry who were so openly hostile to their customers as at the Zhu Feng.

As we walked in the door, they knew they had us: they'd seen us troop from the guesthouse, which we reckoned too cold to stay in. They were asking for 200 yuan for a room with no bathroom and sharing the sole communal toilets in the building. About €20 for a hotel room doesn't sound a huge price, but in Tibetan terms it is pretty high. We tried to bargain, and they smirked at us.

One of the Canadian couple who were travelling with us asked to see the toilets. They were unwashed, probably since the hotel opened, and each filthy squatter pan held an Everest of frozen shit. The staff looked in, shrugged, said "no water", and locked the door to the toilets. "No toilets," they said, meaning now for the entire hotel and all its guests. "Where can we go to the toilet then?" I asked. "Outside," they giggled. And sure enough the entire area around the hotel was surrounded by human turds and toilet paper. This would have been just about fair enough if the hotel didn't actually have any water, but it did. And even if the pipes into the toilets were frozen, a bucket and scoop to flush would have sufficed, like in many other Asian guesthouses.

But we couldn't stay elsewhere, so we bit the bullet and paid up as the staff snickered at us, rolling their eyes. After we had checked into our unheated room, and I had repaired the window that the staff couldn't have been bothered to fix, and I'd swept the pubes from out of the unwashed bedding onto the floor that was thick with dust and rat droppings, next to the unconnected lighting console between the twin beds, opposite the television that was also unconnected, we retired to the 'View' lounge. Therein we dined on pot noodles that we'd brought ourselves, while the entire staff and all their hangers-on clustered round the wood-burning stove, keeping the heat amongst themselves casting resentful glances at their paying customers, who were huddled shivering in heavy coats and hats, and wrapped in sleeping bags.

Granted, Rongbuk is a very hostile environment, and I wouldn't like to work there either, but these bastards didn't actually seem to do any work whatsoever. The entire staff clearly resented anything interrupting their general larking about and socialising.

We awoke grateful for the -5°C sleeping bags that we'd rented in Lhasa, and lay in the stinking room plotting revenge of various kinds. I satisfied myself with leaving one jiao (€1c) as a "tip". I hope they got the message. I think the best thing for Rongbuk would be not competition, but merely a little investment in the guesthouse, and a flamethrower for the hotel. Alas, they have a sort of monopoly, so I guess they might actually survive.

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To comment on this, or just to say hello, mail me at jim@crowaptok.com.