Want to experience being locked up, without all the complicated, messy legal drama it usually entails? A hostel in Bangkok is banking on visitors wanting the prison experience.
Guests at the Sook Station hostel are treated to mugshots and black-and-white-striped pyjamas before being shown to their cells, which can be as small as 8sq m.
In the cells, behind actual metal bars that are sealed with a glass door, guests sleep on bunk beds. And you can forget about facilities such as a TV or fridge in the room. However, there is air conditioning – a must in a hot tropical country like Thailand.
“Prison experiences don’t have to be scary,” says Sittichai Chaivoraprug, the hostel’s owner who said he drew inspiration from The Shawshank Redemption, a 1994 Hollywood blockbuster about friendship forged behind bars and a successful jail break.
“I really like the lead character. I admire him for his perseverance,” Sittichai says, referring to Tim Robbins’ portrayal of Andy Dufresne, who digs a tunnel out of his cell over the course of two decades by using a poster to cover the hole from the guards.
“I’m considering putting up posters in the rooms to pay homage to that,” he says.
Among the nine cells total, seven have their own balconies for those seeking some fresh air when the locked-up experience gets too real. However, one of the cells goes in the opposite direction, looking to simulate the experience of being put in solitary confinement.
Guests in the seven cells have to share bathrooms, while those in the two family-sized rooms have the privilege of ensuite bathrooms.
Room prices range from 700 baht (RM86.50) to 2,000 baht (RM247).
Attention to detail is part of the fun, according to Sittichai, who ordered custom-made bunk beds and repainted them to deliberately show rusty parts of the metal. The rooftop of the five-storey hostel has been designed as the communal area for the inmates, who “hang out and play basketball”.
“This is a place where you either love it or hate it,” the 53-year-old owner says, recalling some guests who were unaware of the prison theme who immediately checked out after seeing the rooms.
“We always give them a refund. I can imagine their friends might have played a prank on them,” Sittichai says.
“But then, there are customers who couldn’t get enough of it and returned. Even I was surprised,” he says.
Enthusiastic guests ask for mugshots as soon as they check in and have made suggestions to make the experience more real, such as having hostel staff act like prison wardens.
“I’m not sure about that yet. I don’t want to disturb the guests at night,” Sittichai says.
Opinions vary widely, as the theme is not everyone’s cup of tea.
“Imaginative hostel! Can’t believe how surreal the hostel is when comparing to cells in movies!” writes Nanapas Suksiritarnan, a guest who reviewed the hostel on his Facebook page.
“I am scared. I am only here for the coffee and the food,” says Choi Rang, a frequent patron of the restaurant downstairs from the hostel whose office is located nearby. – dpa