O Brothel, Where Art Thou?

“This is a hotel, right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have rooms?”

“Yes. How long would you like the room?”

“For one night.”

“The whole night? You mean until morning?” It was 11:00 P.M. The woman at the desk seemed surprised by Audrey’s response.

Sleeping at a Brothel - Shymkent, Kazakhstan
Our Gostinitsa in Shymkent, Kazakhstan

“Don’t worry I clean the room and change the sheets after every client. Everything is clean,” she assured us, showing us a room with a day bed.

It did look clean and she agreed to get some new sheets and towels, so we took it. Thank heavens for sleep sacks, anyway.

“You are my first American clients,” she beamed. “If you need anything, just find me. My name is Galina.” First all-night clients, too, we thought.

Audrey paid for the room at the front desk and noticed a ledger detailing the rooms and times they were booked.

“I have a bigger room next door. It will be available after midnight,” Galina explained. Who knew midnight was such a popular time to finish up your business in Kazakhstan? The curfew time of married men, perhaps?

“Do you want to watch TV? If so, I’ll ask my husband to plug it in and turn it on. Some former clients ripped it out of the wall. Now he needs to install it each time.”

A little rough-housing, we figured.

We were so exhausted from our experience at the border, we enjoyed a bit of “Dangerous Minds” on our little abused TV, put in our earplugs (the place did seem pretty busy after all) and slept until mid-morning.

After we checked-out, we elicited some strange looks from the taxis waiting in front of the hotel. “Not accustomed to clients with large backpacks?” Dan inquired. More looks. That’s the great thing about being a tourist. You can sleep at a hotel-by-the-hour and not really care what the locals think. After all, it isn’t your country and you can simply plead ignorance.

So next time you are on a limited budget and need a place to stay in Shymkent, Kazakhstan look no further than the hotels-by-the-hour near the train station. Once you overcome the initial weirdness, they are pretty clean and inexpensive, particularly by Kazakh standards ($20/night for a double). And if you want to take a nap before a train or bus, there is nothing odd in asking for a room for 2 hours. Just be sure to bring an open mind, a sense of humor, your sleep sack…and your earplugs.

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Comments

  1. Cathy says

    Hi Dan and Audrey,

    I’m sitting in Baku at the RFERL bureau. Yahya recommended I start the day with this story. So I’m re-thinking your hotel recommendations… Tbilisi Charm hotel — anything to share about the “charm” of the hotel?
    Best, Cathy

  2. says

    Cathy,
    Tbilisi’s Hotel Charm is legitimate, genuinely pleasant and so named for all the right reasons.

    Some might argue the same of our hotel-by-the-hour in Shymkent, too. We wouldn’t. If pressed to name it ourselves, we might offer Hotel Bizarre…or perhaps Hotel Squeegee.
    D&A

  3. says

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for the comment on my blog, I have enjoyed reading yours. I had a similar experience this morning, A Scottish guy and I were riding motorbikes around the DMZ in Vietnam. This guy knocked on our door and asked if he could talk to us and practice english. As we were packing he asked us if we wanted hookers, then proceeded to tell us how good they were. The other day I was walking around Hoi An, and was asked if I wanted a lift on a motor bike, said no thanks and was then asked what about a woman. Both times it was before 9am.

    Anyway I am going to ad a link to your blog on mine I think my friends would like it as well.

    Good luck
    Scott

  4. Eik says

    Hi Audrey and Dan,

    a lot of greetings from Germany, we’re back and planning our next journey to … Georgia.
    I follow your trip almost everyday.
    These story is absolutely crazy. Were you able to sleep that night or was it to noisy :-))?
    Eik

  5. says

    Scott,
    Thanks for the note…and the link. It seems to us that sex is a common theme (interest?) just about everywhere – be it Vietnam, Kazakhstan, or anywhere else for that matter. Today, for instance, Audrey is asked by a portrait artist in an amusement park here in Almaty whether she wants her portrait drawn. She responds “no thanks” and he asks her “how about sex?” A man of all trades, I guess. Particularly when single guys are involved though, sex seems to be the one language, one currency, one trade that everyone is familiar with.

    Happy travels,
    D&A

  6. says

    Eik,
    Great to hear from you. Glad you are enjoying the site…and planning your next trip…to Georgia.

    By the way, we were able to sleep that night. Pretty well, in fact. Exhaustion from our experience at the Uzbek-Kazakh border (see the previous story) and premium earplugs seemed to do the trick!
    Cheers,
    Dan

  7. Brian says

    Use my imagination? Reconstruction of the next room? loud TV? Borat wrestling with his camera man? a litter of kittens meowing for milk? Am I close? eh? Certainly you don’t mean sex noises? Are we allowed to say sex?

  8. says

    Brian: Suffice it to say that they weren’t running the vacuum cleaner next door at midnight. And yes, you are allowed to say sex. Based on our experience, the more you refer to it in your comments on our site, the higher our ranking in the online world.

  9. says

    Heya Dan, take a guess as to why I’m commenting on this old post of yours… Well… yeah.. the title truly drew me in! :)

    Sex is indeed a common theme all around, especially so in South East Asia. I was at Phuket’s Patong Beach last year and I must’ve gotten a good one-hundred solicitation for sex every night. And I believe I’m not exaggerating there!

    Every nook and cranny of some road we passed by would have one or two brothels, each with a good 4-5 girls sitting outside, just waiting for a potential customer to pass by.

    But hey, none of my female friends have had any solicitation yet, as far as I know! :)

  10. says

    @Nik: The sex-title hook is by design. But I hope that people take the time to read, and maybe get a laugh.

    Regarding your stories of Patong, I can believe it. The amount of bulletin board traffic devoted solely to sex there is astounding. You’d think that nothing else went on there. Based on our experiences (we wrote a number of articles about them), there is.

    If you bring female friends there, the look is as if to say “Why have you brought sand to the beach?” I know this from experience.

    Safe travels.

  11. Lisa says

    I enjoyed looking at your website. It is beautiful and inspiring. I just returned for Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong I noticed a lot of hourly hotels. I thought they were Brothels too until my cousin said that families live in cramped housing (couples with children, parents, possibly grandparents and more) and this is the only way for couple to get out and have some privacy. It made sense to me. And in Taipei we were in an area, Snake Alley, where I expected to see hourly hotels and saw none but I did see the girls in the doorways.

  12. says

    Coming somewhat late to the party, but there you go.

    These hotels proliferate in Chile as well. Some foreigner friends arrived really late in town and their hostel beds were given away, and they were told to check if they had room across the way.

    Their room was odd, with a sequined curtain, and quizzical looks when they said they’d stay all night. The clincher about what kind of place it was was the snack (two watered down alcoholic drinks and a small bag of chips) that arrived shortly after check in. Still I had to explain it to them in the morning. Laughs all around. And supporting the local economy.

  13. says

    @Lisa: Thank you so much for the compliment on our website.

    In Kazakhstan, the situation is similar to what you described in HK and Taiwan, I’m sure. It’s common around the world where extended families live, often cramped, under one roof. Hourly hotels also serve families who are in transit and waiting for the next bus or train (particularly on overnight journeys).

    As for the girls in the doorways, that’s another another rather common scene.

    @Eileen: Better late than never, particularly when it comes to a discussion about hotels-by-the-hour!

    Watered down alcoholic drinks and a small bag of chips — now that’s what I call living. Regarding the sequined curtains, I guess some things are simply universal.

  14. says

    This is similar to renting a room in a “love hotel” in Japan or Korea. I always stayed in love hotels while traveling in Korea – cheap, and often even nicer than your average hotel!

  15. says

    @Kelsey: Yes, but do those love hotels “change their sheets after every client?” I absolutely loved that bit of added value.

    On the practical side, love hotels like these are absolutely fine, particularly when you happen to be traveling on a budget. Just try telling that to your friends back home. In any event, it saved our wallets for sure.

  16. William Schulz says

    Years ago, a friend showed me the hourly hotels in Panama City, Panama known as “pushbuttons.” As most young people there live with their families until marriage, they serve a useful function. What I recall most is the well kempt exteriors and the neon lights that beckoned the lovestruck from the road. I don’t know if they still exist. Anyone?

  17. says

    @William: We haven’t been to Panama so I’m afraid I can’t say firsthand whether the “pushbuttons” still exist, but we’ve seen similar arrangements in other countries in Latin America. So, I’m thinking the answer is “yes.” Seems like every country has a local name for them – “pushbuttons” is quite creative.

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