CHIANGRAI TIMES – The Downtown Inn, in the Chiang Mai tourist centre near the Night Bazaar, made headlines early last year and was dubbed ”the death hotel” as claims emerged chemicals used there might have caused the deaths, all of which happened over a two-week period.
The Chiang Mai hotel at the centre of a scandal after four guests – three of them foreigners – mysteriously died there last year is being demolished
The Disease Control Department’s report _ released after a five-month probe into the incidents _ concluded that three of the deaths were probably connected to the use of pesticides, but many questions remained unanswered.
Doors and windows of the hotel are being removed by a building demolition company. Signs stating that the hotel is to be pulled down have been placed around the premises.
Workers for the demolition company said they knew nothing of the future of the site but, according to the Building Control Division of Chiang Mai’s local administration, the Downtown Inn will be replaced by a new upmarket hotel.
”We have received a request from the Changklan Way Company to tear down the Downtown Inn hotel building. The same company has also filed to build a new hotel,” an official from the Building Control Division speaking on the condition of anonymity said.
With registration capital of 330 million baht, Changklan Way also owns the Empress Hotel and the Park Hotel on Chiang Mai’s Changklan road.
Management representatives for the Downtown Inn were unavailable for comment despite repeated requests.
The hotel gained notoriety early last year when news broke that three foreign tourists and a Thai tour guide who stayed at the hotel had died mysteriously.
Three of the deaths occurred at the hotel, while the fourth guest died in hospital.
Chiang Mai’s head of public health, Surasing Visaruthrat, who joined the World Health Organisation investigation team in their probe into the Downtown Inn deaths, said the four deaths were caused by poisoning.
”We could not determine which toxic substance killed them. It could have been food poisoning, pesticides, the result of fires set to burn rubbish or it could be related to other toxins. The evidence we gathered did not point us to anything specific,” Dr Surasing said.
Dr Surasing said he had a difficult time trying to explain the cause of deaths to the public.
He said the incident damaged the image of Chiang Mai as one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
One of the victim’s families has launched a website discouraging tourists from visiting Thailand which they say uses substandard health and hygiene practices.
”But it has also brought about new mechanisms to look after tourists coming here, to prevent history from repeating itself. Immediately after the deaths, eight mechanisms were put up and they are still active,” Dr Surasing said.
These mechanisms include creating an online report centre for food poisoning on Chiang Mai’s public health website and regular hygiene inspections of restaurants in tourist areas.
A network between police, foreigner associations, hospitals and public health officials has also been formed. Every hospital must now report any instance of a foreigner falling ill or dying to the public health office.
Samples of pesticides used in hotels by pest control operators are sent to local labs to ensure they are safe for guests, a mechanism initiated by Chiang Mai’s hotel association.
”Public health officials also visit pest control operators regularly to ensure they don’t use harmful chemicals,” Dr Surasing said.
The burning of refuse in municipal areas has also been prohibited.
Dr Surasing believes these measures should prevent similar deaths in the future and help revive Chiang Mai’s reputation as the ”heaven of the North”.
No further deaths from poisoning have been reported. However, public health reports say four to five tourists die in Chiang Mai monthly from other causes.