On Hostel Booking
There was a time when hostels were dingy, dirt cheap, sketchy, unplanned places of accommodation, particularly in South East Asia. But, with the massive increase in travel traffic here and the creation of hostelbookers.com (and other such sites), there is no longer much adventure/risk involved in hostels. Now, impending visitors can book accommodation in advance with the click of a button, can get ratings on each hostel, a location, pictures, even testimonials. Similarly, any travel book (an essential attachment to every backpacker it seems) has a list of recommended hostels, also with location and price. With this, choosing and staying in a hostel has become no different than picking a hotel and guests can expect nothing less: a bar, computer center, single rooms, clean sheets, personal lockers, luggage storage, towels, soap, warm showers, etc etc. There is virtually no risk left, besides perhaps who the other travelers in your dorm are.
However, let me tell you that this doesn’t have to be the case. If one neglects to do some advanced research, there is still the possibility to subject one’s self to some wild and adventurous living standards. Some of the places I stayed in this month certainly qualify:
1) The broom cupboard under the stairs- Penang. As Rowling described, this chamber came with the intimate knowledge of the location of all your fellow lodgers and a complimentary dust shower whenever someone finally called it a night.
2) The broken tent- Thailand & Taman Negara. My dad taught me three things about the out doors growing up: 1) keep your feet dry, 2) know how to create fire, 3) don’t buy tents with bendy poles, they break. Of course, to cut down on weight and size, I bought a 2 bendy poled bivouac tent last year before heading to Colorado. By its 4th trip, Taman Negara’s hostile environment (the oldest Rainforest in the world), both poles were broken and I was left with glorified yellow tarps to jimmirig with some rope, a tripod, and my pack’s structure to create a home.
3) The Red Dragon hostel- Kuala Lumpur. Normally a dorm will have somewhere between 4 and 10 people in it. Many people can’t handle dorm living, I am ok with it. So to save money in a pricey place, I went dorm at the Red Dragon. 24 people in one sleeping place is excessive, no matter who you are.
4) Hawaii Hostel- Singapore. After my run in with the Singapore police (story here) I had to find different arrangements into the city’s center. Which means, I came out somewhere totally unfamiliar, very hungry, having to pee, and hoping for something relatively cheap in Asia’s most expensive city (Guinness is 14$ a pint). I found a really ricketty looking place pretty quickly, next to an internet place, and across the street from a hawker center. For 15$ a night, I would take it for one (night two was spend sleeping at the train station). This was NOT a traveller hostel. My room mates were a very poor Chinese migrant family. The bathrooms were tubs of dirty water, smoking everywhere, shirts not needed; it was full of ‘character.’ Outside were lots of bored, loitering women. I shook it off. Later that night, as I could barely squeeze up the stairs (lined with men and women and boxes of condoms) to my bunk, I realized who those women were- prostitution is legal in Singapore. That was the first time I have ever slept in a brothel.
5) Twin Pines- Cameron Highlands. Due to 4 straight days of rain, my father’s 2nd rule, and my previous neglect of the 3rd rule, I had to get a hostel during my stay in the highlands. The twin pines was all around, great for me. That being said, it was interesting living in an attic, mat on the floor, dormer so low even my 5’5″ self could barely get dressed. The “walls” were 1/4 inch tackboard.
6)Yee’s Guest House- Kota Bahru. My last and oddest guest house experience. I found Yee’s through the cap driver that I made feel very guilty for charging me the set taxi fee fro the train station. I chose the couch in the community quarters for some afternoon reading the next day. Community might be a misleading adjective as I was the only guest besides Zoo’s retired police friend, who always sat on the couch smoking and watching CSI. I was also down with CSI. So I spent the afternoon with Zoo (the inn-keep) and Mr. Q. Zoo took a liking to me and basically invited me out on a date that night. I literally didn’t have any Ringet left and was going to tough it out on food until I got to Thailand the next day for my train home. Of course I took that date. We walked around the city, checking out some things I hadn’t seen, while Zoo told me about moving to Kuala Lumpur. Zoo was a great guy and though he knew I was straight, still did what he could to bump into me fairly regularly for some body contact (you have to be careful as a gay man, in public, in a Islamic country). Since he was buying dinner, I was ok with this. His invite to come live with him in Kuala Lumpur and work at his new restaurant was a bit more alarming and though he let me decline, he is banking on a visit this October (he plans on renting a car for a road trip). Hopefully he forgets by then.
Now, I am not suggesting hostelbookers is a lesser form of travel or that I am more of a traveler for doing this. In fact, in Europe, before this trip here, and for every subsequent trip I take with a bit of advanced warning, I will use hostelbookers. It’s awesome. But, for those of you out there that want to seek out the sublime here in South East Asia and truly ‘backpack,’ these places are still out there and waiting for you. Frankly, why you would willingly subject yourself to them is beyond me (as I didn’t even save that much money. There are DIRT CHEAP, amazing hostels out there- electric key cards and everything). But, for anyone, if you don’t have much of a plan set up and don’t have time/money/the organizational skills necessary to sit down and set these things up in advance, you will always be able to find a place to stay (unless it’s Octoberfest in Munich… that was cold) and you can bank on it coming with one hell of an experience. The fact that both hostel options -smart surfing and crazy surfing- exist out there makes me very happy.