I’ve become somewhat used to staying in hostels. Before 2007, I’d stayed in a grand total of one hostel; a dingy affair in Perth where I tried desperately to stay in the middle of my bed and not accidentally roll over and touch the fungus-like growth on the wall.
But since then my number is now over one hundred and the gap between good and bad can’t be more vast. Some are absolute shockers; crabby staff, tiny rooms, grubby bathrooms and questionable locations. HI Paris, HI Florence… actually anything run by Hostelling International really should be avoided like the plague.
Being used to hostels doesn’t mean that they don’t drive me nuts, though. Only a month or so ago I wrote a blog entry that I never published, which was basically just one long rant about having to make up a new bed every single day.
Sometimes though, you strike it lucky. There’s hostels that just go that extra mile, making you feel welcome through comfy facilities, friendly staff, organised activities or hopefully a combination of the three. Asian hostels are streets ahead of their European counterparts, and another general rule of thumb is the smaller the better.
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10. Fabric Hostel, Naples
This hostel had to be good after the adventure I had trying to find it. I stepped off my train after travelling all the way from Milan, with my directions on a crumpled piece of paper in my hand. It said, ‘Turn left out of the station, and then go along Via Liberta for ten minutes.’ So I did what it said, and then all of a sudden I came out at Via Liberta. Then I had a problem. Which way was I to turn? I decided left, as that was the only direction indicated. Ten minutes became fifteen, then twenty and all of a sudden cars were slowing down and rolling down their windows. I’d reached a tollbooth. Exasperated, I headed into the nearest shop for directions. As soon as I entered, the man said, ‘You should have turned right.’
Thankfully it did get better, and I was determined to give it and Naples a chance. It is the only hostel I’ve ever been to where the dorms were mezzanine, and massive, like apartments. It also helped that the bar served delicious food if you were too scared to venture out to Naples at night.
9. Granada B&B Homestay, Granada
This little guesthouse was what they all should be like – part of a stately apartment block and owned by a guy who had travelled the world. He made the place – best of all were his maps, marked with all his favourite free tapas bars. He didn’t let us down.
8. Palmer’s Lodge, London
This place calls itself a ‘boutique hostel’, which I previously thought to be an oxymoron. This place is something else, though, definitely catering to the flashpacker. It’s housed in an old manor, and the bunks are great – three stories and with little curtains and everything. The common room also looks like a grandmother’s living room.
7. Tallinn Backpackers Hostel, Tallinn
I didn’t have any mates in Tallinn that I knew of, but if you don’t and want to feel like you’re staying at your mate’s place, head here. It was run by backpackers staying there for the summer and basically their job is to hang out with you. It didn’t feel like a hostel at all.
6. Mix Hostel, Chengdu
Asian hostels are streets ahead of their European counterparts and this one is the best example of that. The best thing about them are the staff – they actually want to help you. They organise all sorts of things for you; this one got me Sichuan opera tickets, organised two cooking classes, got a group of us a minivan and driver to take us to the biggest Buddha in the world, and arranged for me to see the Panda Breeding Centre. Their computers used a proxy server so we could access whatever we wanted on the Internet (so I could actually see this blog!) and its own restaurant served up all sorts of tasty Sichuan delights. And all for $4 a night.
5. Lee and No Guesthouse, Seoul
I’ve already alluded to Mr Lee recently – this man just makes the place. The hostel is actually sort of its own little section attached to his family house, and he goes out of his way to help you out. I was completely lost trying to find the place and drenched with sweat in Seoul’s ninety-five percent humidity, but thankfully I was found by one of his neighbours who was only too happy to take me to the door. Mr Lee woke us all up at eight every morning with cheesy Korean pop music and the smell of a delicious Korean breakfast. Everyone staying there (a maximum of ten people) would have breakfast in their pyjamas together and talk about their plans for the day. When departing, everyone poses for a picture and they’re posted up on his wall.
4. Apicolone Hostel, Budapest
Again this place was more like a guesthouse and just a couple of rooms attached to a young Hungarian man’s apartment in downtown Buda. Francesco told us all about the history of his country, had us test some of their wines and even did all of my washing. Pity I accidentally left all of my underwear there when departing for Prague.
3. Golden Temple Villa, Siem Reap
This place is a bit of an institution in Siem Reap. For less than $10 a night we were treated to a massive room with a canopy over the bed, fresh drinks and fruit on arrival, free massages (which nearly killed us) and hammocks slung up all over the place. They arranged drivers and guides for us at a moment’s notice and were amongst the friendliest people we met in perhaps the friendliest country on earth.
2. David Quinn Alai-Berri Hostel, San Sebastian
I arrived in San Sebastian a tad dishevelled, buggered after an overnight train from Paris. Irishman David took one look at me when I arrived and ordered me to bed. He cooked me dinner, gave me drinks, arranged me accommodation in Rome and generally was just lovely. His reviews tell stories such as giving up his own bed for travellers without a booking. And his apartment was a street back from the gorgeous Playa de Concha, San Sebastian’s city beach.
1. IchiEnSou Guesthouse, Kyoto
I booked IchiEnSou months before I even set foot on Japanese soil, baffled by its reviews. A few weeks before I arrived, I had a dilemma. I needed to book tickets to see the sumo wrestling in Nagoya, but needed a Japanese address for delivery, as well as payment on arrival. Yoshi paid for the tickets out of his own pocket, and handed them over to me when I arrived. How is that for service, not to mention trust? He also would take everyone out each night to different places in Kyoto – geisha-spotting, traditional pubs, local restaurants; it changed each night. All this from a man who learnt his English in Tasmania and barracked for Richmond.