Hostels in Malaysia tend to be very cheap, so I don’t arrive at them with any high hopes of quality. However the hostel I stayed at in my trip to Penang gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “bad hostel.”
A Penang Nightmare
Contrary to my modus operandi, I chose to book my hostel in advance for my four-day trip to Penang. I tried to find one with decent ratings yet still at a good price and which had air conditioning. The one I found was the 1921 Gallery and Guesthouse.
Perhaps my first clue should have been when the receptionist started shouting for another guy in the hostel to come down and show me to my room. You’re right a couple minutes later getting a degree tour. I wasn’t impressed.
The small room with six beds had no window. There was no lock on the door except for latches which could only either be engaged on the inside or outside, which wasn’t the most ingenious setup. If you didn’t close one of the latches, the door would just swing open, letting all the cold air out. The bed had a hard, thin mattress, and the sheet was too small to fit. As a result, at night the sheet would come off and you ended up sleeping directly on the mattress. Travel tip: Always bring a mummy liner.
I was happy that the room had air con. Unfortunately, the controls were available to anyone, and each day one of the other people in the room would try turning off the AC. On the first night, I woke up at 3 AM lying in a pool of sweat. 35° with 75% humidity is just too uncomfortable to sleep in.
The bathroom seemed to have been put together as an afterthought. There was no hot water in the showers (not that I need it) nor was there toilet paper (thank God I brought my own). Clothes hooks on the walls fell off at a touch. And mosquitoes were everywhere!
While not everyone needs internet, I was trying to get an article done for a magazine, and I couldn’t stay on-line long enough to upload a single photo. Maybe someone else was watching a movie…
The worst part was the noise. The hostel was almost empty, and in a secluded part of town. However, every night locals would come use the lobby as their party room. A single sheet of drywall separated the dorm from the lobby, which did nothing to keep out the sounds of their talking, laughing, singing and music. Suffice to say, I hardly slept at all.
Well, the hostel wasn’t all bad. They had a free washing machine to use. Too bad they didn’t have anywhere to hang the clothes…
I believe the actual owner wasn’t there as he was sick. Perhaps it would have been a different experience if had been there to oversee the place. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a criticism of the hostel, but rather just a story of my experience in the two days there.
My Istanbul Disaster
I don’t have fond memories of Istanbul, and I can’t help but wonder if my memories could have been tainted solely from the abysmal experience I had at the Best Island Hotel.
Personally, my bad experience was limited to the disgusting state of cleaning, the incredibly rude manner of the hostel owner and the position of my bed. The rest of my friends there were swarmed by bedbugs, had things stolen and were sexually harassed by the staff.
The room was absolutely filthy and looked like it had never been cleaned. It certainly wasn’t in the six days I was there. Showers had grime on the floor and every toilet seat in the hostel was broken. My room was a terrace outside, the old location of the bar, and the floor was crammed with so many mattresses I had to walk on top of others to get to mine in the far corner.
The manager of the hostel was highly critical of my lifestyle, and said I should be spending thousands on my travels (like she does). Unfortunately, I watched her get into arguments with every guest there. The man was even worse. He actively pursued each girl in the hostel to have sex with them, getting their phone number or social media from their booking and messaging them constantly.
Many of my friends, and many more reviews online, reported having clothes and possessions stolen at the hostel. One even mentioned having money stolen from the safe in reception!
The moral of the story is do some more research before you book a hostel, and don’t follow blindly to one your friend has booked.
How to Avoid a Bad Hostel
When looking at the rating, also pay attention to the dates of the reviews. I’ve seen hostels that started out great, and then quickly deteriorated, but retained an average high score. Also cross check the review score with other websites to see if there is a discrepancy. Some people rate the hostel on their personal expectations or on an isolated occurrence of a bad situation, not on the general conditions of the hostel.
Look for what facilities the hostel has to offer. If the guest house is in Southeast Asia and it doesn’t mention having air con, it probably doesn’t (especially the cheaper ones). If you have a SIM card for the country, it’s probably a good idea to give them a call too.
If you’re looking for a quiet place to stay, don’t pick a party hostel. You also need to be aware of the location of the hostel. Even though the hostel itself imposes a quiet time or lacks a bar, it might be on a party street or above a bar. Unless you’re the extremely wild type of traveler, I would avoid any hostel which accommodates stag or hen parties. Edinburgh, Prague and Krakow were the worst cities in my travels for those.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve stayed in dozens of amazing hostels in my travels, which you can see throughout my blog. If you don’t want to stay in a hostel, you always have the options of Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Workaway or TrustedHouseSitters. In other words, there are always options to find a good place to stay.