If you’ve ever been on a backpacking trip before, you might have stayed in a hostel. If you haven’t, you might be under the impression that they are dirty or unsafe. You might be wary about giving up your privacy to share a dorm with a group of dodgy strangers. Yes, there are bad hostels out there, but I’m hoping to give you an insight into the wide variety of hostels out there (even within just one country!).
Hostels come in all shapes, sizes and loudness levels. You can opt for the crazy party lifestyle with 24/7 music and free flowing drinks, but don’t expect much sleep. You have the chilled out hostels with comfortable common areas to meet new travellers and make friends to explore with. You have the hostels with constant activities and day trips. You have the hostels where people can shut themselves away in a capsule and not interact with anyone. Just using the filters on booking.com or HostelWorld can make a world of difference in the experience you get.
I personally lean towards the social side and also budget plays quite a significant deciding factor. If I can get free breakfast, that’s great. But if I can get a constant flow of snacks in a hostel that only costs 6 GBP a night, I will take full advantage of that and stuff my bags with biscuits before I leave for the day. (Side note: I apologise, there is no Pound sign on this keyboard in my Singapore hostel and I didn’t want to paste it in for every price).
Food is important, but safety is the highest priority. Are there luggage lockers and is the hostel secure? You don’t want someone strolling in off the street and stealing your stuff. Cleanliness ratings are also a massive factor in whether I will book a place or not. Sometimes a quick scan of the reviews on a well rated hostel will reveal that someone found rat droppings on their pillow when they checked in.
Whether they have laundry facilities and if I need to do laundry. Any cute extra details are always appreciated. Does the hostel have a rooftop? Does it have a book exchange library? Does it have a bar on site? There are so many possibilities.
The first hostel of many on this list is Mingle Hostel in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. When you arrive in a country from a 12 hour flight, you just want a comfortable bed. Mingle delivered on that front (as well as a very tasty breakfast buffet which kept me going throughout the morning!). Our jet lag in this hostel consisted of accidental 5am wake ups and constant midday napping for the entirety of our stay.
The hostel itself was in a bit of an old looking building, but the facilities were all fine and the 4 bed dorm room had quite a bit of space compared to later ones we stayed in. It had a privacy curtain and the luggage locker was big enough that I could actually fit all of my belongings in it. The bathrooms were clean and decent. The hostel also provided filtered water and a book exchange library. Overall, it was a good first hostel to get settled in to the travel life.
Unfortunately, it was awfully quiet. Despite the name, there weren’t many opportunities to mingle. All of the activities advertised online had no names on the sign up sheets and didn’t seem to be happening. The rooftop bar didn’t quite live up to expectations and it didn’t have that social vibe that you hope for when visiting a hostel. Our room was empty for the first night and then we had one roommate for the rest of our stay. He seemed like a nice guy. We talked a few times about our travels, but his need to describe every single thing he talked about as “sexy” did get a bit weird.
The hostel is located in Chinatown and there is another sister hostel close-by which has a pool, which guests had access to. That would have been a nice extra if it wasn’t for my recent tattoo. It was a good place to base ourselves from though, which meant that when we returned to Kuala Lumpur to get our bus to Singapore, we went back to Chinatown.
For a basic mixed dorm room located centrally and with free breakfast, you can’t really grumble at 8 GBP a night. I definitely ate my money’s worth of breakfast every day with all the toast and jam, but also the rice dishes and veggies and egg. It was a very good selection. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend or return here though.
Red Inn Court
Our next destination was Georgetown, Penang and we struggled a little bit looking at the different hostels. This was an example of the ratings not matching the experience we got. We stayed at Red Inn Court, which is described as a “boutique eco-guesthouse”. The pictures displayed online definitely disguised the parts of the hostel that weren’t very well looked after and had seen better days.
There was literally no atmosphere when we arrived. The receptionist barely looked at us and just looked miserable. The common room was completely empty except one middle aged man on his laptop. I was slightly worried from that general vibe that I was going to hate it here.
I didn’t completely hate everything. My bed was comfortable and very big. We were within walking distance of Little India which was great for getting myself some of the Indian food I’d heard so much about. The room itself wasn’t terrible, but that’s really all I have good to say about it.
The bathrooms were dark and dingy… literally. There was no working light switch in any of the toilet stalls so you just had to do your business in the dark and it was never fixed the entire time we were there. The breakfast was just a bit sad looking and didn’t look like it was in a very clean place. The lockers were so tiny (there were two: one under the bed and one behind the headboard) and one of mine was broken, so would not lock. This meant that I could barely fit any of my things into a secure place. Also the plug socket was inside the broken locker behind my headboard, which resulted in the unfortunate incident where it fell on my head. It really hurt and I think I had a mild concussion. Thankfully I didn’t leave with a black eye.
The atmosphere didn’t improve. The six bed dorm didn’t offer any more opportunities to socialise. It was mostly old men working on laptops or trying to mansplain the whole island to you without you asking. Admittedly the hostel was only 4GBP a night, but we stayed in much nicer hostels for the same price. I have met people who heard similar stories about this hostel, so hopefully the rating on hostel world will go down and the reviews will shed light on what it was actually like.
Now for my favourite hostel of the Malaysia leg of my trip: The Kasbah. We actually extended our stay here, because we loved it so much. They had one large dorm room and many private rooms connected to a very chilled out restaurant. It was 6.50GBP a night to stay in the dorm. The cool thing about the 20 bed dorm, which was split between two floors, was that the downstairs beds were “floating beds”, which means they were suspended from the ceiling and were like swings. They were slightly less fun to try and climb into drunk when you can’t balance and it starts hitting into the wall. Oops!
The facilities were basic and you had to go outside to get to the bathrooms,which was slightly annoying when we had torrential rain storms, but I didn’t have any major problems. It was clean and everything worked fine. The luggage lockers were big enough for all of your belongings and were like giant trucks. They also provided you with a padlock and the key chains had a sea shell with a cute little message on them (mine said “You are unique”).
The hostel was located very close to Pantai Cenang area which is where the popular beach is and lots of restaurants. We would quite often just eat at the hostel though, because the on-site restaurant was so convenient and the food was excellent. The breakfast here wasn’t free, but for only 12RM (which is about 2.50GBP) you could get toast and eggs, which is what I had most days. The smoothie bowls were also really good!
The common area was just the restaurant, but it was a quiet and comfortable place to hang out with a good vibe. The low season meant it didn’t quite have a social atmosphere, but I still enjoyed my time. No luck with the book exchange, but they also had one. The hostel staff were amazing, friendly and helpful: whether it was giving advice on places to go drink, helping us rent a moped or to give us a recommendation of somewhere to do some cheap laundry. Bonus: there were loads of cats and dogs around all the time which I loved.
This is probably the only hostel that I’ve stayed in so far that I would actively decide to go back to, because I liked it that much. I can 100% recommend this place to you and the island of Langkawi makes for an excellent beach trip. I actually pinky promised the owner of the hostel when we left that I would come back one day, so I have to.
Borneo Seahare Guesthouse
We arrived in Borneo to the city of Kuching (known for it’s many cat statues) and the capital of the Sarawak region. We picked the Borneo Seahare Guesthouse: a hostel that had a bar, a book exchange library and good reviews. I was pretty happy with the results, although due to it being low season it wasn’t that busy anywhere and the bar was pretty dead. Also, still no luck in finding a book to swap.
I stayed in an 8 bed mixed dorm and had my first attempt of this trip of staying on a top bunk, which I hated. The bed was squeaky, unstable and it felt like it was going to fall on top of me every time I climbed up the ladder. I also managed to drop my phone in the middle of the night from the top bunk. The dorm itself was just a standard room and once I managed to get into my bed it was fairly comfortable.
The bathrooms were partially outside, with a great view of blue skies while you were showering and a few too many insects getting in. The showers were the nice waterfall style ones and you had the option of hot showers, although in the hot weather I actually quite enjoy the cold. In the kitchen area, they provided self-service breakfast and you had access to filtered water all day. There were only very small lockers that you could use for your valuables and they were outside of the rooms.
We only really sat in the common area a couple of times, but there never seemed to be a lot going on. I met more people just from chatting to the people in my dorm. The hostel staff were all friendly, but quite often there was no one around when you tried to go to the reception desk! The owner’s son gave us a lot of advice about getting to Semenggoh and Bako National Park, although we didn’t end up going to the national park in the end. It felt like we didn’t do much in Kuching, but I was suffering from chronic fatigue and back pain from my M.E so I doubt I was up for hours of hiking.
The location in the hostel was close to the Waterfront area and was quite central within the city which made it useful for finding food. Although, a lot of the shops and restaurants seemed to be closed when we were walking around because it was Ramadan. However, for 4.40GBP a night, I was really happy with the facilities for that price.
Next, we arrived in Kota Kinabalu (in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) and our hostel was Zoku Lifestyle located inside a shopping complex alongside a few apartment buildings next to a mall. It was a small hostel that managed to fit in quite a lot of travellers! We picked this hostel, because of the list of free things that they provided (all day breakfast and snacks, as well as free laundry facilities!). It was 6.30GBP a night to stay in a 6 bed dorm room. It says that it is a mixed dorm, but I think they separate females if they can anyway because it was just us girls!
The beds were comfortable and the way that they were fitted together allowed you to have some privacy as there was a little screen separating the beds. However, in the middle of the room there was no space for anything. If two of you were standing up at the same time, it was difficult to squeeze past and there was supposed to be room for six people in that room.
The bathroom and kitchen areas were both standard with nothing particularly extraordinary about them (except for the jars of free biscuits and crackers in the kitchen!). The luggage lockers were outside of the rooms and just about fit my big backpack in. The book exchange here was small, but I finally swapped my book out for A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell which I wanted to read for ages.
The common room was nice and there were plenty of opportunities to meet people during our stay. On one of the days, nearly all of the hostel guests were in the common area socialising together and it had a much more vibrant atmosphere. We ended up arranging to do things with people that we met in the hostel on most days and I met some really lovely people there.
The main problem I had with Kota Kinabalu was that all of the activities were too far away, too active or too expensive. The mountain was a 2 and a half hour drive away! The hostel did offer activities and transport for activities, but it just wasn’t quite in my budget. The staff gave us some advice on things to do in the city and helped us get to our next destination. We were close to the markets and the waterfront, so we were able to visit there, but really we stayed for way too long. Overall, it was a good hostel, but not my favourite city by far.
Sepilok Nature Lodge
While staying in Kota Kinabalu, I did some research about places to go and found out that there is a bear conservation centre near Sandakan. It was on the list of bus locations from Kota Kinabalu and would cost us only 30RM (6GBP). So, it was a spontaneous decision to go here!
Sepilok Nature Lodge was 8.59GBP per night for a female only dorm. It was only a 15 minute walk to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, as well as being close to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. However, Sepilok is a 45 minute drive from Sandakan and the taxi was a bit more expensive than expected.
The dorm room had a lot of space (enough that I could do a full yoga routine in the middle of the room on the night where we were the only ones staying there). The bed was comfortable, although felt unstable at times and I could feel every movement from the top bunk.
The free breakfast at the restaurant was amazing! You got eggs, hash brown, beans and then self service toast. There was juice, tea and coffee. It was a proper full meal and really filled you up for the day. On the first night there, we also paid for the buffet dinner which was delicious. It was all you can eat for 35RM (7GBP) with steamed rice, salad, vegetables, soup and spiced potatoes. There was also some chicken, pork and tuna for the meat eaters. Animal friends also came to visit us in the restaurant as well as in the common area.
The common area was partly outside with only fans and no air conditioning, so I didn’t really spend much time there. Sepilok is small and doesn’t have much. So when we checked in and we were told: “There is a shop sometimes is open sometimes is closed” and it was never open during our entire stay. The restaurant connected to the lodge was only open at certain hours and if you missed it, there was no access to food for hours without a long walk in the heat. So overall a good hostel in a good location to visit the bears, but not for anything else.
OYO Pantai View
The only hotel on this list is on the island of Labuan. Unfortunately, everything was very quiet in Labuan during our stay and it felt rather abandoned. Walking around the shutters were down in multiple shops and restaurants. There weren’t many other travellers and there were a lot of abandoned buildings.
The hotel itself wasn’t very impressive. It was difficult to find due to incorrect location marking on google maps and maps.me leading us to incorrect places. The room was basic and I was mostly just grateful for the privacy after staying in dorms for 3 weeks. In general, it was a slightly disappointing part of the trip and I don’t really have much to say about it. I got my day laying on a beach to read my book and I enjoyed that though.
Kuala Lumpur (again)
When we returned to Kuala Lumpur, we decided to opt for a different hostel experience that neither of us had tried yet. We stayed in Space Hotel: a capsule hostel, but this one was space themed! It had a slide from the reception to the rooms on the 2nd floor and your capsule was so futuristic with a control pad to change the temperature and lighting.
There was no breakfast, but they had self service laundry which we used and was only 1GBP for a load. The luggage lockers provided didn’t fit in my big backpack and used the same electronic key card as your pod. But because you could lock your pod, you didn’t need to put much in a luggage locker. It was located in Chinatown, like Mingle so we knew the area and we were close to a MRT station. It was easy to get to restaurants nearby and wasn’t far from any of the remaining attractions we wanted to go to in KL.
The common areas had people in, but weren’t really social at all. In fact, you barely saw other backpackers and it was mostly guys who were working or families. The only other backpackers I saw were one guy in our room on the last day and a guy that I met on tinder who happened to be staying in the same hostel.
For 7.50GBP a night, you can stay in a capsule in one of the 16 bed mixed dorms. The hostel actually had a lot of rooms so there must have been a lot more people staying there as it seemed, but a lot of people didn’t leave their capsule much! It was very comfortable in there and a great way to end our Malaysia trip.
Overall, my hostel experience in Malaysia was good. Which of these hostels do you think you would like to stay at? Or maybe you’ve stayed somewhere better in Penang or had a better experience in Labuan? Let me know in the comments I’d love to hear about your time in Malaysia if you have travelled there.