Tiptoeing through puddles of pubes in the hostel’s shared bathroom toilet. This week I am a backpacker. With expensive European travels two months ahead I have forced myself to cut costs by booking a tiny one-bed guestroom in a Georgetown Hostel ($16US).
I am new to hostel life in Southeast Asia. Currently in Penang Malaysia for the Thaipusam festival and now sit queued for a share of the hostel’s foyer toaster. Reading a list of plagiarised travel quotes chalked to the reception counter… it’s not about the destination… life’s too short… do something that scares you. My contribution has already disappeared “Go Home! Your parents miss you!”
To be fair the backpacker crowd are better than expected. Most are young Asian Chinese, Malay, Japanese. None replicating the boozy backpacker stereotypes which give backpacking a bad name. In fact, at this hostel I am the boozy backpacker stereotype. In the wee hours rattling through doors with bamboo chairs to drink extra-strong beers under the moonlight. I am finding it hard to sleep in this hostel. Even with extra liquor.
In 10 years of travelling in Southeast Asia, this is my first hostel experience. I am not fairing well. Skyping home the first night my mum says “Get out of there now… I’ll send money to your account”. I refused. She sent it anyway. Even my girlfriend wants me to get out. She forced the budget. Now I am only sticking it out to show I can. This is my 2nd night and I am already craving the affordable luxuries easily available in Southeast Asia.
There is only one major problem for me. Sleep deprivation. I arrived here after a 24-hour train journey from Bangkok to save $30US on a flight. Expecting a quick sleep on arrival was ridiculous. I lay in bed as what sounded like scenes from Biker Grove went on around. Slamming doors, stomping, yelping, the cracks of snooker balls.
The paper-thin walls appear to absorb sound and then shout it out louder. The first morning I wake to sasquatch pacing the corridor. I open the door to see a petite Asia girl sneaking back to her dorm room. It doesn’t help that I am a night person. I like to potter down Georgetown’s back streets in the early hours. Good luck on having a lie-in.
I caved. No sleep. Avoiding eye contact with the large stain beside my bed. My head couldn’t handle more. I moved. I planned to move to Georgetown’s better hostel Ryokan Chic Hostel but it was fully booked. With a stay in a Georgetown Heritage Hotel on my to-do list I opted for a night at Chulia Heritage Hotel (very impressive). Three times the price of my hostel hovel but well worth it ($43US).
In my opinion, it is better to spend short periods travelling in comfort than enduring long unenjoyable travel experiences. I feel I have wasted a great opportunity over Thaipusam. I completely failed to find enthusiasm. I was tired, miserable and dreading the return to my hostel bed. On the plus side, I got out there and got a few good photos and travel experiences.
Alternatives to Hostelling
Stay in comfort and save elsewhere. Southeast Asia is cheap for travel; food, drink, accommodation, attractions, and nightlife. But it seems so much of backpacker’s budgets are spent perched at local bars and nightclubs doing no more than they would back home. I saw this all over Chulia Street in Georgetown; a hive for backpacker riffraff.
To save money eat local food on local streets and drink cheap liquor with the local booze hounds. Southeast Asian cultures are the attraction so enjoy local life and people-watching. After all, this is what travel is about and it costs nothing. A new “low-cost accommodation” alternative is AirAsia’s no-frills Tune Hotels which continue to pop up all over Asia.