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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Backpacker’s Home Away from Home: Travelers Share their Favorite Hostels

No thanks to filmmaker Eli Roth, Hostels have become a popular choice of accommodation for backpackers in the past several years – largely due to word of mouth from seasoned travelers, who have sworn about its homey ambiance. I remember my first ‘hostel’ experience during my first trip abroad in 2007 wasn’t nowhere near any good. Bed bugs, dirty linens and snoring dorm-mates had me and my brother awake most of the night. That however, didn’t discouraged me from staying at other hostels as I amass miles on the road. Doing so, also helped stretched my travel budget and I’ve come to experience the best of what a lot of these establishments has to offer aside from economical accommodation. Hip and trendy interior, a lively common area where I get to hang out with other travelers and most of all; travel advice I get from the staff – who in some cases are experienced backpackers too. Wanting to learn if I share the same love for everything ‘hostels’, I asked fellow travel bloggers about their most memorable hostel stays. 
Starting off with my top two hostel pick;


Where 2 Next HostelNacpan Beach El Nido, Palawan
Set in a property lavished by a spacious lawn covered lot, this hostel offers a choice of tent and the usual hostel dorm room accommodation. We opted for the roomy tent pitched under the ceiling of nighttime skies. Set aback a couple of hundred meters from the long fine white sand beaches of Nacpan and Calitang, walking to and from the beach gives you the chance to pass by and interact with the local community. Manned by the affable manager named Chris and owned by a fellow traveler Vicky, Where 2 Next certainly understands what every traveler yearns for in a decent, affordable home away from home, as it perfectly surrounds the property with a set of great vibes and a welcoming atmosphere that stays true to its natural environment. 


Second Wind Bed Bunk & BreakfastBoracay, Aklan
Situated in the quiet part of the island, Second Wind BBB gives the escape you need from the wild euphoric atmosphere of Boracay’s beachfront area. This could have been like any other hostels I stayed before, but the ‘courtyard’ setting of its common area sets it apart. The open air venue gives you more reason to just hang out and engage fellow travelers in a quiet conversation or a moment to plot your next route. Cliquey designer dorms and private rooms, free breakfast with all-day coffee and tea, a self-service kitchen, free WiFi and most of all – a few minutes’ walk to one of the world’s beast beaches justifies Second Wind BBB’s inclusion to this list. 


Aileen Siroy of Travel. Food. Finds
Stops Hostel (Varanasi, India)
Stops Hostel in Varanasi is one of my favorites. It is homey and incredibly charming. I love that this hostel is splashed in bright colors because it gives the place such a happy vibe. There are enough common areas (and they’re beautifully decorated, too) for days when you want to dance, do yoga, have conversations with fellow travelers, read, or just want to chill. It’s in a quiet neighborhood, away from the madding crowd, but just a few minutes away from the Ghats. I love the breakfast food here and the spacious and clean rooms and bathrooms. My favorite part though would be the service. Everyone at STOPS was all so nice and wonderful! They helped us book our train tickets, recommended places to eat around Varanasi, and gave us a list of places to see and things to do in Jaipur. If I ever go back to the holy city of Varanasi, I’d certainly stay in STOPS again!  www.stopshostels.com


Doi Domasian of the Traveling Feet
Piece Hostel (Kyoto, Japan)
What’s great about Piece Hostel, aside from its proximity to the Kyoto Station, is its comfortable futon bunk beds, which are wide enough to let your backpack sleep with you. Their bathrooms are stocked with huge bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and liquid body soap all free to use. And just before you head out to explore Kyoto and its neighboring cities, high-carb breakfast offerings will be waiting for you at the pantry for free. Room rates vary depending on your room choice, but an 18-bed mixed dorm is priced at 2,400-2,900 yen per person. www.piecehostel.com/kyoto/en/


Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer
Caveland Hostel (Santorini, Greece)
I have stayed in hostels in over 25 countries, and my favorite thus far is Caveland Hostel in Santorini. It used to be a winery back in the 1700s, and its cave-like structures proved to fit its new identity quite well. Backpackers from all over the world couldn’t find fault with Caveland. Everything fit the light and airy atmosphere of Oia and Fira, with its pastel-colored walls and artistic bric-a-brac decorating the place. The small touches, from the wall mosaic made of discarded red tiles to the chandelier made of grape vines, give Caveland a unique, very personal touch, all thanks to the owners, brothers Kostas and Giannis Sakavaras who were travelers and avid couch surfers themselves before they decided to settle down in Santorini. The best thing, aside from the history and aesthetics, is  the price. At only 15 euros per day, it is definitely worth it! www.cave-land.com


Kara Santos of Traveling-Up
Junction Hostel (Makati City)
Junction Hostel offers a fun, modern hangout for urban adventures in Makati. The city’s vibrant night life is comparable to backpacker districts in Bangkok or Vietnam. During a staycation here, friends and I were able to visit a lot of cool establishments including Lazy Bastard, a burger joint that leads to a speakeasy bar, biker bar H & J, hip streetside hangouts El Chupacabra and Tambai, the ’50s-themed diner Filling Station and Le Café Curieux, a bohemian French café and restaurant. But at the end of the day (or early morning in our case), we had a place to go back to and sleep peacefully without worrying about our safety. The hostel also has a co-working space, so tech-savvy travelers can work and play at the same time. www.junctionhostels.com


Renz Bulseco of the Traveling Nomad
Sensi Backpackers Hostel (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia)
We were really surprised by how clean and organized the hostel was. Interestingly, the caretakers of the hostel were all Filipinos! We also have free breakfast, free towel, free water, everything’s free! Thus our 30 ringgit per night at Sensi was worth it. www.sensihostel.com


Karla Ramos of Karla Around the World
Coffee Shack Backpackers Lodge (Coffee Bay, South Africa)
Breathtaking views and an unbelievably homey atmosphere—that’s what I got from the Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay, South Africa. True, it takes an effort to get there with all the potholes on the road, but it was worth it. I never wanted to leave once I arrived. Coffee Shack (Transkei) is a beautiful compound that stays true to African culture. The private rooms are round houses and the dorms are surrounded by mosaic stone paths. In the center you will find a fire pit, how awesome is that? Everyone can just sit by the fire, drink some beer, play pool by the bar, or simply hang out. This place certainly knows how to entertain its guests and make everyone feel at home. You don’t even have to bring cash with you. It’s a running tab logged on to your room. You simply pay for your entire bill at the end of your trip. They have cultural shows where the gorgeous men and women of South Africa sing for you around the fireplace. Personally, my favorite tour was when we were taken to the local village and the villagers sang for us and fed us local cuisine. It was an intimate way of getting to know their lifestyle. I stayed here for nearly a week and the moment I left, I wanted nothing more than to go back. www.coffeeshack.co.za


Joey and Krissy Latayada of Bound for Two
Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostels (Georgetown Penang, Malaysia)
One of the chic hostels within UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown Penang. It has the charm of boutique accommodation but is a budget backpackers’ hub where comfort isn’t compromised. I enjoyed staying here because of the dedicated living space for bibliophiles. Couple of bean bags and reading lamps were lined up along the hallway. A numbers of good books are available for reading on the shelves. www.myryokan.com


Kaiz Belga of Miss Backpacker
Snowland Inn (Gorakshep Village, Nepal)
I will forever remember Snowland Inn in Gorakshep Village, the last village before the famous Everest Base Camp. After reaching the base camp of Mount Everest, I had to retire early and get some shut-eye. I was sick, cold, throwing up, and feeling all of the discomforts one gets at a high altitude. With renewed energy, I woke up the next day to something that surprised me: a spectacular view of Mount Everest from the window of our room. A few minutes later, our friends also got engaged in the room next to ours. Who would trade a three-dollar spartan room with a luxury hotel stay that can cost an arm and a leg if this dirt-cheap accommodation offers you a view of your life-long dream? I won’t.


Micaela Rodriguez of Senyorita
Frendz Hostel (Boracay Island, Aklan)
Boracay is known as the party island of the Philippines. I first discovered Frendz Resort through foreign bloggers who were raving about it. Just two minutes on foot from the white beach in Station 1, Frendz Resort offers reasonable rates for backpackers. They offer a standard bed instead of the usual double-deck bunk beds. I was lucky to attend one of their Happy Fridays special, where they served Mexican food and encouraged clients to perform! You must try the in-house restaurant’s specialty—the Mango Chicken dish! Usually, guests get together at the common area and solo travelers often end up leaving the place with good memories of new “frendz.” www.frendzresortboracay.com


Sarah Osio of Travelosio
Shophouse: The Social Hostel (Arab Street, Singapore)
For $16 a night, Shophouse The Social Hostel has exactly what I needed. They have “No Man’s Land,” dedicating the entire third level exclusive for females. It requires a special key card to enter the room, private bathroom facilities, and powder room. The room itself is spacious, fully air-conditioned, and painted in pink. Each bunk has high quality mattress outfitted with clean sheets, its personal locker, electrical socket, and a reading light. They also have complimentary Wi-Fi, all-day breakfast, and toiletries. I got more than my money’s worth. www.shophousehostel.com


Shugah Pauline Gonzales of Wander Shugah
Gabby’s Bed & Breakfast (Dumaguete City)
What I like about this hostel is its simple but quirky look and its location. It’s in a subdivision, about 10 minutes away from the town proper. You’ll love the pop of colors everywhere. The hostel is very tidy, a comfortable home-style accommodation. Free Wi-Fi, free breakfast. Everything fits my budget. Also, it’s a good place to meet travelers from all over the globe. gabbysbnb.florentinahomes.com


Gelo Santos of Beyond Toxicity
Wombats City Hostel (Naschmarkt, Vienna)
Upon alighting from the taxi cab and dragging my sprained right foot, I honestly thought I entered a wrong place and asked the people at the reception, “Is this a hostel or hotel? Is this Wombats City Hostel? Sure?” The lobby, the lounge, and the reception all looked so inviting, new, and lively. The presence of a few vendo machines provided me assurance that I would never go hungry. There’s also a bar, which features a two-hour-happy-hour, and a massive buffet breakfast nook upstairs, where the first meal of the day is offered at an affordable rate of 4.50 euros per ticket. Best of all, the staff were all helpful, informative, and friendly.  www.wombats-hostels.com


Samantha Coronado of Follow You on the Road
The Circle Hostel (La Union, Zambales, Baler)
If you’re surfing in La Union, Zambales or Baler, head on over to The Circle Hostel. It’s the go-to place to get stoked, with good vibes painted over its walls. This carefree beach feels that live up to their slogan of “There are no strangers here.” Here you can rent surf boards and ask to be referred to surfing instructors. At The Circle Hostel Baler, they even have a halfpipe for skaters, and in Zambales, a skim board for rent. Bunk beds are priced at R550 for a night’s stay. Hammocks are at R450. www.thecirclehostel.com/


Ada Wilkinson of Traveling Boots
K’s House Takayama Quality Hostel (Takayama City, Gifu, Japan)
They’re not kidding when they say quality. The Japanese style lounge areas, the kitchen, and dining facilities were all very clean and neatly organized. In our room, we didn’t feel like we were in a hostel, but in a three or even four-star hotel. In Hida Takayama, I would recommend staying at this very traveler-friendly hostel. 


Melo Villareal of Out of Town Blog
MNL Boutique Hostel (Makati City)
My experience staying at MNL Boutique Hostel Manila totally changed my mindset about staying in hostels. It made me realize so many things and I also learned a lot of things from other guests about traveling and life in general. Will I recommend it? Absolutely yes! This hostel is not only for backpackers but also for travelers who are budget conscious. MNL Boutique Hostel Manila is a local tourism game changer. Rates start at R470 per night. www.mnlboutiquehostel.com


Rain Amantiad of Words and Wanderlust
Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Inside the old quarter, Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel has a very strategic location (a free DIY walking tour map is available at reception), has a rooftop restobar (beer at night, pho bo in the morning) that overlooks the city, and home comforts (aircon, hot shower, comfortable beds). Good vibes reverberate all over the place. Even the buy and sell of scooters from one backpacker to another (transactions usually happen at the lobby in the afternoon when everyone else is bored) is a pleasant, often hilarious experience. I stayed there in June of 2015. Knackered after a long intercontinental flight from Sydney to Hanoi via Kuala Lumpur, the receptionist received my arrival by handing out free beer vouchers, “First free round at seven, then we party at the rooftop, then we go out pub crawl close to midnight.” Just like that— like any other good love story— Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel (Old Quarter) got me at free beer. www.centralbackpackershostel.com

*This article appeared in the Lifestyle pages of the May 8, 2016 issue of Manila Bulletin* 

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