Dated: February 10, 2011
Okay. I’m feeling pretty decent again for the first time in almost a week, so I thought I’d finally start talking up my recent trip to the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia (and six hours in China). With regard to my sickness, my fever is back down to normal and my appetite is gradually starting to return after one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever had, but at least I lost about 7 or 8 pounds as a result of having the damn thing. I guess it’s not all bad.
So, for this first entry, I wanted to start by just critiquing each of the three hostels we enjoyed in Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore, which I was going to abbreviate “PMS” to save time, but that suddenly seems like a poor decision. I don’t have a lot of complaints about the hostels. Each of them is very highly rated and, I believe, had the highest rating on HostelWorld for their respective countries. So I’ll start with the beginning of our trip and work my to Singapore and Malaysia from there.
OUR MELTING POT (Manila)
In the Philippines, we stayed at Our Melting Pot in Makati City, Manila in the Philippines. It’s not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue. Maybe they couldn’t use “The Melting Pot” because of legal reasons, as it would then share a name with that horribly overpriced chain of fondue restaurants. Anyway, I usually start with the weaknesses of a place so that I can exit with the more positive things that I enjoyed, but for this place I really want to flip that around and say that “Our Melting Pot” is one of the most professional, clean, and enjoyable places to stay you’re likely to find as a backpacker in Manila. Also, breakfast rules.
The people who operate the hostel speak great English and I can’t compliment them enough on the way they do business. They are extremely knowledgeable about the area and, indeed, all the Philippines for that matter, and they are also relentlessly passionate about what they do and about helping travelers who stay with them. I cannot recommend enough getting to know them and talking to them as it could pay big dividends if you want to have a unique experience in and around Manila. Many backpackers, for example, like to make the one-day pilgrimage to Taal Volcano close to Tagatay and the hostel actually helped us get our own driver and a nice air-conditioned car there and back for only about $17 a piece (there were two of us). Trust me, I would have paid double for that kind of convenience. They also know the best places to eat and the places to just have a good time if you’re going to be around Manila for a few days.
The only negative things I have to say don’t really pertain to the hostel directly, but indirectly. At the moment, there is a building being constructed literally only a few yards away from the eighteenth floor of the A.Venue Suites building where Our Melting Pot is housed. The construction is currently about sixteen floors high and will obviously only be going up for the next couple of months, I presume, so the noise can get a bit intense in the morning so, if you’re planning to sleep in, good luck. Also, and more importantly, the hostel isn’t in a great location. I’d qualify that by saying that it IS close to the most amazing mall I’ve ever seen (Greenbelt, which is about one mile away), but it isn’t close to Roxas Boulevard and the areas along Makati Street leading to the hostel can be kinda sketchy at night, full of peddlers, begging children who can get really pushy, and (unfortunately) a prostitute or two. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, because it really doesn’t have that kind of vibe; it’s just kind of seedy.
CITY CENTER BACKPACKER’S HOSTEL (Singapore)
CCBH is an extremely new hostel but another great example of how I think every backpacker hopes his or her hostel experience will be. Opened in January, the owners are clearly still kind of perfecting their craft, but the young Indian man in charge makes up for it with incredible kindness and hospitality. We were only there for a night, so he didn’t have the chance to impress me to the degree that the people at Our Melting Pot did, but the place was spotless, the beds were comfortable, and the bathrooms were adequate, and in Asia, that’s really all you can ask for. Any place that has a guitar on hand for guests is also going to earn points in my book.
Another positive that I would highlight would be its location, which is fantastic for Singapore. You’re within walking distance of everything and boy, did we walk. It’s also in what appeared to be a fairly quiet part of the city, located on the outskirts of China Town on Hong Kong Street. However, we were there on Chinese New Years Eve so I was awoken (and terrified) by unexpected fireworks at midnight that were launched from China Town so, yeah, they literally rattled the whole row of buildings to which we were attached.
Negatives? I’m not too picky, but after being spoiled by the hostel in the Philippines, there were definitely some things I immediately missed. For example, the beds at Our Melting Pot have these cheap little curtains around every bed that affords some privacy. These things are great for numerous reasons as they let you sleep without feeling like someone else in the room is staring right at you and you can leave clothes on your bed to dry during the day without leaving them out in the open where they might catch someone’s attention. Not to mention, curtains tend to make people act a little more quietly and a little more respectfully when in the room because you never know if someone might be on the other side. So, yes, I love curtains. The bathrooms could also have been a little better, but they’re perfectly fine for a short stay like ours’ and clean enough. Oh, and of course some Americans are going to complain about the 67 stairs leading from the street up to the hostel, with no elevator.
Haters gonna hate, I guess.
THE RED PALM (Kuala Lumpur)
I hate to be instantly critical of a place, but this was a pretty big disappointment for me. That said, the people who operate the hostel can’t really be blamed for most of the problems I had. For the most part, I think you’re just dealing with Kuala Lumpur and its distinction from other places we visited. I would also say that the Red Palm was at a disadvantage in being the third and final place we visited after what had already amounted to six tiring days of long travels and frustrations associated with such a trip, so I’ll give them some bonus points for just taking us in.
That said, I’ll tick off the things I didn’t like about the place. Considering that the place has won awards for being the best hostel in Malaysia and 3rd in Asia, there were a lot of things about the Red Palm that surprised me. I don’t want to use words like “frustrated” or “irritated” because they’re very negative and running a hostel is hard work and I don’t want to slight the very real efforts of the people who run the place.
However, the water pressure was virtually non-existent in the bathrooms, meaning that every girl who took a shower took about 30 minutes. Accordingly, the upstairs bathroom was almost never open the whole time we were there (3 days). And the downstairs toilet could only be flushed roughly every 15-20 minutes, which seemed to bewilder a lot of the visitors there. As my companion pointed out on the trip, a hostel like this really should make it more clear, also, that they have cats as there are some people who have very extreme cat allergies. Keep in mind, I’m a cat guy to the hilt. I love my kitties, but if you’re running a professional business, it’s usually a good idea to make clients aware that they have animals in their facilities that could potentially kill them before taking their money. Finally, the rooms upstairs do not really have ceilings so much as sheets or tapestries strewn across the walls, which means that all noise from other rooms bleeds across. One jerk on our third morning in Malaysia let his alarm clock go off for about five minutes on the other side of the wall to our room and it might as well have been at the foot of our bed.
A final note that I would make is, compared to the people we met at CCBH and Our Melting Pot, a few of the workers at Red Palm seemed kind of cold to me. I’m not going to judge them for this, though, because I would imagine that operating a hostel literally sucks the life out of you over time and the Red Palm has been going strong for several years now. I can’t imagine what kind of snobs and pretentious douches they probably run into on a weekly basis as during our 9 days touring Asia we encountered absolutely some of the rudest, most obnoxious people I could possibly imagine. I tip my hat to anyone to runs a good hostel and keeps good spirit.
On the bright side, you absolutely can’t beat the Red Palm’s location. It is very centrally located and it’s no more than 20 or 30 steps from a KL City Tour stop where you can buy a $15 24-hour double-decker tour bus pass that allows you to jump on and off at all of the city’s major tourist sites. It’s definitely worth it. You’re also within easy walking distance of KL Tower, the malls, tons of great, friendly bars, and of course the Petronas Towers. I also need to mention that one of the employees at the Red Palm absolutely came through for us when he let us enjoy some of his vast DVD collection while we waited for our flight back to Incheon that left at 2 o’clock in the morning. Most of the movies didn’t work, of course, but we did watch “Old School” and “Monster’s Inc” (there’s nothing odd about that combination) and I could not have been happier to call that an evening.
So, like I said. No BAD experiences at all, but there was some disappointment. Our Melting Pot was my favorite but I would happily recommend any of the three to backpackers looking to experience the beauty of the Philippines, Singapore, or Malaysia. The Red Palm and OMP had pretty diverse crowds while we were there, and there is a good reason why those two hostels attract such unique travelers from around the room. They have developed reputations founded on the way they do business and their enthusiasm for helping introduce their respective countries to international travelers.
To anyone looking for affordable lodging in the aforementioned countries, any of these hostels is a great place to start.