Hostel Interviews: Back Home Hostel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Malaysia, with its lovely capital, Kuala Lumpur – but it’s definitely in the top of the list. Malaysia is not one of the most popular travel destinations, but when it comes to hidden gems – it doesn’t get much better than this. Malaysia boasts a rich cultural heritage, a huge variety of activities and sights, from gorgeous beaches and tropical rainforests to vibrant cities rich in culture.

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Kuala Lumpur. Image via the Telegraph.

We believe that the best way of visiting Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur, is through hostels – this way you get a really good feel of the city life, and you get to meet new people – all at a low cost! In order to confirm (or infirm) this, I contacted Ng Ping Ho – the owner and manager of the Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur. He’s one of the best men to discuss visiting Kuala Lumpur, and what it’s like to run a hostel in this amazing city:

Q: First of all tell us a bit about yourself the hostel and yourself – whatever you think is relevant and interesting about the history of the hostel, the staff and yourself. The Guarantee thing sounds really interesting, I’ve never been to a hostel that offered that!

My name is Ng Ping Ho. I came from a TV production background. I decided to open the hostel because at that time, my family had these old heritage shophouses as a family property. At that time, it was being rented out, but a lot of the rental was going into maintaining the crumbling structure. My partner and I decided to renovate and do something long-term with it.

 

back homeWas this an idea that you had for a long time, did it just come up spontaneously? How was it like in the start?

The idea of a backpackers came up because at that time, around 2006, we saw a market for a clean, professionally run hostel.

On a personal note, around that time I made a trip to Mongolia. While I was there, my guide brought me to a lone cottage in the middle of nowhere. All around was just rocks and rolling hills. As we entered the cottage, I stepped on pine floors. Cold Play was playing off the speakers. And there was the smell of coffee and pastres. I immediately felt at home. That was the idea of BackHome – to have a place you can call home, deep in unfamiliar territory.

The staff comes from a variety of backgrounds. None of us had hospitality experience. We learnt as we go along – all of us have a passion for travel.

That’s quite awesome – hands-on learning is the best learning, if you ask me. In Kuala Lumpur, would you say that it is easy to find a good hostel, or is it more of a rarity? What kind of accommodation to people usually go to?

It’s easy to find a good hostel in KL. People mostly prefer private rooms with an en-suite bathroom. People who stay in hostels value interaction with other guests, common areas, and good customer service.

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What is it that makes you different, special, better than other hostels?

What makes us different is our guarantee. We guarantee that you get personal attention, a good night’s rest, and peace of mind. If you don’t get any of these things, you get a free night. We believe that after a few years, we might not be the most impressive hostel around, but our service will be the best on the market.

Malaysia's cuisine is one of the most spectacular in the world.

Malaysia’s cuisine is one of the most spectacular in the world. Food is cheap and good in Malaysia.

Well I’ve never visited Malaysia, and to be honest, I don’t know much about it, other than what you can find on Wikipedia. The two things that pop in my mind when thinking about the country are great food and awesome wild landscapes. Is this true, or is it just a Western misconception, and there’s much more we’re missing out on? For example, I don’t know much about the architecture or the museums or the nightlife… what are some of the biggest attractions in the area?

Actually, we love food – and we have great food 24 hours of the day. You can go to an outdoor café at 3am, and people will be eating or having coffee. Malaysians love food. We have rainforests, but the people in the cities are slowly losing touch with that. Besides that, you get to experience so many different cultures in Malaysia, especially KL – it’s a city that’s made up of immigrants.

We also have the KL Twin Towers – visitors who see that are always amazed.

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How much would you say the average 7 days trip to KL costs, with everything except the plane included?

You can get by on RM50 ($15) per day for accomodation if you’re staying in a hostel, and another RM50 ($15) a day for food and transport. Food is cheap and good in Malaysia. Transport is a little chaotic, but we have a good train system.

When I travel to a new place, I always look it up on WikiTravel, TripAdvisor and whatnot. But when I get there, there’s always some really cool things, which I only find out from locals. What are some lesser known tips what you would give to people visiting KL?

People usually come to KL to see the cultural sights, but KL is a very modern, cosmopolitan city. For the locals, we meet up over food, and drink. So my advice is get to know a local, and just hang out with them.

What kind of tourists do you usually get? Does it depend on the time of the year? Is it Malaysians or usually foreigners?

We get everyone from Europeans, Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern visitors. All different times of the year. Depends on all their holiday breaks.

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You must have some really good stories with your clients! Tell us the best/funniest and worst experience you had with a client, and what you learned from it. How often do you have unusual, unexpected events?

We have lots of stories, but it’s too many to tell! Probably what stands out is when a family booked a dorm for 8, but turned up with 20 people, including an elderly grandma in a wheelchair, and kids running around.

What’s it like being a hostel manager (I’m not exactly sure who it is I’m talking to, if you’re not the manager… then what’s it like doing what you do)? Is it a good job, rewarding, tiring? Tell us a bit about the insides of the job.

A hostel manager needs to be patient, calm and always smile. Backpackers love to hang out at the front desk and just chat – but sometimes that’s hard for a manager who has a lot of other behind-the-scenes work to handle.

Thank you very much for the valuable insight! Really looking forward to seeing all these in person in Kuala Lumpur!

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