Category Archives: Asia

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!

Booking hostels online. The ABC of important sites

We all know how important it is to find the perfectly suitable accommodation so serve your needs and to be affordable at the same time. It’s even more important if you know that over 70 per cent of the travelers who aren’t happy with their last vacation associate the most unpleasant happenings with their accommodation and you wouldn’t want that happening to you. So that’s that: you’re a budget traveler looking for a place to stay. The thing is you really have to take lots of things into consideration when choosing a hostel. Off the top of your head it is the quality-price report, and yes, it’s usually the most important. Another thing to be taken seriously is the area where the hostel is, as well as the kind of people visiting the place.

 

You may pick different hostels from the same trip if you’re traveling with your girlfriend the first time and with your friends or parents the second. Unfortunately, hostels’ sites aren’t always reliable. This is when a third actor comes into discussion: the specialized sites giving reviews from people who have been to some hostels and are willing to share their experiences. And while not all the users are fair, most of them don’t lie on the internet because at their turn they choose the hostels on basis of others’ reviews. So the first thing we know about these sites is that they’re self-regulatory. The second thing you’d like to know are, perhaps, the most popular and trustworthy sites of this kind.

1. Hostels.com is the place where you’ll find over three and a half million guest reviews from people who have visited different hostels and B&Bs (Bed & Breakfast for the ones who aren’t familiar with the term) from over 180 countries of the world, a number of over 35, 000 accommodation places. The review system makes the site trustworthy, and the grades and stars given are to be seriously regarded before making such a choice. For instance, we wouldn’t really recommend a place with an overall review of less than 75%, while 70 per cent means you should really run away. Because each of the services in reviewed in particular, you have even more opportunities to choose from. If hostel A and B offer the approximate same services but B seems to be cleaner as the reviews show and you’re a sort of a freak about this (or it’s simply something very important to you), your decision’s already made. Plus, the property type doesn’t only include hostels so if you’re looking for a different type of accommodation this site’s appropriate for any kinds of needs.

This is, perhaps, the most popular site of hostel bookings. The amazing thing besides ranking any hostel according to the travelers who have submitted reviews and comments is that there are no booking fees. So besides being a reliable source with an amazing capacity, it’s also a place to be trusted. The accommodation you’re looking for is not only found to best fit your interests, but its booking price is also automatically transformed into your country’s currency so that the math’s easier for you. Everything here is designed to be user-friendly and reliable.

 

2. Hostels on lonelyplanet.com  is a place where you can book and search for hostels without any problem. Its over 27,000 destinations included cover most of the world’s touristic attractions. The fact that lonelyplanet.com is such a successful site is the perfect guarantee that you’re not wasting your time and the source is reliable. Also, the booking made here is one of the most secure on the internet, mainly because of their reputation and the responsibility that comes with it. Plus, a great thing on this site is that you can also take care of other issues of your trip, such as mapping some important key destinations you’d love to visit or finding an affordable car rental company to best fit your budget.

 

3. Hostelbookers.com is one of the best specialized sites giving you in real time the possibility to know how many rooms are free where you want to make the reservations, as well as what’s the most affordable hostel near some specific destinations or what’s the starting price for a bed in a hostel (depending on your specifics: if you’d like it with shared or private bathroom, in a room of 6, or 4 or maybe in a private one, if you’d like the breakfast included etc.). From apartments and guesthouses to campsites, any information you need is on this site. On Trustpilot, the site is ranked as being excellent (with a score of 9.3 out of 10). Again, as high ranking bring responsibility, there’s a clear case of site doing its job.

 

4. Hostelz.com is, finally, the fifth very popular web destination for hostel bookings. Over 43,000 listings in almost 10,000 cities make it the biggest database of its kind currently on the internet. So the search results here are, most importantly, diversified. Besides providing updated photos and prices of the suggested places, you’ll also find (sometimes) shockingly honest reviews from travelers who have been disappointed or, on the contrary, very satisfied with their choices. The community of travelers who vote here are not only trustworthy (as are all the other ones), but very open in saying the most minor things that can make the difference from horrible to decent or from fine to amazing.