“You’ve slept in a lot of beds,” one of my oldest and best friends said to me a few weeks ago. When I gasped in offence, he was quick to add, “I mean, travelling, of course!” That got me thinking about all the places I have stayed on my travels: some the best hostels in the world, the comfiest of pillows and… some of the worst places I have ever ‘slept’.
After five years of living in Asia, I have pretty much perfected the ability to sleep anywhere. But, there are still a few standout beds that (bed)spring to mind. Here are, in my humble opinion, some of the best hostels in the world and the places I’ve most enjoyed resting my head.
Oh, and a few of the worst, too:
Bad Bed – Noah’s Ark, Hong Kong
Did I ever tell you about the time I moved to Hong Kong and stayed for three weeks in a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark? A life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. How is that possible? Why is that possible? How could they possibly know it’s life-size? All very good questions that I have no answer for.
I stayed in a dorm with six other girls (and the occasional male nighttime visitor) as part of the graduate scheme I was taking part in. Was the bed comfy? Yes. Did I feel comfortable sleeping on the top bunk when there was a couple underneath on the bottom bunk? Err… no.
Good Bed – Kam Ping Mansions, Hong Kong
Not one of the best hostels in the world, nor one of the worst, because this was my actual bed in my actual room for nine months. That’s right. I bought the cheapest IKEA bed for my teeny tiny HK room, assembled it myself and then realised the walls were wonky and it wouldn’t fit.
Lucky for me, I had flatmates and handymen also on my graduate programme. We managed to jimmy it into place and hold up the hovering slats with random household items. Even after nine months of use, it survived! A miracle!
Bad Bed – PLUS Camping, Rome, Italy
So, working and travelling in Italy back in 2012, a group of four of us went to Rome. Being the budget travellers that we were (still are), we booked the cheapest room possible. Which wasn’t actually a room. Neither was it actually in Rome.
In fact, it was a canvas tent with bunk beds and the campsite was a very long bus ride (or two) outside of the city. The thing about tents is that the walls aren’t paper thin, they’re thinner. Listening to the couple next door get it on when we were trying to sleep was both hilarious and horrifying.
Good Bed – Via Amore, Catania, Sicily
Rent is only 220 euros a month, including bills? “Yes!” we said without feeling the need to negotiate anything further. That was until I realised that I would be sleeping on a pull-out sofa bed with no mattress and I simply couldn’t afford to buy one brand new. The landlord wouldn’t shift.
I was lamenting this dilemma with my flatmate and neighbour over dinner in town, when we walked home and saw a mattress leaning up against the wall outside our building. No one was moving in, that was clear. The mattress had only been outside for less than a hour or two. IT WAS FATE.
Sicilians are known to leave unwanted furniture outside rather than pay to have it removed, right? It looked brand new…
I could. I was 22 and poor AF, dammit! So, I gave the mattress a good wipe down, covered it with a plastic protector and slept soundly on it for the next three months. Don’t judge me!
Bad Bed – Somewhere in Northern Luzon, the Philippines
We were on a hiking day trip around the rice paddies of Northern Luzon, in the Philippines. One of party got sick and it was obvious that we weren’t going to complete the trek before sundown.
Our concerned tour guides took us to a nearby stilted village (reassuringly, they told us the locals were ex-headhunters – the literal kind). The villagers allowed us to use their typhoon shelter for the night.
However, after we played with the local kids for most of the evening, then sang our national anthem for them by the campfire (upon request), they decided we needed somewhere a bit nicer.
‘Somewhere a bit nicer’ turned out to mean breaking into someone’s house who was away and curling up on the hut floor. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, but the kind hospitality was pretty touching and I’m very grateful for the village’s hospitality.
Good Bed – Kelapa Cottage, Amed, Bali, Indonesia
This is one of the nicest
hostels hotels places I have ever stayed at. I’m always on a shoestring budget, so when I arrived at the paradise that is Kelapa Cottage I thought there was a mistake. The pool, the free breakfast and the gorgeous cottage setting were divine.
I stayed in the shared dorm in the main building, which was surprisingly empty. The outdoor ‘rain’ shower was amazing. I ate at the hotel nearly every night because the food was so, so good. You get it. I was in love. This has to be a contender for one of the best hostels in the world.
It was only when I came to pay that my jaw hit the floor. My room was US$8-9 per night! For those who aren’t quick with maths, that means this place is cheaper than anywhere I have ever paid rent in my life.
Excuse me while I reassess my life and move to Bali.
Bad Bed – Nok et Mika Guesthouse, Vang Vieng, Laos
This is such a shame because Nok and Mika are such a lovely couple, but their guesthouse? Not so lovely in my experience.
To be fair, their guesthouse was out of the way of ‘pub street’, as advertised, even if it was only by a road or two. And it certainly didn’t cater to the drunken tubing crowd, also as advertised, which was what I wanted to avoid.
But, I’m sorry, Nok and Mika, but I did not enjoy sharing the dorm room with your 10-year-old son.
That’s right. We were the only two occupants in a room of bunk beds and it was aaaaaaawkwaaaard. Even more awkward when there was a power cut in town and the concerned parents insisted on keeping the door wide open all night (out into the unlit street!), so that their son didn’t get too hot.
Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink. Not exactly one for the best hostels in the world list.
Good Bed – Khaosan Kyoto Theater, Kyoto, Japan
Japan is the queen of the best hostels in the world, particularly when it comes to capsules. Capsule hotels are essentially when your bed has three walls and sometimes a door or a curtain as well. I love them because it’s like having your own little private room, but like half the price.
Then again, they’re not for those prone to claustrophobia.
One of my favourite capsule hotel experiences was in Kyoto, at the Khaosan Kyoto Theater. This girls-only dorm is like a whimsical hot-air-balloon-inspired wonderland. I had my own private balloon to sleep inside of, complete with sliding doors, hanging sashes and colourful patchwork-quilt walls.
Bad Bed – Backpacker Bed & Breakfast, Yangon, Myanmar
Oh, the dreaded bed bug. I had just settled into my top bunk bed for the night at Backpacker Bed & Breakfast when I felt something tickle my arm. That tickle turned into a sharp pain, like something had bitten me. I whirled around and saw a little black bug plodding along my bed sheet.
I batted and shooed it away, doing my best to kill it, but lost it when it toppled off the top bunk. It seemed to be working alone, so I managed to finally get some sleep. When I tried to explain to the receptionist about the bed bug, including photographic evidence, I got this response:
“So?” and a cheeky smile.
Good Bed – Santhika Bed & Breakfast, Bali, Indonesia
I cannot stop raving about this gorgeous little fairyland garden in Lovina, Bali. Santhika Bed & Breakfast greeted me with a long, cool, juicy beverage and a complimentary foot massage (don’t mind if I do)!
The ‘hotel’ was really a forest getaway that Peter Pan’s Lost Boys could have called home, as well as the characters from Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. Hidden in cosy nooks amongst the greenery were hammocks, hanging seats and even a four-post bed with a canopy over it.
The best part was my own little gazebo. A stilted wooden and straw structure with canvas for walls and a ladder to the entrance. Yes, I fell down that ladder once or twice, but it was worth it to feel like a woodland princess!
Bad Bed – Plus Florence, Florence, Italy
When I saw that Plus Florence hostel had a gorgeous pool, a great location and a decent price, I didn’t hesitate to book a bed for my first night in the city. And it ticked all the boxes: clean, great facilities, helpful staff. For many people this place would be a dream… but I wasn’t 17 anymore.
Yes, the pool was nice to laze by, but the crowd was of a certain type. The restaurant served burgers and the bar served shots and bad wine (bad wine! In Italy!). I had accidentally booked myself into the party hostel.
Cue a night of drinking awful drinks, rolling my eyes at a group of high school kids screaming, “OMG I’M SO DRUNK RIGHT NOW!” and getting chatted up by obnoxious guys who talk about themselves all night.
It’s a great hostel if you’re looking for a good time… but it’s not for me.
Good Bed – Billabong Hostel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
OK, this is the winner for me. Easily top of the best hostels in the world list is Billabong Hotel & Hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I stayed here three times during my trip around the country.
Is there a lovely pool? Yes. Do they have a bar with cheap beers? Yes. Are the dorm rooms super-clean with spotless bathrooms? Yes. Do they have nightly activities for visitors to take part in, as well as group tours in the day? Yes.
How much is a room for the night? US$7 per night. BOOM. I’m there.
The Best Hostels in the World? To be continued…
Of course, I haven’t ventured everywhere in the world yet and I’m usually a little limited by budget. But, as my friend pointed out, I’ve slept in a lot of beds, so to speak.
I’ve had my shared of surprise cockroach friends, arguments with hostel staff over broken toilets and laying a towel on top of the sheets because I don’t dare lie on them. I’ve seen the worst that budget hostel accommodation has to offer.
Then again, I’m constantly amazed by how cheap some hostels are considering the amazing value I am getting. Cocktails on arrival, complimentary foot massages and a bed that’s comfier than my own sheets back home.
Yes, I really do believe I’ve had the luxury to stay in some of the best hostels in the world. And with those odds (and those prices!), why would I ever stay anywhere else?
Now, if you excuse me, after all that I feel a nap coming on…
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