The World • January 2018 • Length of Read: 8 Minutes
Hostels are not just somewhere we sleep. Hostels are the focal point of our time spent in a certain place. Hostels are where we make new friends. Hostels are where we get drunk. Hostels are where we break out of our shells. Hostels are where we’re introduced to first-time experiences. Hostels are where we get wifi so that we can re-connect with other travellers. Hostels are where we find love… or at least make love. Hostels are where we chill out when the road takes its toll on us. Hostels are where we book onward transport, visas and activities when we’re ready to get rolling again. Hostels are where we laugh. Hostels are where we cry. Hostels are where we create those memories and stories that we’ll be re-telling for the rest of our lives.
Having stayed in approximately 150 different hostel beds on six different continents, and spoken to thousands of backpackers and travellers in the process, here are what I consider to be the ten best hostels on the planet. I could have created an arbitrary set of criteria to help populate the below list, the likes of which are used by comparison websites, but then that wouldn’t be congruent with what I’m trying to showcase here. Hotels are more than that.
As a quick point to note, I’d also like to clarify that I am receiving zero benefits or remuneration from any party in relation to this article, that there are no affiliate links, and that all recommendations and endorsements are completely independent decisions resulting from my own personal experiences.
10. Begadang Backpackers
Gili Air, Indonesia
I booked to stay in this hippie-style commune for the sole reason that it had a pineapple-shaped swimming pool, not realising that my bed for the two-nights stay was just a child’s mattress on a raised bamboo plinth; an al fresco affair exposed entirely to the elements and with only a torn mosquito net for protection.
Despite these initial setbacks, however, Begadang powers its way into my top 10 on the sole basis that the exceptional layout of the property is opportunely geared towards creating a welcoming and communal atmosphere. With the pineapple pool surrounded by basketball hoops; tightropes; a volleyball court; and a raised chill-out zone where the hostel’s resident cats can be petted and played with, it would be near-impossible to stay at Begadang without having your entire visit crammed full of fun alongside a host of new friends.
9. Friendly Fun Hostel
The softly-spoken tones of a tiny, well-dressed Vietnamese women greet you upon entering this charming little abode; and no matter how long or stressful your journey to reach Dalat has been, I can guarantee you that, upon Lan welcoming you into her home, you will immediately transcend into a peaceful and relaxed state.
The four simple, spotlessly clean dorms are stacked one floor on top of the other, the mezzanine housing as a chill-out T.V. room where Lan’s kids and pets can be found playing at all hours of the day. The bar is operated on a 100% honesty system, with a large whiteboard used by the guests to mark the number of beers they’ve had out the fridge, and when hunger strikes everyone then lines up along the large wooden table in the foyer of the house where, for just $3 per head, Lan prepares a delicious buffet of local dishes and culinary treats for her hungry residents to fill their boots whilst getting to know one other.
It’s friendly. It’s fun. It’s like having an adopted mother look after you whilst away from home.
8. Dopa Hostel
Wandering around the back streets of Bologna, bustling osterias spilt out into the open-air; wheels of parmesan, dangling meats, and hearty pasta dishes drawing in my nostrils with their fresh smells. I took a table at a restaurant called Osteria dell’orsa, the bear, and ordered a jug of white wine alongside the dish named after the city in which it originated. Tucking into it a short while later, the sun came streaking through an archway at the end of the street and gave the surrounding area an angelic feeling. ‘That’s heaven’ I thought to myself. ‘Everything about Bologna is heaven. Further on up the road, I want to establish a hostel here; to dine to my heart’s content; to drink the best coffee during the day and the best wine by night; to learn the language of the beautiful locals; to converse and make love with the beautiful women; to never return home.’
And if I was going to replicate any hostel in Italy, then the one I was staying in at that very point in time would certainly be my blueprint. A quaint, second-floor flat, Dopa Hostel is furnished with the style and flair of someone who deserves a PhD in interior design, and the living-room/kitchen area made me feel like I was back in an ERASMUS exchange programme student accommodation; albeit one that was meticulously presented and looked after. A dopo, Dopa Hostel.
7. Planet Traveler
This eco-friendly hostel runs completely off green-technology, with geothermal and solar panel heating and building-wide LED lighting. Rising like a Phoenix from a dilapidated turn-of-the 20th century structure it also offers free breakfast; super-quick internet access; a monster chill-out area; and, the pièce de résistance, a rooftop lounge boasting a remarkable panoramic view of downtown Toronto and the looming CN Tower.
It is also on this rooftop patio that the staff members cook a free Saturday night barbecue for all Planet Traveler guests. Add in the fact that there’s a nightclub 100m down the road; an organised bar crawl; operated door-to-Falls tours of Niagara; and that it’s within walking distance of everywhere in the city centre, and it becomes the absolute no-brainer accommodation for any backpacker visiting the Ontario capital.
6. Seagulls Garret Hostel
Despite fabulous ratings, it came as a shock to find out that, during the conception of this blog post, Seagulls actually said goodbye to its final guests and permanently shut its doors. Whether this was due to the owner’s personal circumstances, for economic reasons, or because of something else entirely, it’s not my place to say, but it is therefore with some irony that I include this charming hostel that was once located in the heart of Riga’s Old Town on my list. I toiled with the catch-22 between reminiscing about my own amazing experiences at Seagulls and the value, or lack of, that it actually gives to present readers, but nostalgia has trumped my desire to turn this blog into a promotional weapon. I write to share my experiences, with a secondary hope that I can inspire and educate others. I’m not a faux travel agent.
So why do I have such an attachment to Seagulls? Well, not only did I meet some remarkable people there, one girl in particular who would change my life, but it was my first hostel experience where the staff actually treated the people who were staying there like friends as opposed to just simply guests. On one of her days off, Kat took a group of us bobsledding; whilst hungover on New Year’s Day the girls behind reception brought blankets into the common area so that we could all have a movie marathon, and when one of the longer-term residents couldn’t get a bed for the night due to an over-booking they let him crash on the couch free of charge. Small touches like these can positively affect your trip in such a big way and, regardless of whether it is open or closed, these small things are the reason that Seagulls places as the sixth best hostel I’ve ever stayed at.
The ancient city of Cusco sits 11,000ft above sea level and was once the prized capital of the 13th Century Incan Empire. Despite being steeped in cultural history, however, Cusco has become better known in modern times as the city from where travellers embark upon their journey to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. As a result of this, a number of youth hostels have popped up to accommodate the influx of backpackers navigating their way along the Gringo Trail and into the region. Loki is no exception. But hey, any accommodation named after a mythological Norse God is a winner in my book. Standing on the hallowed grounds of a restored 450-year-old monument, the hostel is split over two courtyards, houses around one-hundred people, and has hammocks; a volleyball court; a computer room; pool tables; a barbecue area; table tennis; travel agents, and even a gym.
What Loki really prides itself on, however, is its two-story bar. Promising to offer the wildest nights in Cusco, as a guest you’ll be subjected to an elaborate fancy-dress wearing, karaoke singing, shot chasing drinking culture that, in an atmosphere where nobody is properly acclimatised to the thinness of the air, can lead to some incredibly funny and absurd happenings. Look no further than here.
4. Mad Monkey
Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia
Hammocks, huts, and a beachfront bar are all that this hostel in the Mad Monkey franchise needs to make it into my top 10 list; Koh Rong Sanloem is just that incredible. It may take two boat journeys into the unknown to get there, but once you set foot on this Cambodian island paradise you’ll not want to leave.
When the clock struck midnight, the music came to a crescendo, the beer stopped pouring, and the bar was closed, plunging the place into darkness. We were living in a wifi-less island paradise, and with zero artificial light or pollution in the air, the sky was able to conjure up its magic for all to see. Racing to the beach, everyone stripped down to their white bits and splashed into the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The sea glowed from the bioluminescence of the plankton living in its depth, and with each movement shimmers of glittering gold momentarily glistened under the light of a thousand stars that shone like diamonds on the big black canvas behind them. A more beautiful representation of nature you would struggle to find.
Remove the distractions of the modern world, surround yourself with great company, crack a few cold ones, and see where the conversation takes you. I’m a big fan of the simple life, and it doesn’t get any simpler, or more idyllic, than on Koh Rong Sanloem. Even if it’s wasted time, it’s still time well spent.
3. Cocoon Inn
A hotel at hostel prices, Cocoon Inn offers luxury like no backpacker’s residence I’ve ever set foot in before. The beds are like sleeping on Cloud 9 and come with their own built-in fan, universal plug socket, and spotless duvet. After four months of constant travel, I spent twelve nights in Hanoi before my scheduled flight back to Europe, and am unashamed to say that a disgustingly large amount of that time was spent lounging about in Cocoon’s spacious cinema room; watching dozens of movies that had been recommended to me by fellow travellers whilst chowing down on the incredible room-service pho noodle soup. Who knew that the perfect getaway from the hectic nature of Hanoi could be found slap-bang in the heart of it?
This means that if you do, therefore, decide to venture outside into the madness of it all, then everything is on your doorstep. Aussie sports bars, clothing shops, food alleys… and what good is a street corner in Asia without a 7Eleven on it? A special mention has to be made to The Note Coffee, in particular, which I found myself visiting on a daily basis when wanting to get inspiration for my writing and website development projects:
Pleasantly greeted with a warm smile by the young barista as I walked through the brightly painted narrow door of the hole-in-the-wall, I was over the moon to see her go about operating the shiny new roaster that took its pride of place on the counter in an absolute seamless manner. Finally, a coffee that wasn’t going to be made using frozen instant beans and boiled hose water. Ordering a flat white and banh mi sandwich, I took a look around at the kaleidoscopic walls and ceiling. It was rather evident how the café had got its name. Signed post-it notes had been stuck to every feasible area of white space, words of inspiration and love being spread by Note Coffee customers from all four corners of the globe. Delighted at having stumbled across this absolute jewel in the heart of Vietnam’s capital, I followed the girl in the neatly-pressed apron up the winding staircase at the back of the shop to the rooftop seating area. She was a student studying Korean and English language at a local university, and clearly loved any moment that she could get to practice with a native speaker. As she went downstairs to make my order, I got my laptop out, and soon after she returned back up the steep stairs with my food and drink on a slip-proof tray. “Here you go,” she grinned, placing it down on a table that had views over the window-box flowers of the street below. “Thanks,” I responded, handing over the cash. I don’t think that smile had left her face since I’d arrived.
2. Capsule Hostel New Seminyak
Entering my assigned dorm upon arrival at Capsule, I could have been mistaken for sneaking backstage at a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. In a fully-booked room of twelve beds I was the only penis present and, as I unpacked my dirty laundry, girls came in and out of the showers wrapped in nothing but towels. Girls pranced around in sexy lingerie whilst doing their make-up in the mirror. Girls stood around stark naked, unsure about what outfit to put on for that night. Girls. Girls. Girls.
Just down the road from Capsule is one of the best nightclubs on Bali, La Favela, and every Sunday night a party bus operates to take its guests to the iconic Single Fin beachfront party at the south of the island. It’s therefore a big plus that Capsule offers ‘private pods’ to each of its residents, even if a declaration of celibacy has to be signed upon collecting your key.
Nonetheless, I ended up staying at Capsule on three separate occasions in a three week period, celebrating the Balinese New Year with a starlit lock-in, getting a McDonald's delivered to my room, chilling out at the hostel’s massive bar area, and watching movies in their beanbag cinema; all whilst making some life-long friends in the process.
1. Post Hostel Prague
Prague, Czech Republic
Post Hostel Prague sets the gold standard in terms of what a hostel can be. I had the absolute pleasure of spending two weeks in this utopia whilst re-developing my website and taking a breather from the road, and found it to be simply head and shoulders above anywhere else I’ve ever stayed.
As the name indicates, it’s situated in an old post office, and before I’d even checked-in I was made to feel like a member of the family by Maria, the full-time receptionist and full-time comedian. With an array of wonderful characters working alongside her - city-experts who clearly loved their jobs - the fun didn’t die down for a single minute during my stay. Liam and Heni were a complete double-act, and as Liam would profess: ‘The banter was absolutely banging.’
Rather than list everything that Post Hostel Prague has to offer, it’s easier to just make the blanket claim that they have EVERYTHING covered. Free breakfast – check. Organised activities seven-days and nights a week – check. En-suite, spacious dorms – check. Suitcase-sized personal lockers – check. Fully-equipped kitchen – check. Everything else – check. There’s nothing else to say. It’s perfect.
Now, obviously I can only write from experience, and it's a big old world out there. So I'm interested in finding out what the best hostels you've ever stayed in are? Leave your comments below to enter into the discussion.