“What do you want to do when you come visit?”
“I don’t know! You plan it.”
Well, let’s just see how this goes: I'm traveling on a shoestring budget through Southeast Asia with my mom. She taught me how to camp in North America. Now it’s my turn to show her the ropes backpacking Asia.
I did my research and planned the route: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and up Vietnam. It’s dirty, loud and hot; we'll be surrounded by foreign culture and, at several points, prostitutes. And we're staying exclusively in hostel dorm rooms. Hope you’re ready, Mom!
Singapore: the (safe) introduction
The first hostel my mom walked into ever was a clean, quiet place in the heart of Singapore: Rucksack Inn on Hong Kong Street. Given the token weirdo who’d been there too long and instant coffee served all day, it was a good introduction.
Know your type
I’ve found there are a few different types of hostels in Southeast Asia, and depending on what experience you’re looking to have, you must choose wisely!
There are the party hostels filled with 18–25-year-old travelers looking to make their vacation all about how drunk you can get for half the price of home. There are the quiet hostels that might have a bit less atmosphere, but are filled with great people spending their days out soaking up all the new experiences. Then there are the budget hostels that come with the bare minimum. For example, in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, I paid $1/night in the cheapest dorm room at Utopia.
There’s also boutique or modern hostels with themes or pod beds, which tend to be a bit pricier than the average hostel.
Hostel luxury in Malaysia
The second hostel I took my mom to was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Reggae Mansion. It had a rooftop bar with a view of the Patronas Towers and a great restaurant on the ground floor. This was one of those “pod bed” hostels. Each dorm room had about 24 pods with a nice full-size mattress, room to sit up and move, universal plugs and a reading lamp, all inside the pod. With the swipe of your curtain you were sealed off from the rest of the room. One of the most private dorm room experiences, and needless to say, my mom loved this place too. We’ve been lucky so far, but next up is Thailand, known for some of the cheapest and dirtiest hole-in-the wall hostels.
Thailand: the test
In Patong Beach, Phuket, we stepped out of the airport shuttle van into the unknown. We had no idea where we were. It was evening and the streets were packed with families, partygoers and hawkers trying to get us to come to a ping-pong show (avoid at all costs.) We worked up a nice sweat toting our bags around until we found the hostel (sorry, don’t remember the name of this one). I found us a decent place, pretty clean, and just off the main drag so it was still quiet enough. This is a huge achievement if anyone knows anything about Bangla Road.
After a short walk down Bangla, I think I was more uncomfortable than my mom! She was taking it all in while I was thinking “Holy cow Caitlin, where did you just bring your mother to?” It was a prostitute circus complete with street performers and midgets. The crowd consisted of tons of drunken men and, oddly enough, families and couples… But like I said, the hostel was great and even advertised against sex tourism.
Next stop, Khao San Road, Bangkok – for New Year’s Eve, no less (top). The ultimate test! This part of Bangkok is where throngs of young travelers come to shop, explore and party like never before. We found a great hostel called NapPark, just two roads down from Khao San Road. It was huge, spotless, had dividers in the dorm rooms, and there was a nice common room and breakfast spot on the ground floor and a selection of movies to watch.
Eating a scorpion in Bangkok
Even on New Year’s Eve my mom was able to get some sleep while I enjoyed the nightlife of Bangkok just a few streets over with some people I met at the hostel.
Anyone can do it
My mom not only survived the trip I planned but she thoroughly enjoyed it and went back to California telling everyone how remarkable her experience was.
Hostels aren’t just a great way to travel for your wallet’s sake, they also provide a great medium for meeting like-minded people. I’d encourage everyone – all ages, even families – to look into a hostel for your next trip. (One place to start is online at hostelworld.com.) Safe travels!