hostels

Jan 24, 2013

Winter break: Fastbook Hostel

Settling in before tucking in

The Desa Permata neighborhood
The Desa Permata neighborhoodHere's the Fastbook
Our home away from home in lovely Desa Permata, Penang.
We're welcomed to the FastbookOur room
We were among an international crowd at the Fastbook.
Kek Lok SiKek Lok Si
Though it was one of the two attractions that we were actually close to, we never made it to Kek Lok Si.
Checking in, in the lobbyThe common area
The lobby, right, and shared kitchen, left.
Going swimmingGoing swimming with mountains in the background
I’m good until June, now, swim-wise.

Our base of operations was the Fastbook Hostel off Jalan Paya Terubong in Desa Permata on Pulau Penang. Does that not mean anything to you? It didn’t mean all that much to me when I booked it over the internet.

We found out, though. Paya Terubong is a major road in Penang, and Desa Permata is a small residential neighborhood bisected by it. And it’s about a 20 minute cab ride outside of Georgetown.

Georgetown is the main urban center of Penang, where most of the cultural attractions are located. Municipal buses go between the two areas, but then the trip is more like 40 minutes. Over the course of our two weeks, we got really familiar with Penang’s public transportation.

(Oh, and Pulau Penang is just “the island part of Penang.”)

So the location was not ideal, but the hostel was really cozy and the owner, TK, was incredibly friendly and helpful. He picked us up from the airport — His car had seat belts! And we were encouraged to use them! — pointing out durian fields, coffee shops and other interesting sights on our trip to our new home. I could practice my Mandarin with some of the Chinese noodle vendors, he suggested when he learned that we were coming from China.

The hostel was very close to two Penang sights, he told us, the Kek Lok Si temple and Penang Hill. We told him that our plan was mostly to eat. He thoroughly approved, and pointed out several hawker centers near the hostel as we pulled into our destination.

Our room was big enough, with a TV/DVD player and a shower stall. Toilets were a shared situation, but the hostel was small enough that it wasn’t a bother. Our mattress was soft and comfortable, a real contrast to our hard Chinese bed. The room had no windows, but it was a nice, air-conditioned place to stage our lazy mornings before hitting the hot Penang streets.

Materials online seemed to indicate that there was a pool — which, when we arrived at our fifth-floor walk-up, it was obvious that there was not. What there was, was a gym around the corner, with an athletic pool for doing laps. We were a little disappointed, as we’d already fallen in love with the idea of cocktail hour by the water every night. But we persevered. Instead, I went for a pre-dinner dip one evening, which fulfills my swim-every-six-months quota.

Nov 26, 2012

Chongqing: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel

Back on the road

The Chongqing Yangtze River International Youth Hostel
Omelettes for breakfastOmelettes for breakfastRoom oneRoom two

For the last weekend of National Day, we decided to get out of town. Our 12-hour fly-by of Chongqing this summer left us wanting more, so we hopped on a bus for the 2 and a half journey east.

This time we went rogue, accommodation-wise, and opted for a hostel that was not in our guidebook: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel. It was located just at the tip of the center-city peninsula in a quaint, traditionally styled building.

It was also right underneath a brand new bridge that was being constructed. I guess we’re just drawn to that sort of thing. But each room came stocked with ear plugs to block out the noise.

The restaurant-bar area was cozy and funky, with a full menu of Chinese and western foods — as reasonably priced as anywhere else. They had a small outdoor area, which would have been lovelier minus the giant construction cranes, but it was a perfectly nice place to enjoy a drink or a meal. Our particular favorites were the homemade mint tea and the breakfast omelets, the latter of which attempted a Mexican flavor (with a vegetarian option!) via a Sichuan spice rack. Oh, and the french fries were pretty wonderful, too.

Our room the first night was small but cute. It was two levels, with a small sitting area and TV downstairs and the bed upstairs. We loved it … until suspicious scrabbling noises started up in the walls and ceiling, and continued until dawn. This was not ideal. Rat fear makes it pretty hard to sleep.

In the morning, we asked for a change of rooms. They moved us, no problem — and, to be honest, they didn’t seem all that surprised by our complaint. Our second room was just off a balcony that overlooked the river. Minus the giant mold patch on the ceiling, this room was pretty nice.

There’s a really charming hostel here, gone slightly to seed. Like, someone had really cared for this place many years ago, but didn’t have the money or the desire to do the upkeep. The staff is genuinely helpful and friendly — they gave us thorough and accurate directions to pretty much everywhere in the city. As it is, however, mice and mold are just too much for us to return (although, to be fair, they weren’t enough to make us leave).

Sep 18, 2012

Summer vacation: At the Old Church

Qingdao: Kaiyue International Youth Hostel

Our room
The Kaiyue International Youth HostelA delicious western dinner
The hallways were quite eerie
In the hallways we could hear: Redrum, redrum …

Kaiyue is located in the heart of Qingdao’s old town, and occupies a structure that used to be a church. In fact, its well-appointed bar/cafe is named The Old Church Lounge in the building’s honor.

Our room was spacious and cute. We especially liked the bathroom, which looked like it came out of a luxury cruise ship. But our favorite aspect of Kaiyue, by far, was the lounge. We went down there for breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, sometimes dinner, post-revelry nightcaps … The waitstaff saw a lot of us. Jason, one of the servers (who was actually from Chengdu!), laughed every time he saw us. “You’re here again!” he would say.

Part of the appeal was their western menu. Also, in a land where good bartending just isn’t a thing, our favorite bartender at the Old Church had gone to school for his trade. (Which meant real dirty martinis for us!) But we just really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of the place. There aren’t a lot of places where you can just sit back an sip a beer in China — people who drink here tend to pursue it as a contact sport. At the Old Church, however, low key was the order of the day … or night.

Let’s go see the city …

Sep 14, 2012

Summer vacation: One night by the river

Chongqing: Perfect Time Youth Hostel

Our room overlooked this scene on the river.
The view from our hostel window.
Perfect Time's perfect entrance

Chongqing is supposed to be a really fun city, and we actually do have designs to spend significant tourist time there, but in August, it’s even hotter than Luzhou. So our time there was little more than a drive-by.

Our crashpad for the night was the Perfect Time Youth Hostel. Which is both adorable and really far from the center of the city. It’s located in the Ciqikou district, a fake old-timey neighborhood similar to Chengdu’s Kuanzhai Xiangzi. Our room was pretty big, and it overlooked a riverfront bustling with tourists and seafood restaurants.

There was a cute little bar downstairs that had a good looking food menu, though our waitress informed us, when we tried to get an afternoon snack, that the cook was not there. It wasn’t clear if she meant for the day or ever.

When we visit Chongqing in earnest, I don’t think we’ll stay here again. But only because the location is inconvenient for real tourism in the city. The hostel itself was charming and comfortable, and it did us well for our brief layover.

The bedsWhat a cute sink!Play pool in the common area

Tomorrow, find out what happens when we actually leave the hostel …

Jan 19, 2012

Chengdu: The Loft

Hey, China gets funky

The view from the Loft
Check out our album of photos from the Loft.

Part of what we instantly loved right away about the city was our hostel: The Loft. It’s an old renovated printing factory and they have some connection with a local artist collective that maintains a giant studio space on the third floor. The place is just overall funky. It (and the surrounding neighborhood; more on that later) had a very Bushwick/Williamsburg-20-years-ago feel, and it was awesome to find such a vibe here in China.

Our room was huge and fantastic - and there was a framed copy of a Sade album on our wall! We had a king-sized bed with an electric blanket, which was fabulous when we came in from the cold; as modern as this place was, they still weren’t super into indoor heating.

The downstairs café was incredibly cool as well. The walls were covered with original artwork, presumably done by the artists upstairs. I particularly liked a series of portraits that reminded me of Lucian Freud. Peter’s favorite was a wall-sized mural in black and brown that was done in a comic book/graffiti style. (Unfortunately, we can’t show you because they had signs posted everywhere asking you not to take photos.)

We spent a lot of time in that café, either enjoying a leisurely breakfast or an after-dinner drink. They service an international crowd, so they serve a pretty decent Western menu: eggs, burgers, sandwiches, real beers. Interestingly, we noticed that a lot of the patrons of the café were Chinese, enjoying some foreign cuisine.