“This is not working. It’s still hot in here.”
“Air-conditioning in Vietnam is not like in your country. We are all cool in here, it’s you. We will fix it tomorrow.”
Ten minutes before our exchange and exasperated with me, the receptionist, her friend and a teenage-apparently fix-it-all boy, had followed me upstairs. I had just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and was melting. Between the humidity (and yes I still call myself a Bermudian) and the pollution in Ho Chi Minh City I was melting. So I splurged on a single room with air. I hoped it would also help with the wheat-induced sickness I also seemed to be suffering from (I’m allergic).
The three hotel workers each took turns feeling the vent and stood to the side starring at me. I wasn’t going to back down. Damn it I paid $12 for this!
They were not going to listen to me. My receptionist happily explained that: “Air-conditioning in Vietnam is not like in your country. We are all cool in here, it’s you. We will fix it tomorrow.”
I surrendered. With logic like that I settled into my single hostel room complete with a fridge, Cable TV, ensuite bathroom, a fan and broken air-conditioner.
You know what? The next day and eight hours of touring the Cu Chi Tunnels (secret hide-outs of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war) I returned to an ice-cold room.
What’s your point Robyn? My point is, for $12 that’s pretty good service. Had I been feeling better they would have moved me to another room. Had the air-conditioning worked the first night, for $12 I did pretty well by Western standards for rooms and living conditions.
At the hostel there was: a front desk where I could book my tours, breakfast was included, there was security (i.e. locked front doors after a certain hour) and internet in the lobby….for free.
Last year as I traveled around the world I was hard-pressed to find a hostel without free Wifi. Oh wait I did in Patagonia. But even then the owner had a neighbour who I could go to for free Wifi.
As I traveled the world staying in budget accommodations I found Wifi at my fingertips. Ironically when I went to New York in January and stayed in a hotel that cost me about $100 a night I did not have Wifi. I did not have a fridge. Ok the air-conditioning worked and almost made me an icicle, but I didn’t have breakfast or the lovely receptionist arguing illogical, logic with me. That’s a great perk!
Perhaps that because Wifi and free Wifi seems to have infiltrated the budget accommodations and become a standard accessory. In the high-end hotels it still struggles. According to hotelchatter.com the worst hotel chain for Wifi? The W hotels. Do you know how much it costs to stay with them? For a weekend in August the cheapest room is $250 in New York. Oh wait you want Wifi? That will be $15 more. Which may not be necessary when you’re on vacation, but it is when you need to work and need to stay connected.
The New York Loft Hostel, on the other hand, starts at $35 a night, includes breakfast and Wifi; is located ten minutes from Union Square and has single rooms. For the same weekend at the Loft Hostel it will cost $250 and not $250 a night.
But, you ask, how do I know it’s a good hostel? Good question. Yes, we have become aware over the years of sites like Trip Advisor and Expedia.com which offer reviews of hotels. Creeping-up alongside these, however have also been sites working in the same capacity for hostels. Sites such as hostelbookers.com, hostelworld.com and hostels.com offer reviews by travelers who stayed in the properties. Making these reviews carry even more weight is the fact that these hostels do not advertise or at least very little. They rely on their reviews on this site and one bad one can really affect them.
And backpackers are ruthless. The difference between a $2 room and a $12 room better be good because that $10 could have meant another week of travel if it had not been wasted. If it was wasted the site will reflect the missing $10.
Not only do these sites provide reviews, they also provide:
1. photos of the hostel,
- descriptions of the amenities
- listing of the type of rooms the hostels offer: singles, doubles, dorms, private rooms for four – all with or without ensuite bathroom and
- reservation services. Yep! Hostels are online and it is possible to use your credit card to reserve a room. Why are you still going to a hotel?
But hotel’s are more comfortable and quiet, you say. I would disagree with you. Like hotels, hostels vary. There are party hostels (and you know who you are) and there are quiet ones. Sometimes it will be a hit and sometimes it will be a miss. That is why the reviews and descriptions on the websites are so important.
And comfort? In Santiago, Chile, for example, I found the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. I wasn’t alone (well in bed I was). Others in the hostel also made the same observation.
And finally, hostels are everywhere and they cater to all ages and all sizes of the group. I have seen families with infants and I have seen retired-aged travelers all hanging in hostels. The hostels are friendly and social places where friendships are made and you can be as solo as you like or as sociable as you like.
But I would still suggest bringing flip flops if you choose the shared showers. You never do know! But should you be worried about your health? Absolutely, which is why next week’s Rock Fever column will be Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball, senior medical officer for the Department of Health talks to us about immunizations.