We have twice passed by Kuala Lumpur on the bus and once changed planes at the airport so once we had made our plans to fly to the UK from Singapore we decided that this time we would invest a little time in getting to know this city.
Nowhere near as in your face chaotic as Bangkok, or as smoothly modern as Singapore, KL sits comfortably between these two cities in feel and vibe as well as geographically. Though most travellers seemed happy moving on after a couple of days, we invested 12 days in the city, doing our favourite activity of a lot of nothing. Mostly we wandered about, getting lost occasionally (usually ending up beside a set of bins – though not the same ones – for some reason), hung out at the Central Market and in Chinatown – in particular the Tang City Food Court – and explored by foot anywhere else within walking distance.
During our time here we slept in four places, each of which we have reviewed below:
There are two Birdnests in Chinatown, with a third hostel under the same ownership nearby. All are well located in the Chinatown area of town – close to transport links and the Central Market – where cheap food options are easy to find without wandering too far. The rooms, set along an internal corridor, are cheerfully painted in a woodland theme but are otherwise nothing to shout about. This and the awkward shared bathroom arrangements are a deficiency in the building layout and can’t be helped but Willi, the owner, is to be commended in making Birdnest a particularly friendly place to stay and meet other travellers.
Both hostels seemed well favoured with longer stay guests, working travellers and repeat custom (we found out Willi knows our hosts at Safari Volunteers, who frequently stay here on their visa runs) but this doesn’t seem to have manifested into a clique and newcomers are readily welcomed into the fold.
At 35RM for a double room with fan (shared bathroom), Birdnest is a value option with a friendly atmosphere.
The toilets and showers are a little close to the common area resulting in some lost privacy.
We didn’t know what to make of PODs at first. Though we had a private room, the walls did not reach the ceiling and shared our air conditioning, lighting and sound with the other rooms (PODs) on the floor. At 11pm the communal lighting is turned off and latecomers are left to grope around in the dark until switching on the little green lamps thoughtfully provided in each room. Anywhere else this might have been irritating but we quickly came around to POD living, recognising the energy saving benefits of not having an individual air-conditioning unit at our whim, and noticed how quiet the rooms were as people adapted their sound levels to compensate for the gap between the walls and the ceiling.
The PODs themselves are snug and sparse. With nothing more than a mattress on a raised floor and the lamp, us and our bags fit well enough, with space to put things around the side of the mattress and a locker for valuables. Our POD had a window but not all do. Bathrooms are shared and – usually it would be Deirdre who coos about such things – I loved the simple and roomy corrugated iron shower units.
New owner Wah, a backpacker himself, is attentive to improving his new business but the place ticks over efficiently already. While we preferred the bustle of Chinatown (a 10 to 15 minute walk away), Brickfields has a few streets of colour and noise worth exploring, and other parts of the city are accessible via the very close by monorail station or by bus. PODs is also very near to KL Sentral Train Station.
PODs is secure, quiet and well run. Good bathroom area.
Sharing the lights with neighbouring rooms takes a little getting used to.
Eclipse has bags of potential as a reasonably inexpensive place (75RM for a double with aircon) to spend a few nights in Kuala Lumpur. Unlike the two previous places we stayed in KL, we didn’t get to meet the owners of Eclipse and were unable to judge how well run the place would ordinarily be. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but after experiencing the enthusiasm and ethos of the owners during our stays elsewhere in town, Eclipse was let down by the can’t-be-arsed attitude we encountered from the man we assume was left temporarily in charge (though he raised his game occasionally to listen and take notice of something we might have said).
Reviews on TripAdvisor and an email we received from the owners lead us to believe they would stamp out the complacency (and the bug briefly encountered in our room – though the deep clean beginning the next day may already have done so) and go that extra mile had they been about.
Similarly laid out to Birdnest, but in a more expansive building, Eclipse invests a lot of space in its common areas while the rooms are a little larger than we had seen elsewhere. The TV room is especially large, while a few very comfortable chairs are great for reading or relaxing in range of the WiFi signal. At the other end of the corridor is the kitchen and a semi-outside area for the cats and smoking. Eclipse also has a ground floor reception area, outside seating and is well located in the thick of Chinatown. It may have been the darkness from the internally situated rooms – something we had come to expect from accommodation in Kuala Lumpur – but we both slept very well here.
Great common areas and a good location. Smokers don’t have to go outside but at the same time do not pollute the air for others.
Let down by one of the staff.
Staying in BackHome meant moving into flashpacker territory and stepping up a price grade. For the price of rooms elsewhere we were sleeping in a dorm (74RM) shared with three other couples, but our patch of temporary living space was still larger than the three other places we stayed in the city. Equally the arrangement of the room into double bunk beds – each with their own low lighting, small shelves and plug sockets – and separated by an internal wall maximised privacy, while ample locker space ensured security. The bunk above jutted out further than expected so I did hit my forgetful head a couple of times (but after travelling for months in countries where almost everyone is shorter than me I had by now got used to an almost permanent state of semi concussion).
Though room layout maximised privacy it did cut us off from the banter found in most other dorms in which we have stayed – the main advantage to staying in a shared room. However, outside of our room lay an area armed with comfy sofas, a coffee table and a fan, while down the stairs making friends is easy in the outside seating area of the adjoined café and breakfast seating area. A nice touch is that the names of the occupants of each dorm room are chalked onto the door and I was particularly happy not to be forced to take off my bloody boots each and every time I walked in and out of the building – something that irked a little everywhere else we stayed in KL.
All this we found out during our three night stay but our first impression was of the welcoming and helpful staff who all seemed comfortable pitching in with whatever needed doing, were happy to chat and took the time to show us around when we first arrived. Three nights later we came to the conclusion that Backhome is a lovely, if slightly more expensive place to spend the night in Kuala Lumpur.
Great common areas and lovely staff.
The most expensive of the four places we stayed.
Disclaimer: we traded advertising for our stay with each of the guest houses above. While this means we didn’t stay for free it can sometimes feel that we did, and we did not have to make the price to benefit analysis that happens when we hand over hard cash.