Kuala Lumpur Trip: Hostel Cosmopolitan Review

Hostel Cosmopolitan is located near the Chow Kit monorail station.  It’s a bit hard to find when you first get to Chow Kit, so make sure you take a map with you!  Also, don’t be put off by the outside of the building.  It’s a bit rough looking, but the interior is very clean and comfortable.  Hostel Cosmopolitan is one of the best places I’ve stayed, guest house or not.

I was a bit worried at first that the hostel was too far away from anything, but it’s actually within walking distance of quite a few eating establishments.  Not to mention the street out front gets filled with stalls selling everything from satay to stuffed animals.  That’s kinda fun, especially since the sellers aren’t over-aggressive like the ones on Jalan Petaling in Chinatown.  Also, the monorail is a pretty quick and fun means of transportation.  It takes about 20 minutes to get from KL Sentral (where you can switch to the RapidKL line) to Chow Kit and I think you can get off at Bukit Nanas and walk to the Petronas Towers.  There’s also a bus stop a few streets over where you can get a ride to the Batu Caves for roughly 2 ringgit.  So, don’t worry about the location.  It’s not bad at all.

One of the best parts about staying at Hostel Cosmopolitan was how many great people we met, starting with the staff.  The guy that greeted us and checked us in, named Mohammad Abdullah, was very friendly and very helpful.  He even let us have a real free meal when we showed up early and couldn’t check-in yet, but were starving because we’d missed breakfast.  The other guests were also very cool and some had some interesting stories to tell and tips to share.  Hostels tend to draw a fairly well traveled crowd.  We met people from the US, the UK, Australia, Pakistan, Greece and Italy (just to name a few) who had traveled all over Asia and South America.  During the mornings when everyone was getting ready to head out the door, they almost all stopped in at the kitchen area to grab a bite of the free breakfast.  We had some great conversations with the other guests there.

The amenities are also very good at Hostel Cosmopolitan.

I can’t comment much on the mixed dorms, since we stayed in a private room, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining about them and they looked fairly comfortable when I glanced in on my way down the hall.  Our bedroom was average sized.  It wasn’t very big, but it didn’t feel small either.  It had a place to hang our clothes, a set of shelves and a bed.  Sheets and towels are also provided.  The air conditioning was so cold at night that I woke up shivering and had to turn it off.  The only complaint I had with the room was that the air from the air conditioner didn’t smell very fresh.  It smelled a bit sour.  I don’t think it was just our room unit either because we could smell it in the hallway as well.  It wasn’t unbearable but hopefully it won’t be there the next time we go for a visit.

The community area has a lot of shelves with books to read, in case you get bored.  It also has a TV with cable.  I think it has a few movie channels on it too, but we didn’t spend much time watching it.  What little time we spent in the community room was usually spent in front of one of the desktop computers available for internet access.  The hostel also has wi-fi which I was able to use with my iPhone.  The internet service is all completely free to guests.  There is no hourly charge.  The TV hours in the community room are 8 AM to 11 PM.  The TV was usually on later than that, but Mohammad Abdullah let us know that if it was bothering us we could ask that it be turned off.  We never had a problem with noise there.  Everyone was considerate of each other.  Also, there’s no drinking allowed on the premises.  That probably helped.  There’s also no smoking allowed, but there is a ‘smoker’s corner’ in the stairwell just outside the hostel.

Interesting side note: Notice the guy with the long hair in the second photo in the above set.  He played Baldur’s Gate on his laptop non-stop for the three days we were there.  That must be a damn good game.

The kitchen area has a small range, a sink, and a storage area for dry goods.  There is a microwave, two toasters and a radio.  There’s no refrigerator available to guests.  I’m guessing that there might have been one before, but people probably didn’t keep up with what they put in it and it became too much of a hassle for the staff.  There is no refrigerator for guest use at all in Hostel Cosmopolitan but there is a 7-11 directly downstairs.  I think it’s open all night long.  Like I mentioned before, there’s a free breakfast set out in the kitchen area in the mornings between 9 am and 11 am.  It consists of toast and a choice of jam or margarine.  Each guest is allotted up to six pieces, but we never had more than 3 each.  I have to wonder at what happened to cause the management to have to put up a sign limiting the amount of bread a person could have.  Was someone snagging whole loaves and hoarding them?!

The toilet area was clean and ventilated.  The plumbing all worked well and the showers had warm to hot water.  The toilet area and shower area is all mixed, but the shower stalls have locking doors and are large enough to change in.  It’s also very well lit.  The hostel had a LOT of female guests while I was there and none of them seemed to have any issues with the arrangements.  The whole place felt pretty safe.

Speaking of security, there are wall lockers that can be used.  I’m not sure if locks are provided.

Also in the hallway are bulletin boards full of information.  If you’re ever at a loss for something to do, all you have to do is read the boards!  There are also warnings posted there, like information about taxi and gambling scams, like in the first photo.  In that particular case women, believed to be Filipinas, would lure lone tourists to their home, get them to gamble and then cheat the person out of their money.

And last but not least, Hostel Cosmopolitan has three cat residents.  My wife and I have two cats at home so this didn’t bother us.  It was, in fact, one of the reasons we selected the hostel from the list of potentials.  They really added to the atmosphere of the place.  It’s fun to sit and have breakfast while watching two cats chasing each other up and down the hallway, or to have a cat taking a nap on the table next to you while you use the desktop computer.

Naughty Nutty

Winnie

Mr. Jinja

Overall, the place is a great choice for a hostel to stay at in Kuala Lumpur.  It’s very affordable and more than that we both felt very comfortable and welcome there.  We had a lot more fun on this trip and I think that Hostel Cosmopolitan played a big part in it.  Mohammad Abdullah and Muhammad have really gone out of their way to make sure the place is as comfortable as possible for the guests and because of that, I’m looking forward to the next time we’ll have the chance to stay there.

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 1: Preparations

(Someone didn’t want to be left behind!)

Getting ready for this trip was a lot easier than most of the other trips we’ve taken, probably because it was short and relatively inexpensive.  We only spent two nights in Kuala Lumpur, so the packing was easy.  We didn’t even pack check-in bags.  We just had two medium-sized carry-ons.  That was the first time I’ve ever taken a flight and not had check-in bags.  It was actually really nice, not having to worry about waiting on the baggage to reach the carousels, and it saved us some money.  Tiger Airways charges extra for checked in bags.  I think that’s starting to be a fairly common practice with all airlines though.  I remember reading something recently about a few airlines in the US taking up the practice as well, which came as quite a shock as it had been free for as long as I could remember.

The first thing we did to get ready for this trip was to book the tickets.  We decided to take Tiger Airways because it offered the lowest price.  Some people prefer to fly in style; we prefer to save our money so we can spend it at our destination.  The flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur is only 30 to 40 minutes, so the quality of the seats or service on the plane wasn’t really a factor anyways.  How much comfort do you need on such a short flight?

The next thing we did was find a hotel room to book.  I’d never tried to book a room over the internet before, so I wasn’t sure where to begin, or what site to trust.  The first website I came across mentioned a cheaply priced hotel called Hotel Chinatown 2.  It had a lot of customer reviews on it.  All of them said the place is a good deal for the money you spend, that the rooms seem a bit small, and that the air conditioning is cold.  Some also complained about thin walls.  We thought about it and realized that we were only going to spend two nights there.  And it really would just be the nights.  During the day and the evening we would be out and about, checking out Kuala Lumpur, so who cares if it’s a bit noisy, or a bit small?  At least the air conditioning would be cold, right?  We did a little more research (i.e. Googling) to assure ourselves that the hotel was actually real and not just some rip-off, and when we were both satisfied, we found a booking site that uses secure transactions and paid a 10% down-payment and a booking fee of 2 USD.

The next thing, and last thing, that we had to worry about was our cats.  We love them, but every time we want to go on a trip, they’re a problem.  I had sent a text to the lady that normally watches them for us, but she hadn’t responded.  On Sunday, the day before our trip, my wife also sent a message, but again, no response.  Not wanting to wait until the last minute, hoping we’d get a reply to our texts, I went ahead and asked the maid if she could watch the cats for us.  I was surprised at how happy she was to help out.  So, I guess things turned out for the best.  The cats didn’t have to be transported to someone else’s house for cat-sitting and we got to save time and money.  If you’re not familiar with cats, not having to move them is a good thing because cats really freak out in new environments they get dumped into, especially if there are other cats.  It can cause a lot of stress and can even be hazardous to their health.

The night before our trip we were both excited and stayed up late.  I don’t think I managed to get to sleep until 4:30 am, and then I was up again at 8 am to make sure we were ready to leave on time.  Well, 8 am is when I actually got out of bed.  My cats got noisy and woke me up at 6:45 am.  I never managed to get back to sleep.  I guess they knew something was up and they wanted us to know they didn’t like it.  Not a good start right?  Even so, I was pumped about our trip and didn’t let it slow me down.  (That would come later.)  Despite getting up early, we didn’t manage to get out the door until almost 10:30 am, so we had to take a cab to get to the airport in time for our flight.

The Not So Fragrant Fragrance Hotel

Last year when I first came to Singapore to visit, we had to find a place to stay short-term.  My first thought was hotels.  So, I got online and started searching around for where we could stay.  I didn’t mind spending a little money, but I figured we would be outside most of the time, so I didn’t want to spend so much on the hotel room.  I’d rather spend the money at the destination.  Looking through the internet for deals I came across a package for a flight and a few nights at a place called The Fragrance Hotel.  I asked my then fiance about it and she cracked up!

She told me right away that it would be a bad idea to stay at one of those hotels.  According to her, the Fragrance hotels aren’t very fragrant (cheesy right?).  She said someone she knew stayed in one for a few nights and it wasn’t very comfortable, clean, or hospitable.  On top of that, they have the reputation of being a hotel for one night stands and for hook-ups with prostitutes.  I was surprised, because the image I had of Singapore in my mind was a pristine one.  Singapore’s only reputation in the US is that it’s a place with hard laws and upright citizens, so the idea of a sleazy hotel where you take prostitutes didn’t occur to me.  Regardless, I quickly crossed it off my list.

Monday night I got to see one of the Fragrance hotels firsthand.  My wife and I went to the Geylang area to look at a place for rent.  I had never been there and we arrived just as it was getting dark.  Geylang is everything it’s rumored to be!  Geylang is the gritty underbelly of an otherwise polished Singapore.  The buildings are a montage of new and old, decrepit structures, some worse than shanties I’d seen in the Philippines.  Even so, there were people living in them.  There were newer structures here and there, but the further we got from the Aljunied area and the deeper we went into the Geylang area, the worse it got.

To clarify, when you travel to Geylang on public transit, the quickest way is to get off the train at the Aljunied station and then take a bus or a cab.  We were running late so we took a cab and as we entered Geylang proper I could see quite a few of what the area is most famous for: the Chinese hookers!  They were easy enough to pick out of the crowd and most were wearing cheap, slutty looking outfits and had hair dyed in unnaturally bright colors (for an Asian anyways). 

We weren’t too sure of where we were going and we wound up getting out of the cab a block short.  We didn’t mind though.  It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a feel for the neighborhood.  We called up the agent, got our bearings, and started walking towards the apartment building.  As we walked down Lorang 14 we soaked up the sleazy atmosphere, and, unfortunately, quite a few lungfuls of what smelled like stale sweat, rotting garbage and raw sewage.  It definitely wasn’t a very attractive place.  This is also where I got my first view of a Fragrance hotel, and where I took the photo above.

Once we reached the gate to the apartment complex we had to stand and wait a while, as the agent hadn’t arrived yet.  As we stood there waiting, more Chinese hookers passed in and out of the complex.  I don’t know what it is about hookers exactly, but they’re just so damn easy to pick out.  Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing decent folk around Singapore that they give off a negative vibe.  They have that cheap way about them.  They look cheap, smell cheap, and, even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, even sounded cheap.

Regardless, it gave my wife and I one more thing to talk about while we waited to view the apartment.  We chatted about how much like the Philippines Geylang is, and about how it feels a bit dangerous there, like you’d have to watch your wallet and watch your back while you were out.  We talked about how the place seems more lively than Tampines, though not necessarily in a good way.  Geylang definitely has an exciting atmosphere to it, and it might be quite an adventure to live in a place like that after having lived in Tampines for a year.  Tampines is much quieter, and very upscale, especially for a “provincial” area.  I say provincial, but nearly all of Singapore is becoming built up into more of a city-type area.

The oddest and most out of place thing I saw while standing there waiting was a young girl, maybe 12, in a school uniform come through the gate at about 7:30pm.  She was alone and it seemed wrong given the surroundings.  If I had a kid I don’t think I would live in Geylang in the first place, and I definitely wouldn’t let him or her walk around alone after dark.  Not in that area.  It just doesn’t feel safe.

I suppose you could call it a bonus experience, but one other thing of note is that as we were walking to and from the apartment we were viewing we got to see a man sleeping on the floor of the hallway.  He was around 40 to 45, shirtless, shoeless, and probably passed-out drunk, sleeping first face down and then on his side on the hallway floor.  That, more than anything else, was our quality of life indicator for that part of Geylang.

I suppose it’s not what’s outside your door that counts though, so even with all of that ‘excitement’ just a few steps beyond the elevator, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to live in Geylang.  If you maintain your home, it can still be comfortable, and given the area, the rent is a bit lower than usual as well.  Besides, there is one other thing Geylang is well known for, and that’s the food.  My wife and I both love to eat, and we’re tired of the choices available to us in Tampines, so the lure of fresh feeding grounds is a big one!