One of the biggest changes from when I first started travelling and writing Paths Unwritten is a shift to preferring private rooms to hostel dorms. A large part of this is because I’m not traveling solo as often now, but also a change in personal preference. The years when the blog began, I was also younger – so go figure.

The short version, I find myself not staying at hostels as much as I used to, the preference being given to a private room. Of course, I still love the atmosphere of hostels, and given the choice, I’d take a private room in a hostel in lieu of a hotel. So, although my selections for this list have diminished in 2018, here are my top 5 hostels from 2018:

5) Bunkedup Hostel Varanasi | Varanasi, India

The Bunkedup Hostel in Varanasi and the centuries-old vimana tower that scales the outside

Instagram shots of Varanasi posted by one of the owners of this hostel, @brokedudetraveling, are a large part of what made Varanasi a must-visit during my first trip to India. So, it was only fitting to stay at this hostel while there. As far as spots in the Old City go, the location of Bunkedup Hostel is quite nice. It has easy access to nearby restaurants, including the Brown Bread Bakery, which quickly became my go-to. The rooms had air conditioning, a welcome treat after sweaty walks through the city’s backstreets.

As to be expected for a hostel in an old building, it wasn’t all a luxury stay, but was comfortable with decent showers and a nice rooftop overlooking the Ganges River. There was even a centuries-old Hindu monument adjoined to the building on the side of the river.

4) Wanderers Nest | Jaipur, India

Interior of the Wanderers Nest hostel in Jaipur, India
Interior of the Wanderers Nest hostel in Jaipur, India

After my girlfriend left India to return to Thailand, I still wanted a few weeks to explore the country. Moving from the hotel we were staying at to a hostel in another part of the city, I began mapping out my options moving on from Jaipur. Wanderers Nest proved a nice stopover for this. The hostel is set in a large house in a rather upscale neighborhood fort Jaipur. Although I never confirmed this, it seems to be the collaborative vision of the owners running the place to create a bohemian community feel among their guests who, aside myself, felt more like extended residents.

I booked a private room in the hostel and was, regretfully, too busy with my own activities to mingle much with the community there. That said, the place was comfortable, friendly and you could really tell the care the staff puts into the Wanderers Nest. One downside that I found throughout India, but seemed particularly pronounced here, was the near absence of any kind of convenience stores in the surrounding area. Just to find somewhere to buy snacks or toiletry was quite the chore here.

3) Backpacker Panda Colaba | Mumbai, India

The Backpacker Panda Colaba is in a peaceful sidestreet of one of Mumbai's most cosmopolitan areas
The Backpacker Panda Colaba is in a peaceful sidestreet of one of Mumbai’s most cosmopolitan areas

The first thing that Backpacker Panda Colaba has going for it is location. Set in a side street built with some old-style homes, the hostel is centrally located in prime real estate in Colaba, probably the most cosmopolitan part of Mumbai. The area is always full of life in a very good way, and is in easy walking distance to many of the things I wanted to see in the city.

At first I wasn’t too impressed by the hostel itself, as it seemed the first floor common area was simply a lobby with a single bench and check-in desk. While I didn’t see it until my last day there, there is actually a fantastic rooftop recreational space. The building was usually quite clean, had its own elevator, and a very effective, welcome air-conditioner in the rooms.

2) John and Paul Inn | Quy Nhon, Vietnam

John & Paul Inn hosts a number of events, great food and very friendly atmosphere
John & Paul Inn hosts a number of events, great food and very friendly atmosphere

For Vietnam, Quy Nhon is a bit away from the main tourist hotspots. There are sights and accommodation options there, but it’s not the wide selection found someplace like Hue or Nha Trang (similarly sized cities) provide. I ended up being quite lucky in opting for John & Paul Inn over some of the longer-standing options recommended in the city.

As far as hostels go, John and Paul’s delivers everything.Their first floor is an open-air common area with a restaurant, bar and some of the best burgers I had all year. Here, they host events ranging from movie nights to trivia to live music, creating a very involved community feeling. And, not only do the staff host the events, but join in the fun as well. They were also extremely helpful, providing me the info needed to check out the remote Champa tower ruins I had come to Quy Nhon to see.

1) Asuka Guest House | Nara, Japan

The Asuka Guest House is located in a picturesque rural village in Nara, Japan
The Asuka Guest House is located in a picturesque rural village in Nara, Japan

I question whether to even call this a hostel or not as it it leaps above when I would ever expect from a hostel. But, the majority of beds in the Asuka Guest House are dorm beds (8), so I suppose so.

The Asuka Guest House is situated in an absolutely beautiful old home in the picturesque, two-street Japanese town of Asuka, in rural Nara Prefecture. The home’s living area has been only slightly renovated into a place where the guests gather at night for a communal dinner or to spend the time in the adjacent living room/library.

The dorm beds I stayed in were a little densely packed, but there wasn’t much need to be there except for sleeping. The surrounding areas have so many fascinating and historical locales to visit. While I’m so used to doing this via motorbike most places in Asia I travel, the Asuka Guest House instead offers electric bicycles to explore the surrounding countryside. This made for yet another new and pleasant experience on my first venture into rural Japan, and after all, isn’t that what a trip to the countryside should be?

What do you look for in a hostel? Are the any must-haves? Let me know the best hostel you’ve ever stayed below!
Ben

Ben

Nothing that notable to say yet. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in writing and anthropology and have no idea what I want to do with them. For now, I’m content with an unbound lifestyle; going where I want and doing what I can, and hopefully gaining some interesting stories along the way.

11 Comments

  • Asuka Guest House reminds me of a similar hostel I stayed at in Japan, Hostel Saruya in Fujiyoshida. Japan seems to have a knack for amazing hostels! Thanks for sharing these.

    • Ben says:

      Japan seems to be the source of a whole gamut of accommodation. I also stayed at a crate hotel there while in Tokyo. Nothing so pleasant as being awoken at 6am by the squeal of a dozen garage doors opening and slamming around you. Never doing that again.

      Where was that hostel you stayed?

  • Female Human says:

    I have been to India several times on business trips, and didn’t realize that they had hostels!

    • Ben says:

      I was surprised by the number in a lot of places. Certainly they aren’t everywhere, since travellers don’t always get to some of the more remote cities. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the ones I did stay in.

  • Why is it that every hostel I see in Japan looks amazing?! I haven’t even researched them yet!! Haha. Vietnam has some incredible ones too, some of my favourite in the world, in fact! 🙂

    • Ben says:

      I agree with you about Vietnam as well. You’ll certainly run into a lot of rundown or undesirable options too, but I’ve run into some great hostels in even small towns there. I think it really makes a difference when you can tell a personal involvement with the owners in smaller establishments. One of my favourites was the small, family-run Dalat Hostel.

      Do you have any particular favourites you’d recommend?

      • Totally agree!! We stayed in this wonderful mix of guesthouse / homestay / hostel in Hoi An, and the family were so, so lovely! My favourite hostels were Central Backpackers Old Quarter in Hanoi, and weirdly, Mojzo Inn in Nha Trang (because apart from that hostel, I really didn’t like Nha Trang!). Both were my favourites 100% because the staff were so incredibly lovely and welcoming. 🙂

  • eduardocortereal says:

    Hi Ben,
    Thank you for the reviews.
    I have just found this in The Guardian today: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/feb/21/10-best-new-hostels-in-amazing-buildings-austin-bangkok
    Quite a hostels day…

  • You’ve stayed in some great places! Love your photos and you write a great review.

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