Have you ever stayed at a Travel Hostel?Well, I stayed at one during my recent trip, and I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
Hostels, provide budget friendly, sociable accommodation with youthful and traveller orientation. Some hostels are in beautiful historic buildings, some offer resort style camping; where guests can rent a bunk bed in a dormitory and share a bathroom and sometimes a kitchen or a private room just like the hotel.Some places are spartan while others are almost luxurious. Perfect for Solo travellers, more so if you are travelling with friends and want one big room for all the fun.
I soo wanted to try and experience it. Being paranoid about safety and not being a backpacker (need my comforts and don’t mind spending on the lil luxuries), my heart didn’t brace the courage till now. My first trip to Srilanka and wanted to experience the fun side of a traveller.There were two fantastic places that came up on my radar, one was Bunkyard Hostels and the other option was not a hostel but offered a flavour of it, Drift BnB. This came up as the #1 hotel to stay in Colombo on Booking.com which gave me the confidence to try it out.The opportunity to meet other travellers was a big part of the appeal. Some of the places host Wednesday night parties or book reading sessions to help connect with people.
I reached Colombo at around 2.30 am in the morning. Since this was a solo trip to Ceylon, had booked for airport pick up from Kangaroo Cabs at 4.30 am. Wasn’t sure if I should step out in the middle of the night in a new city. The thought of catching up with sleep 2 hours earlier than expected was luring. Walked up to the help desk at Bandaranaike Airport and asked the lady if it would be safe for a single woman to take a taxi in the middle of the night. She pointed me towards the pre-paid taxi counter and said, “It should be fine, as long as you don’t take a private unknown driver or cab”. I knew my hotel was in the city centre and so 30 kms should not take more than 45 mts. My original taxi, Kangaroo Cab had mentioned they accept credit card payments. Now I got to withdraw cash. After travelling to many countries, Sri Lanka was the first country where my ATM card refused to work in most of the ATMs. I tried many, but none of the ATM’s seems to accept my Visa card. Why does Murphy’s law have to work at its best when I travel ?? Few passengers who were on the same flight from India faced the same plight, even after alerting their banks that they were going to Sri Lanka. I suggest you carry a few US Dollars or Euros to be safe if such a situation arises, you can always head to currency exchange counter in case your card doesn’t work.
The helpful assistant at the pre-paid taxi counter in her beautiful blue saree re-affirmed my faith and issued my ticket to Colombo 03 (pin code). Bell desk helped me with the luggage and dropped me at the taxi stand outside.I was pretty impressed with their hospitality and friendliness.
The taxi driver looked quite young, maybe in his early 20’s, a thin chap with a pleasant smile. I got in and the vehicle had hardly moved 100 meters and he asked me “Do you know where the address is”. My hands froze!!. For once I had taken a risk and that was proving to be a bad decision. He stopped by just after the airport and started calling his friends, asking for the address. For some reason, none of his friends knew the exact location. The address said 646, Galle Road which is the prime location in the city centre. But no landmarks or reference points. I gave him the hotel number, it kept ringing and there was no response.
My heart was racing…” Why the hell did I choose this place??” A Taj or Hilton would have been a safe bet. I asked him, should we go back to the airport ? He didn’t seem to listen and started driving towards what looked like an expressway. I was sitting almost at the edge of the seat, looked at the door of the Toyota mini van, is the child lock on? All kinds of thoughts crossed my mind. Took out the phone and dialled my friend’s number. Maybe talk to someone and pretend as if someone has details of my whereabouts. Read out the street name and neon boards and everything else I could see through the window. 30mts passed and we were entering the city limits. The streets looked clean, no garbage, no potholes. The driver kept trying the phone number of the hotels and finally, someone picked up. Thank God !!! We had almost reached the destination..one last right turn and there it was, Drift BnB.
The good news is that Sri Lanka is a remarkably safe place to travel in. Smoking in public invites 3 years of rigorous imprisonment and drug pedalling could lead to capital punishment. Since its a small island, with almost 95% employment, govt is able to manage the law and order effectively. Following the end of the civil war in May 2009, the entire island is now at peace. So if you are a solo traveller sitting on the fence, time is now..to get,set, go..
If it’s your first time staying at hostels, you may be surprised that hostels can be very cosy and welcoming, but a having a laid-back personality definitely helps. If access is 24 hours, you can expect to be woken at any hour as others return to the room, or newcomers arrive.Since my flight was arriving at an unholy hour, knew that would have to wait until next afternoon to check into my room. Here is where I pulled my cards and booked a shared room for the first day. So my check-in would be at 4.00 am, gives me an opportunity to catch up with sleep, experience the shared room and in case it turns out to be a crappy experience would still feel that better than having to wait endlessly at the hotel reception. The room surprised me, it was just perfect. Air-conditioning with bunk beds and lockers and attached bathroom. No wonder it had 8.8/10 rating on booking.com.
You share common facilities and people vary in their tidiness and respect for others. But this was spotlessly clean and the white linen and soft bed put me to sleep immediately. Woke up fresh a few hours later to the chit-chat of my roomies. Jeannie from US and the Theresa from Poland. Jeannie also arrived from India last night. She runs a dance studio in NYC and is now keen to become a Yoga teacher. Her tourist visa requires her to exit India after 3 months of stay and re-enter the country and that brings her to Srilanka on a two-week break. The girls were visiting Srilanka for the first time and had already made plans to go together to South of Srilanka. Now, that’s unbelievable, you land up in an unknown country and make friends with someone and are ready for an adventure the very next morning. All this can happen only at a hostel. They were too excited about the train journey to Galle and wanted to go to the lounge and discuss so that they don’t disturb me. How sweet!
I also got up and decided to get freshen up. There were two shower rooms and separate toilets ..so you basically don’t have to wait in Q. This was quite different from what I had imagined.The social space or lounge with computers and wifi, couches and communal dining where you could bump into fellow travellers and chat all day long.
Met a few more girls at the breakfast table. We chatted a bit about how wonderful this place is. Theresa shared her experiences staying in hostels all over Europe. These days, even internet is full of Solo woman who are travelling to all the beautiful places in the world. They gave me tips onwhere to go and what to do on my first day. Tips on haggling and rates for tuk-tuk.
Breakfast was USD 4 extra but worth every penny. Yummy pancakes and honey, fruit bowl and juice. Tea or coffee ..it was just perfect to wake up my senses. Guys, if you ever plan to go to Colombo, this is THE PLACE !!!
Now that energy levels were back on track , was ready to head for the Colombo City Bus Tour. Open deck city sightseeing in this weather could be challenging but I had already paid USD 30 quite expensive for Colombo and couldn’t wait to get to the scenic Beira Lake and Independence square, Vihara Maha Devi Park and Town Hall..the list is endless.
Check out more at Srilanka : An awesome trip from Colombo to Galle