Am I too old to stay in a hostel?
This is a recurring question that is asked over and over again in Facebook Groups and travel forums by would-be travellers. Too often they imagine that hostels are full of drunken eighteen year olds who will party until the early hours, be generally disrespectful and who will go around mocking older guests.
I have been travelling for more than four years and my accomodation of choice is usually a backpacker’s hostel so I can call myself an authority on hostels and the people that tend to stay in them. I can honestly say that in all that time, I have only ever once experienced discrimination which came in the form of ageism; keep reading for the details – but because I love to meet people, hostels offer the best chance of this when you’re on the road – especially when you are travelling solo. Find out how NOT to behave in a hostel here.
Of course I sometimes get aprehensive before I check into a new hostel but that’s to be expected in any new situation. When I worry that I will stick out like a sore thumb that is only my negative voice speaking to me, it’s my past insecurities trying to bubble to the surface, but I stamp firmly on them, hoist my backpack closer to me and I hold my head up high.
I remind myself that I am capable of so much more than I was ever led to believe that I could do, and I have proved this to myself over and over when I was preparing for my life of travel and setting myself a series of challenges. (Find out how you can also do this too).
Who stays in a hostel?
Hostels attract many different people. There are business travellers who want to save their hotel expenses, students who are studying in local language schools, families, groups of friends and solo travellers and they are of all ages, race, nationality and religion.
The one thing that they all have in common is that they have chosen a hostel as opposed to a hotel, apartment or a guesthouse. A quick poll among my friends and fellow travellers shows that the main reason for choosing a hostel is to meet and to connect with other people. (Second and third reasons are for the self-catering facilities or lower prices).
Yes, this IS a hostel
You can check out rates for this hostel or others on the island of Ischia, Italy or any other places at this link
Walking into a hostel for the first time can be daunting. People will often stop what they are doing to turn and to look at you. They ARE assessing you but you must remember and understand that they are not judging you. They see a potential new friend, a possible travel companion or a dinner partner.
They may see a shoulder to cry on, somebody who can show them a new way with pasta or a safe pair of hands on a night out in a dodgy part of town.
Are you too old to stay in a hostel?
I have asked countless travellers what they think of the over 35’s staying in hostels and I usually get a bemused look. What!! There are old people staying here? Where?
It’s all about your attitude. If you are open-minded enough to choose a hostel then you don’t generally care how old or how young your fellow guests are. The older people generally have the larger collection of stories, they can offer all sorts of career advice and often double up as substitute parents or aunties and uncles if someone is feeling a little homesick or overwhelmed.
all sorts of people
The younger people can inject sponteneity, innocence and a naiviety into the procedings, and the dynamics are ever changing as guests come and go. That is what I love about a hostel – they are fluid, interactive and interesting.
Do hostels have an age limit?
More often than not, any age limit if there is one is imposed on younger people. Children are often welcome (staying in family or private rooms rather than dormitories) but it makes sense to monitor people under the age of eighteen as there are rules regarding drinking alcohol, and safety issues around minors travelling in groups or children sleeping in dormitories with strangers.
Some hostels, but very few, actually impose an upper age limit. Some may mention in the blurb that guests are generally under the age of 30 or some people may prefer to find a quieter hostel, but in my opinion, that upper age limit should be the guest’s own choice.
I have nothing against a hotel or a guesthouse. If I am travelling with a friend a shared room will often work out cheaper, and if you are sick then a private room is a godsend: – Getting Sick in Laos
(Sidenote: I never travel without travel insurance and if you can’t afford the insurance then you probably shouldn’t be travelling. I usually buy my insurance from Alpha Insurance which is very reasonable and you don’t have to jump through too many hoops to sign up – get your quote here
And now back to that story of discrimination, ageism and one man acting like a complete pr*ck.
Remember this is just one bad occasion out of hundreds of nights in a hostel; and I never actually made it past reception!
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Somewhere in a hostel in Ao Nang, Thailand
I had been continuously sick when I had travelled around S E Asia so I would be the first to admit that I didn’t look too bright and breezy when my friend and I approached the long-haired guy at the reception desk at an interesting looking hostel in Ao Nang, Thailand; but I was on the mend and I was looking forward to meeting new people and to painting the town red.
When the receptionist, a pasty-faced long-haired guy finally bothered to look up from his mobile I asked him how much a couple of beds would be for a night or two.
‘Ladies,’ he condescendingly sneered in what may have been a South African, Australian or a New Zealand accent. ‘You might be better finding a different place to stay. This is a party hostel.’
‘Ooh good!’ I replied. ‘I’ve been horribly sick but I’m feeling a lot better now and I’m ready to party’.
‘No ladies, this is REALLY a party hostel,’ he said, obviously dying to return to whatever was more attractive that the two ever-so-slightly mature but ever-so-much-fun ladies standing hopefully in front of him.
‘Um, does illegal stuff happen here?’ I asked hesitantly, not too sure what the difference was between a party hostel and a REALLY party hostel was.
Long-haired pasty-faced guy gave up trying to be polite.
‘Listen! There is an age policy in place here. Nobody over the age of 35 can stay here’.
‘Well that’s OK then,’ I retorted. Facebook has me down as 34 so I qualify’.
I had finally recovered from my long time spell of sickness and I wanted to party so this was like a red rag to a bull.
‘What? How old do you seriously think we are?’ I continued. ‘You can’t discriminate against us based on how old you think that we are. And even if we are slightly above the age limit, can’t older people party too? We want to stay here’
I forget what long-haired guy retorted but I know that it wasn’t very pleasant and basically he told us to sling our hook.
Knowing we were not getting past this unfortunate piece of humanity any time soon we accepted defeat and we turned and walked out. Interestingly the website of this hostel in Ao Nang quotes that guests should have…
A willingness to mix with others regardless of gender or nationality
A burning desire to have fun and smile
A respectful, open personality
A strong liver to cope with our head barman!
My friend and I had all of the above – ask the staff at the Vietnam Hostel in Hanoii which really is a party hostel but who also has the nicest staff and the best welcoming, inclusive, non-discriminatory attitude to ALL of their clientele unlike long-haired, pasty-faced guy who was sat in front of us now.
Feeling a bit deflated we stood out in the dusty lane while Mr Ignorant went back to his game or more probably his porn on his mobile. Now, I write reviews for a hostel website so I decided to take a couple of photos of the front of the hostel so that I could submit a warning about the Age Gestapo on the reception desk on the site that I write for….and that is when it really got interesting!
Long-haired guy uncoiled like a serpent and shot out of the hostel screaming at me to hand over my phone (I obviously refused), whilst threatening to call the police (for taking photos in the street?) and yelling at my friend and I all sorts of obscenities whilst snaking his horrible pointy fingernails at me.
Apparently I was breaking all sorts of privacy laws by photographing him and his hostel and he kept trying to grab my phone.
Honestly, the double standards! We were considered too old and too fragile to party but the disgusting language that he was using could have sent us to an early grave.
Scared that he might actually get hold of my phone and smash it to pieces I stuffed it into my bra where I hoped that he would be afraid to delve. Giving him the finger, my friend and I whirled on our heels and insisted that he call the police if he felt the need and telling him to go f*ck himself we marched off.
The room where we were actually staying was only a couple of doors down from this so-called, amazing party hostel and we ended up staying in Ao Nang for nearly a week. Every time we passed by, Mr Miserable was all alone in his bland building and the few guests that we did spot going in and out looked like they could do with a hefty injection of fun!
Where will you stay next?
If you want a challenge, why not try a hostel somewhere near you for a weekend?
Or if you want to travel with a small group of people I highly rate Explore having travelled with them on four separate trips before I became brave enough to set out on my own.
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I am writing this article for the not-so-cool people who sometimes hang out in hostels. If you’ve arrived at this post from a note that was left on your bed you can bet your bottom dollar that you have committed at least 3 of the sins below and this is somebody’s way of calling your attention to them and wanting you to know the golden hostel tips and how NOT to behave in a hostel.
If you have never stayed in a hostel and this article doesn’t put you off, staying in a dorm is one of the challenges in the Smash the Pumpkin Project – a self-development course that will put the sparkle back into your life again.
I LOVE staying in hostels. You get to meet so many cool people and you get to find out so many interesting things to see and do, but very occasionally you come across the not-so-cool people and they can be one giant pain in the arse. Here is a quick summary of what constitutes a hostel.
bright and sunny dorm in Porto
Before I begin, I would like to point out that I am not perfect either. I have probably committed each of these sins at least once, but my tolerance levels begin to fail when some people do several of them regularly and repeat them over and over.
I should clarify, if you have never stayed in a hostel before, please don’t let any of the following put you off from trying the experience. The great times far outweigh the bad – I don’t think that I have had more than a dozen really bad experiences – and if you want to check out some hostels in the city of your choice, for instance in Porto, you can compare them all here at Hostelz.com
If people are sleeping do NOT put the light on
Obviously if it’s 9 in the evening feel free to snap on that light whilst you get ready for a night on the town, but it is NOT cool to switch it on when you return any time after midnight.
You will have a torch app on your mobile phone but please remember these can produce the candle-power of a high-powered search light so don’t direct the beam into anybody sleeping face.
These pods in Bangkok – perfect for dealing with jetlag
Play the game and if you know that you are going to arrive back late, prepare your bunk. Make sure that you know where all the things are that you are going to need before hitting the sack – this is not the time to dig deep in your rucksack for the toothpaste.
Snooze or repeat alarms
And talking of mobile phones; I HATE it when somebody sets a morning alarm with no actual intention of getting up. Or worse, they have the alarm on snooze or repeat. Everybody in the dorm is sat up in bed on the one morning that they had planned a lay-in and their persecutor is blissfully snoring away oblivious to the stupidly chirpy ringtone that is driving everybody else mad. I have been known to rummage under pillows for offending items and hurl them – so be warned.
If you need to set an alarm, switch it off quickly, get out of bed and bugger off to wherever you need to go.
Cute courtyard in Cartagena
Arriving late and the plastic bag rustle
Ok so your plane or bus has got into town in the early hours. What can you possibly need from your rucksack that can’t wait until the morning?
Keep a toothbrush and a tee-shirt to wear in bed near the top and sleep. You do NOT need to noisily check out what’s in every plastic bag – after all, you put the things in there just a few hours earlier. FFS – go to sleep and sort it out in the morning. And don’t forget the first rule – don’t switch the light on.
I have never personally used packing cubes but many people swear by them – these seem like a good choice if you are interested in getting some and avoiding that plastic bag rustle: Packing Cubes
roof terrace in Cadiz
The early morning check out.
Unless you’re doing a runner from the hostel, the chances are, that you knew before you turned in for the night that you had to leave under cover of darkness. Most sane people are still sleeping at 5am so surely you can have your clothes ready and your bag packed before you go to sleep?
You do NOT need to repack those noisy plastic bags again – after all you are probably the same person who will re-check them all meticulously upon arrival at your next place. Take your bag outside and repack it in reception if you have genuinely forgotten to prepare yourself.
hammocks in Brazil
Book a private room or if there isn’t one free or spontaneity is the key, use the bathroom. Occasionally, depending on the level of alcohol that has been consumed common sense goes out of the window – well let’s just say, some people do get it together in a bunk bed in the dorm.
You might want to demonstrate to your new conquest how much you are enjoying yourself but PLEASE we do not want to hear you. Even panting is bad. Hold your breath and go VERRRYYYYYY slow!
This triple decker (plus 2 more above on the mezzanine in Rio
After rocking and rolling in my top bunk one night I was very surprised to find THREE young Mexican men cuddled up and sleeping below me the next morning. I’m broad minded, I was just very concerned that my top bunk was going to sway too far past the point of no-return.
Talking or even whispering
When the lights are off please don’t talk. Go down to the lounge or the bar or sit on the terrace. Even whispering is off limits because in the dead of night it’s so irritating – like the person on the bus with loud music in their headphones. You can hear the noise but strain to understand it – doubly hard if it’s in a different language too.
DVDs and TV in Porto
Smoking weed, sniffing coke or drinking rum.
At the very least, offer it around! People can always decline if they don’t want to join you.
Invading my personal space
Do not set any part of your anatomy or your belongings on anybody else’s bed or their ladder. Tough shit if you have a top bunk – do NOT use my space to sit your arse while you brush your hair – and if you have a bottom bunk – I WILL trample on your towel, jacket or bra while I go up and down the ladder if that is where you hang your things.
Keep yourself out of my space unless invited. I popped to the bathroom in Medellin and when I came back some drunken, un-wakeable guy was snoring in my bed! Check latest prices in Medellin here
hostel tips and how not to behave in a hostel – keep OFF my bunk
Lock your stuff away
Because I don’t switch the light on when I return to the dorm after a night out, I am constantly breaking my neck because you have left your rucksack, flip flops or dirty underpants in the centre of the room. Lock ‘em away – but QUIETLY.
There is no need to crash, bang and rattle the cabinets or shake your padlock violently to check that it’s snapped shut. I sound like a right grumpy bat but these things are all just common manners and consideration for others makes for a happy hostel.
fun and games in Quito
Do NOT hog the bathroom! Do please be considerate of any potential queue. You may want to spend 45 minutes getting your hair gel or your eyeliner perfect but people are breaking their necks for a pee. The rule is, in and out quickly. Find somewhere else to preen yourself. And do NOT leave hair in the sink. Beard hair is worse – it looks like pubes which is not a pretty thought when you are cleaning your teeth. And unless you want me to try out your shampoo or shower gel, please take it with you if space is at a premium.
open air loo on the roof in Cadiz
I was in a hostel in Lithuania when 3 girls insisted on all doing their makeup together in the one bathroom despite being asked by other guests to hurry up. In the end, I went in and prepared to sit on the loo. I told them that they were totally out of order and would poo whether they were in or out of the room. They left hurriedly and the waiting queue gave me a round of applause.
Had I already written this article I would willingly have printed a copy out and left Hostel Tips: How NOT to behave in a hostel in their room. I wonder if they would have got the hint?
Don’t eat all the pancakes
cosy home from home in Cadiz
The staff are making the pancakes as fast as they can. You can only eat one at a time so just take one at a time. Likewise the bananas, fruit juice or the toast, although there is something to be said for the early bird – I guess if people can’t be bothered to get out of bed before ten then it’s their loss if the best cereal has been wolfed down. And be aware of your surroundings. So the kettle may be boiling but somebody actually filled it with water and is waiting for their tea. Don’t jump the queue. Ask first who is waiting for the water.
Never, never, ever take somebody else’s food.
This one is actually quite high up on my list of pet hates – those people who think that it’s perfectly ok to steal the food and drink from the fridge or the cupboards that somebody else has paid for.
Now I am more than happy to leave behind unfinished food for the next person rather than squash it into my backpack, but while I am still in the hostel, I expect to find my fruit juice where I left it in the fridge. And that half eaten pizza is not rubbish and only fit for the bin – I am planning to have it for a late night snack so keep your hands off it.
traditional longhouse in Vietnam
To sum up: Hostel Tips and how NOT to behave in a hostel
I sound like a right miserable cow but I am actually very tolerant. There is a line that should not be crossed and as I said at the start, it’s to commit three or more of the above sins over successive nights or even worse, during the same night. Interestingly, they are nearly all night time misdemeanours – but then everything seems louder and more irritating at four in the morning.
The majority of people in hostels are wonderful, interesting, tolerant people. Sometimes, drink or exuberance gets the better of all of us so I apologise for the times that I may have transgressed.
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Pin this post so that you can refer to it again later and bookmark it. Then the next time that one of your roomies makes the mistake of committing at least 3 of these hostel sins, leave a note on their pillow and direct them to this page.
Hostel tips: how NOT to behave in a hostel
Who knows, one by one, we may manage to educate those people who see absolutely no problem with stealing that special piece of cheese that you were saving for later, standing on your nice clean sheet while they reach up for their phone charger or worse of all, switching the fri**ing light on at four in the morning.
And if you have never tried sleeping in a mixed dorm with eleven (or more) perfect strangers give it a go. Who knows, you might actually enjoy the experience.
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I have to admit, I’ve been lucky up until now with getting sick while travelling, but since I have been in S E Asia I have had all sorts of stomach bugs and viruses.
During one whole year in South America my only problems were suffering from altitude sickness and getting myself a nasty little parasite after I drank untreated well water in Colombia.
I had a couple of snotty sneezy colds while I was travelling through the Baltics and I twisted my knee on a hike up a mountain in Spain.
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I don’t count the coma-induced hangovers due to over-indulging on pisco, rum or that sneaky-killer aguardiente. They are just part and parcel of never growing up but it’s been a different story recently and I keep getting sick while travelling in SE Asia.
But now, here in South East Asia I have been getting sick in every country that I have visited (to date).
If you take one thing away from this article it should be to NEVER travel without decent travel insurance. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it could save a whole host of problems and expense further down the line. I use the long stay package from Alpha Travel Insurance you can get your own up-to-date quote here.
Stomach bugs, viruses and bronchitis
Thailand – I got a stomach bug in Chiang Mai that kept me close to a bathroom for 3 days (probably caught from my landlord who had the same). Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, call it what you will, I was up and down the stairs to the (shared) bathroom like a yoyo.
Laos – After eating just a couple of spoonfuls of suspicious smelling food in the northern mountains of Laos I got sick.
Immediately following this dodgy meal we spent three long travel days on crowded minivans which threw us from side to side on the hairpin bends in the mountains int he norht of Laos, driven by evil drivers who would stop on open lay-bys with not even a small shrub for cover for communal toilet breaks.
getting sick while travelling – this is where I got food poisoning
At this stage I was beyond caring and I would tramp over to the nearest patch of grass with my toilet roll and squat like the locals in full sight of everybody. I simply wanted to give up and sleep.
I eventually presented myself at the hospital in Laos where tests proved that I needed (more) antibiotics along with a traditional Chinese medicine.
Cambodia – I contracted a 24 hour stomach bug on the island of Koh Rong. Many others were sick before and after me but at least I was better before we got to our home-stay in the Cardamom Mountains with its very basic bathroom that was simply a hole in the floor flushed with water from a jug.
My friend Debs wasn’t quite so lucky because she was sick here and had to use this whole in the ground -but she did learn a new skill – and I quote: ‘I can now shit with precision through a hole in a polo!’
Vietnam – I loved the city of Hanoi but the weather was cold and damp and the city was VERY polluted. EVERYBODY in the city had a cough and in our 8-bed dorm all of the occupants were laid low with a variety of ailments.
I think I had the flu because for over a week I felt as if I had been trampled by a herd of water buffalo where every movement was agony and my lower back was on fire. When I did get upright for long enough to get outside there were several occasions where I went white as a sheet and everything went woozy and I came very close to fainting.
Here in Hanoi my cough then escalated to bronchitis and for the first time ever, I began to dream of having my own home and a nice little place where I could escape and pamper myself.
I loved Laos – but it was so cold in the north
Thailand (again) – this one was probably my fault for eating street food late at night when the vendors were packing up for the evening and things had been hanging around for too long. It did make for an interesting travel day flying from Krabi to Bangkok vomiting my way north. Thank goodness NOK Air supply plenty of strong sick bags.
To accompany this series of articles on Laos, I have published a comprehensive 28 page travel itinerary of my month-long route around Laos. Simply enter your details in the box below to get your free guide.
Look after yourself.
‘Stay healthy,’ they all say. ‘Look after yourself,’ and ‘you don’t want to go getting sick while travelling,’ is what every traveller is told before setting out.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t take ice with your drinks (I do), you never drink the tap water (I do) and you don’t eat from street food vendors (I do). You peel all fruit, you don’t eat vegetables (a source of e-coli) and you avoid meat (refrigeration difficulties).
Certainly never drink the local home-brewed firewater at weddings in Vietnam, do not hire a scooter and certainly never get on the back of a motor bike taxi in Bangkok during rush hour without a helmet. Yes, right!!!!!
I break every one of these rules regularly and as I have already said, I lasted the entire year in South America with few ill effects.
I have some rules. I don’t balance on balcony railings, I would never bungee jump and I don’t knowingly eat road-kill (I suspect that was the problem in the mountains in Laos). I weigh up the risks and I take preventative actions accordingly.
Always carry toilet paper, wear a skirt on the buses (better to squat in public without baring your bum) and get yourself some little brown pills called berberine ( a herbal Chinese medicine that I swear are magic).
One welcome side effect of all of this was that I lost over a stone in weight and in an effort to rebuild myself I began to focus more on practising my limited capabilities of yoga and meditation.
When I was in Chiang Mai I made a huge effort to get up early some mornings and I joined Nathan from Fit Living Lifestyle and some other travel bloggers who were in town for circuits in the park. You can actually invite Nathan into your home as he has a whole series of online fitness plans for you to choose from so it doesn’t matter where in the world you are if you want his help to get healthy. Check out Nathan’s website here if you never seem to be able to find the time to get to the gym or to a class and see what he can offer you.
My experiences have led me to ponder on the topic of what to do if you do get ill on the road.
Dealing with getting sick while travelling.
Luckily I was never so sick that I needed hospitalization (the doctors in Laos were amazing but the ward was nothing more than a room with mattresses pushed together) and here in S E Asia I have mostly been travelling with friends who have supported me.
If I were solo I would have coped but I would have been 500 times more miserable than I was.
I was alone in Chiang Mai but there was a support network of bloggers and digital nomads in the town who offered to help. It was comforting to know that they were there should I need them.
A hostel would always (I hope) keep hold of your bag and personal belongings if anything really serious happened and you needed to be hospitalized, but as someone who occasionally keels over and faints, the worry is what happens if you are out on your own or travelling with all of your bags!
My full respect goes out to my friend Martin who travels with epilepsy and who does keel over occasionally.
The travel community is amazing and usually pulls together. Take the incidence in Chiang Mai when a traveller had a serious scooter accident and the call went out for blood supplies.
Lots of my friends queued up at the hospital to donate their blood. Here in Thailand, if you need a blood transfusion your relatives or friends have to reimburse the hospital with an equal amount of blood in donations so offers like this are always welcome.
When I was sick in Laos where very few people spoke English a Vietnamese doctor happened to be on the same minivan as me and my friend.
A little way through one of our nightmare journeys he realised that I was sick and he took it upon himself to keep an eye on me for the next few days in Vang Vieng. He offered to accompany me to the hospital in case I had any problems and he checked all of the drugs that I was prescribed, confirming them to be safe and I was very happy to be able to buy him a thank you drink when I got to Hanoi a few months later.
Living in a dorm and coping with sickness when travelling can be a double edged sword.
When you have hacking bronchitis you are very aware of disturbing your fellow travellers and if you have a vomiting or tummy bug you will find that you are constantly keeping a check on whether the toilet is occupied or not. Those are the days when it is more sensible to opt for a bottom bunk for a quick exit.
But when you are sick, there is something very comforting about having people, even strangers, around you and all but the hardest individual will invariably check up on you, running to the pharmacist or bringing you food and drink supplies.
Ask your dorm buddies to fetch you a bottle of cola and loosen the lid so that it loses its fizz. Flat coke works wonders for most types of sickness. Add the contents of a rehydration sachet to your water bottle and drink as much as you can keep down. If you have the squits ( I can’t spell diarreah) avoid taking anything which stop you going to the toilet unless you have a travel day – you want that shit (excuse the pun) out of your body asap.
And never ever never travel without Travel Insurance. (Travel Insurance is available from Alpha Travel Insurance as well as from other insurance companies)
If you are dealing with sickness while travelling and your finances allow, consider an upgrade to a private room. I was so lucky in Hanoi that I had interviewed Rezma before I got sick and she offered me a free stay in one of her amazing rooms in her bohemian hostel ‘See you at Lily’s’.
The timing was perfect. I staggered out of my 8 bedded dorm in my previous hostel in search of my comfort food of choice – of course a pizza – which I washed down with a reviving cup of zingy ginger tea. I then checked into my private room at ‘See you at Lily’s’ where I snuggled up under a thick duvet in a 6 foot wide bed with air con and a huge flat screen TV and I indulged myself with films late into the night.
See you at Lily’s hostel
Before Rezma and her business partners took over their hostel, the building was a hotel, so while it is now a hostel complete with dorm rooms, free breakfast and really great art work all over the place, they retained some of the private rooms as, well, private rooms.
I could write so much more about getting sick while travelling – especially in SE Asia, but I will leave you here for now. Don’t forget to check out Nathan’s website and if you are planning to visit Hanoi you should certainly visit Rezma and her team at ‘See you at Lily’s‘.
Of course, if you are very nervous about travelling solo then you can always opt for a small group activity holiday. With these you will have a tour guide who can iron out any problems as they occur and liaise with you and the medical professions. I was so glad that I was travelling with Explore when I went in India. I got dysentry and heat stroke which could have turned very serious had our guide not acted quickly when he did. Take a look at Explore’s destinations – I bet that they will go whereever you want to go
Feel free to share this article with anybody that you know who is travelling or may be thinking of travelling – it could save them some bad moments – but remember, I travelled for one whole year in South America and I had very few problems. Maybe I am just getting complacent.
Disclaimer: If you click on some of the links in my articles and purchase something I may earn a small amount of commission. This doesn’t affect the price that you will pay, but I can treat myself to a nice cup of coffee.
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After nearly a week in Luang Prabang we decided that it was time to move on. I was heading north into the mountains, together with my Polish friend Gosia and Marc from Catalunya.
Simply getting there was eventful. The three of us were split up between a pair of minibuses and the backpacks strapped to the roof, then my driver decided to race everything else on the road, skidding around corners as I buried my head in a book and hoping that I wasn’t about to die (thanking the stars that I had travel insurance) …and then I had over an hour’s wait for the others at Nong Khiaw.
I spent my time watching the tuk-tuk drivers play boules in the field in front of the bus station whilst staring at the limestone mountains which towered overhead until Gosia and Marc finally caught up with me and we hiked the twenty minutes along the dusty lane and into the tiny town of Nong Kiaow.
This town (also called Muang Ngoi Mai) is REALLY sleepy. The main road crosses the river via a stone bridge which for 75% of the day has absolutely no traffic on it. A bevy of ‘restaurants’ cluster at one end of the bridge and little wooden cabins nestle among the trees on the riverbanks.
We knew that there was just one backpacker hostel in town and that beds were allocated on a first come first served basis so before looking at any of the log cabins we checked out Delilah’s. We struck gold as Delilah’s Hostel truly is a slice of home and there were just three beds left in the cosy dorm which we quickly claimed for our own. If you have missed out on Delilah’s check out other accomodation here at Agoda
After checking in, Marc and I set off to climb a mountain. It took us almost an hour of very steep, hot and sweaty uphill climbing but boy was it worth it. We arrived at the lookout point an hour and a half before sunset.
We sat and cooled down on the little platform at the top and then we clambered around on the peak with the other travellers who had made it up there; whilst the sky turned to a delicate shade of apricot and the river changed colour to a romantic smoky blue far below us.
After coming down the mountain safely just before dark we were delighted to discover that they serve Amazing (with a capital ‘A’) cakes and desserts at Delilah’s. They also do rather good coffee too. Whilst there are plenty of places to stay in Nong Khiaw, Delilah’s is really the only place if you want to go anywhere social and it has does have a lovely atmosphere.
Delilah’s in Nong Khiaw
As I have already mentioned the desserts are always popular and the little wooden tables outside usually have plenty of people gathered around chatting; while inside big squoosy floor cushions and mats invite you to relax. A DVD is shown each evening on the TV (the social area is open and very popular with non-residents) and it has a wood burner for the colder nights and plenty of beer to drink.
The dorm is really cozy with a double bed in one corner and bunk-beds – each with its own privacy curtain, mozzie net and nice big lockers underneath for security. The whole building is an original (renovated) wooden house. Bathrooms have HOT showers and believe me, a hot shower in a backpackers’ hostel in Laos is a luxury.
Rural village life
After a comfortable night’s sleep Gosia, Marc and I hired bicycles and we set off to see the surrounding countryside. We pedalled along the main road passing through traditional villages of minority groups – some smiled and waved, others grabbed their children and dragged them inside hissing ‘Farang’ (foreigner) at us. For our part we didn’t stare, we didn’t rudely stick cameras in anybody’s face and we didn’t stop and peer into homes but I suspect that some travellers may have done so in the past and made people a little suspicious.
The majority of the homes were built of wood or woven bamboo or canes and as far as we could see, contained little furniture. Most had earth floors and women cooked over earthenware pots of burning wood and outside there were chillies, rice or peppers drying in the sun.
When the local school day ended, streams of children in their spotless white shirts pedalled their bikes along the road narrowly avoiding the huge trucks which rumbled through at breakneck speed on their way to construct the dam a few kilometres away.
These kids were far more friendly than some of their parents and were quick to yell ‘hello’ and ‘where you from’ at us and two cute little girls even ran over to present Gosia and I with some wild flowers.
On our way back to the town as dusk fell we came across the most rural rustic market that I have ever seen. Just a few wooden tables were set up under tarpaulins and the local ladies were selling a really poor selection of sad looking fruit and vegetables, some dodgy looking bread and …rats on sticks!
There was also the remains of a corpse that could have been anything. Sign language failed – but we understood that it came from the forest. If you can hazard a guess, please post your suggestion in the comments box at the end.
I always like to support a local market but we were hard pressed to find anything that looked like it was fresh but on a table in a corner we found some of those tiny bananas which had to do.
We stopped to watch a group of boys playing the traditional game that is played all around Laos. Played with a raffia ball it’s a mixture of keepy-upsy and volleyball, agilely played with the feet and head (no hands) and fascinating to watch. We also stumbled upon a cute little mountainside temple where the friendly monk spoke very good English and I arranged to return the following evening and listen to the prayers and the chanting.
The minority tribal people
After another comfortable sleep, the next day Marc left to go south and Gosia and myself went for a walk along the river bank where we knew there would be some minority tribe people living in their traditional villages. It turned out to be a VERY long walk under a VERY hot sun but we found the villages where people were luckily more friendly than the previous day and we also passed a very tired, sad looking elephant and its owner on their way back from working somewhere in the forest.
Stopping at what was to all intents and purposes a shop we were joined by a little old lady who was totally intrigued by us and after just a little persuading she accepted a drink from us. This is where I filmed my introductory video for the course – you can see it here – but what you can’t see is the little old lady opposite who was trying so hard to make me laugh.
After arriving back in the town, I went to the little temple. I sat quietly at the back while the monk prepared himself and then he began his chanting. For forty minutes I was mesmerised as he was joined by the younger novices and their voices ‘sang’ the prayers. In the peace of the mountains the chanting echoed around the temple raising the hairs on the back of my neck. I walked back to the hostel in the dark among houses where the women were all cooking their evening meals on coals outside the doors, and felt an incredible peace.
To accompany this series of articles on Laos, I have published a comprehensive 28 page travel itinerary of my month-long route around Laos. Simply enter your details in the box below to get your free guide.
The journey from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw
Buying a baby
That evening, I chatted to Hamps (Hamish) the owner of Delilah’s who has a fascinating history.
Hamps, a New Zealander, originally came to Laos in the year 2000 when roads were no more than dirt streets, and then he later returned in 2010 as a volunteer English teacher.
While working in Luang Prabang he was approached by Tiger Trails and asked to run branch of Tiger Trails in Nong Khiaw. After arriving in Nong Khiaw Hamps took over Delilah’s and completely transformed the building: repairing the balconies, the shutters and restoring the wood from which the building is constructed. One of the key attractions at Delilah’s has to be the bakery – all desserts and bread are homemade, as are the jams and chocolate.
Another attraction are the films that are shown each evening but also on many afternoons there is a showing of the documentary film ‘The Secret’ which always attracts a large audience. Delilah’s is a slice of home. If you want to watch The Secret you can buy it at this link
But there is a darker side to Hamps’ history and one which obviously troubles him.
A few years ago, his then French girlfriend bought a baby from a hospital in Laos for $500.
When she and Hamps split up she left the baby with the then owner of the hostel. Although struggling with his own work Hamps continued to share the care of Mimi with the hostel owner but then found himself in a fight for custody when the ex-girlfriend decided to return. She attempted to remove Mimi to France, although as far as Hamps is aware they are currently living in Thailand with her boyfriend.
Hamps has since tracked down the baby’s birth mother. She gave her baby away to the hospital believing that the baby would have a better life, but here is the mystery that Hamps is trying to solve. Who authorised the sale of the baby? Was it the hospital acting as an official adoption agency or a member of staff acting independently and under the table?
Hamps obviously misses Mimi but he is not letting that stop him as he forges ahead with creating his welcoming hostel and working with the local guides at Tiger Trails.
Many things are alien to us as we travel and learn about different cultures and customs but things involving childeren are always hard to understand.
Can you relate to Hamps’ story?
I certainly can. I have been estranged from my own children for nearly eight years. Before I left my marriage I didn’t know any parent who had been separated involuntarily from their children thanks to the actions of the other parent, but now I know of many people; men and women of all ages and from all around the world who have had their contact cut.
These parents go through a process. Maybe in a different time frame or in a different order but they each feel despair, anger, sadness, hopelessness until finally there is some acceptance and it comes full circle to hope. My aim while I am travelling is to inspire other people who may be feeling stuck in a downward spiral and show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I do this through the stories that I write about the people who I meet or via my mindset coaching business and the Smash the Pumpkin Project.
I will leave you here in Nong Khiaw with two questions.
- Travel puts difficult things into perspective and can help you organise your thoughts easier.
How do you deal with the really bad stuff and move on?
2. What on earth is the animal that was on the table at the market? (I apologise if you are a vegetarian or a vegan or if you are eating your dinner while you read this article!)
Put your answers to one of both of these questions in the comments below – and if you haven’t already done so, sign up and receive updates and future articles and opinion pieces from my blog and website.
Disclaimer: I received a discount off my stay at Delilah’s hostel; however this did not influence my article in any way – and all opinions are, as always, my own.
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I returned to Quito after my little foray to Latacunga and I was as pleased as punch to see some familiar faces at the Minka Hostal.
Pedro and Josh are both working as volunteers there and are two of the loveliest men that you could ever hope to meet, along with Sandra who is the lady who owns the hostel.
such a cool space
The Minka is situated just half a block away from the imposing stone grey Basillica in the old part of Quito and hides behind an unimposing green garage door. I can vouch for the fact that no matter what time you ring the bell you are NOT left standing in the street – and I have witnessed Josh or Pedro actually sprinting for the door. The street outside is very quiet at night with little traffic noise.
Once upstairs, you go into large, open airy white spaces, decorated with really cool artwork and with walls made up of collages of travel pictures. Sandra explained to me that the building was owned by her family and it was used as a warehouse and storage space until she invested in it and converted it into the hostel.
The dorms are airy and comfortable with the most massive lockers that I have yet come across and they have the most comfortable bunk beds too. I was in the ten-bed dorm but I had the best nights sleep ever. We had a tiny little en-suite bathroom – and a complete bonus for a hostel – the beds were made up for us everyday.
the light, bright comfortable dorm
A basic breakfast was also included in the very reasonable price up in the communal area on the top floor. This large open space contained a well equipped kitchen, beanbags and hammocks, a pool table a computer and access to a tiny little terrace.
I spent six nights here in total over two weekends and I just loved the chilled, laid back and very friendly atmosphere. Everybody worked together to create a homely feeling and socialised with the guests. I was to meet up again with two of the guests a few days later in Banos – H, the Australian with the impressive facial hair and L from the UK with her very funny paramedic stories, but all the guests that I met there were lovely.
the upstairs social area
On my second weekend in Quito I again met up with my Christmas and Carnival travel companion M as she had now left the NGO in Peru and we planned to travel together for a few weeks. We walked for what seemed like miles around Quito city centre as I tried to replicate some of the tour that my friends had given me the previous weekend and then later we caught a bus to the top of the hill above the city where there is a large glass exhibition centre set in some parkland. The late afternoon views as the sun dropped in the sky were amazing and we just sat quietly soaking up the views.
The following day we jumped on the Trole bus system and headed off for the Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the Earth).
its in the wrong place!
This site which is dominated by a large monument was built to represent the highest point where the equator line runs around the planet, but in fact the French placed it a few hundred metres off course. All the guide books said that it is a bit of a disappointment – and it was – but to be honest, I am glad that we went there first. After our rapid visit to some less than average exhibitions we walked a few hundred metres up the main road to the correct place where the contrast between the two sites was massive. The first place was tacky and had the most boring exhibitions I have ever seen. I didn’t pay the extra to go into the small museum on site and that may have been amazing although I doubt it, but the proper equator venue was really good. There were exhibitions and displays of traditional indigenous homes and also some real-life, very old shrunken heads. The tribes people in the area used a technique to shrink the heads of their victims from war or they preserved the heads of their important leaders which they would either wear as a lucky necklace or stick on the end of their spears.
the correct equator line
There were also some cool experiments on the equator line. We all know that water swirls down a plughole in the opposite direction depending on whether you are in the north or southern hemisphere, but did you know that it is almost impossible to balance on the actual line itself, and due to less gravity, you have less resistance to somebody pulling or pushing you around. Apparently you also weigh less too and this was a cue for most of us ladies to jump onto the line and pose.
After a tiring day out me and M made our way back to our respective hostels. The charming Pedro shared his home made soup with me whilst I had a bash at forcing everything back into my rucsack because me and M were once again moving on the following day.
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Minka Hostal this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay