Jun 05 2013
Move over, rundown hostels of Georgetown: there’s a new boy in town. It is not often you walk into a backpacker hostel and feel like you could be in a trendy boutique hotel, but Syok @ Chulia will challenge your conceptions about flashpacker accommodation and it is no exaggeration to say that it sets a new benchmark for Penang, and very possibly for the whole of Malaysia.
Lebuh Chulia’s hostels often receive quite a bad press, and not without reason. Reports of dirty, bed bug-infested dives fill the pages of well-known travel review sites, but Syok (pronounced ‘shock’) really is just that, since it couldn’t be more different from its down-at-heel neighbours.
Located on the corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Leith, it is right in the middle of Penang’s backpacker area, and occupies three beautifully renovated shophouses. The love and care that has gone into restoring this previously burnt-out heritage building is evident in the high-end finishes and preservation of original features, including antique tile floors and louvred windows, which are offset by bold, contemporary elements and a running colour theme of shocking orange accents. The owners are also art lovers, and you will find diverse wall frescoes and other creative touches and flourishes around every corner.
On top of its good looks, this place also has personality and retains all the best elements of a top hostel: very friendly staff, spacious dorms, comfortable beds, a beautiful rooftop terrace and a communal lounge area where no expense has been spared. It features a library of books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and board games, as well as HDTV and DVD player, fußball table, darts board, a computer for accessing the internet, comfy sofas, beanbags and — most importantly — a bar, which offers juices, beers, and hot and cold snacks throughout the day. This is also where breakfast is served, including eggs, toast, fruit and cereal, and where you can pick up complimentary teas and coffees all day long.
There are five dorms, each of which features made-to-measure super single bunk beds, to accommodate tall Westerners. Two female-only rooms sleep eight and six respectively, and the three mixed dorms accommodate eight people each. The owners have resisted the urge to squeeze in too many beds so there is a real feeling of space in all the rooms, which have a good amount of natural light. There are personal lockers, reading lights and charger sockets for each bed, and sprung mattresses and air-con for a comfortable night’s sleep, as well as freshly laundered sheets and blankets. If you want to splash out a bit, two private rooms are available, featuring queen size beds and ensuite bathrooms.
The standard of hygiene and cleanliness in the rooms and communal areas is extremely high, and this extends to the shared bathrooms, which feature some impressively artistic wooden shower doors. Hot water, shampoo, shower gel, soap and towels are provided, and if you need to wash clothes there is a laundry area with washing machine and dryer.
There really is something special about this hostel and this explains why, only three months in, it is frequently booked up despite the higher-than-average price tag: mixed dorm beds are 58 ringgit a night, the ladies’ dorm beds are 68 ringgit a night, and the double rooms are 110 ringgit (all prices are inclusive of breakfast and taxes). You can definitely find much cheaper elsewhere along Lebuh Chulia, but the monumental leap in standards at Syok means that it is definitely worth paying the extra. After all, if hostels were star rated, there is no doubt that it would be at the very top of the list.
Syok @ Chulia is a good central base from which to explore all of Georgetown’s sights, but is particularly near the famous Blue Mansion, at the other end of Lebuh Leith, as well as the Hainanese Temple on Lebuh Muntri. If there’s no room, try the Ryokan Hostel or Guest Inn Muntri, both around the corner on Lebuh Muntri, and for a cup of coffee or lunch, check out the nearby Mews Cafe.
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