Contemporary and clean
76C-4 Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Batu Ferringhi, Penang T: (04) 881 1344, (016) 477 5227
Accommodation for backpackers in Penang has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. A slick new breed of affordable hostels has popped up in Georgetown, with dorms styled in the latest boutique hotel trends and kitted out with an attention to detail and comfort that would put many more expensive places to shame. Now the beach resort of Batu Ferringhi, on the island’s northern coast, has also taken up the baton with the recent opening of Roomies Boutique Bed and Breakfast.
Batu Ferringhi is not exactly known for its beauty, and its main road, lined with concrete resorts on one side and an endless row of touristy shops, restaurants, cheap hotels and fish spas on the other, is less than inspiring. The beach is attractive enough, providing a refreshing escape from Georgetown and a handful of laid-back, traveller-friendly bars and restaurants, but since much of its length is crowded with package resorts, there is very little in terms of decent beachside budget accommodation — it’s important to come here without too many expectations.
However, there are far worse places than Batu Ferringhi to spend a couple of relaxing days and if you don’t mind staying off the beach itself, Roomies offers a contemporary, clean and comfortable base. Don’t be put off by the hostel’s outward appearance: tucked away on the fourth floor of an ugly block of low-rise flats, it doesn’t exactly shout ‘beach idyll’. The climb up the stark central stairwell won’t immediately inspire your confidence, although it is very clean and you will be more-than-pleasantly surprised when you reach the top.
Styled in cool grey cement, with rough-hewn woods and accents of bright green astroturf – seriously! – the industrial-chic vibe couldn’t be more different to what you might expect from the look of the surrounding flats. As you walk into the main area you are greeted by a subtly-lit Buddha statue, whose serene presence really sets the tone for the whole place.
Roomies makes clever use of the limited space, and the main 10-bed mixed dorm also doubles as a communal area, complete with laptops, beanbags and astro-turfed balcony. This is not the most private of rooms, and the five bunks could perhaps do with some curtains, although the beds themselves are comfortable and are fitted out with sprung, hotel-grade mattresses and allergen/bedbug resistant covers and sheets. Beds are 40 ringgit per night (50 ringgit during busy festival periods) and the price also includes noise-cancelling earplugs, just in case. Each bunk has its own reading light, sockets, storage space and locker (bring your own padlock or purchase one from reception) and the air conditioning will keep you and your ‘roomies’ cool after a day soaking up the sun on the nearby beach.
If you are travelling in a group of two or three, you could always opt for the so-called ‘cinema room’, set off the main dorm, which sleeps three and features a 32-inch LCD TV and stereo system, as well as a selection of movies. This room offers more privacy and although it doesn’t have windows, the air-con is very efficient. The price for the whole room is 150 ringgit per night so if you share between three, the cost doesn’t work out too much more expensive than the dorm, although expect to pay 200 ringgit during peak periods.
The shared toilet/shower cubicles, at the back of the property, are fashioned in the same sleek cement and are very clean, with complimentary soaps and shampoo, and there is also a communal washing machine, if you need to freshen up your travelling wardrobe.
For couples who don’t mind spending a bit more, there is a spacious, self-contained and totally private double room (200 ringgit/250 ringgit during peak periods) which is separate from the rest of the property, and offers 40-inch LCD TV, queen-size bed with duvet, reading chair, safe, minibar and tea/coffee-making facilities. The enormous rain shower in the attached bathroom is a draw in itself.
The hostel may not have any views of the sea, but the owners manage to bring you closer to the beach by including breakfast (Western or local) at a small beachside cafe just a few minutes’ walk away. If you prefer to eat on the premises, this can be arranged on the small balcony at the front, or you can make use of the roof area, which is also a useful smoking hangout.
Overall, Roomies has very successfully recreated the best elements of Georgetown’s stylish new hostels in this very different setting. Although there is no direct access to the beach, you couldn’t get much closer without paying a whole lot more, and Roomies is far and away the best budget option in this part of the island.
Just over the road from Roomies is the sprawling Park Royal Resort, where a day membership (40/52 ringgit for weekdays/weekends) allows you the use of the pools, waterslides, sun loungers, parasols, towels, showers and changing facilities, as well as credit for drinks and food. This is a great way to have the resort experience without paying the silly prices to stay there, and if you base yourself at Roomies, it is right on the doorstep.
Alternatively, you are well placed for day trips to the National Park, Escape theme park, the Tropical Spice Garden and the Butterfly Farm. To get to Roomies, buses 101 and 102 ply the route between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi every 15 minutes or so.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 30th August, 2014.