Review: YHA Sydney Harbour
A perfectly located five star hostel that generally delivers on facilities but misses in terms of value.
Finding somewhere to stay in Sydney on a budget is a pain. Generally prices are high, so the aim is finding somewhere that offers value rather than finding somewhere cheap. I’m not really much of a hostel guy, but on my visit to Australia, my budget dictated that I ought to become one. So, I decided on staying at YHA Sydney Harbour. Described as a 5 star hostel, would it offer a hosteling rookie the comforts of a hotel with the value of a hostel?
- Brilliant location. Probably couldn’t be better actually. On a quiet street in the historic (for Australia) Rocks area. Plenty of smart places to eat and drink nearby and a short walk from the harbour bridge, the opera house and the main drag, George Street.
- Purpose built and still fairly new. The place has a tangible modern and contemporary feel.
- Unbeatable rooftop terrace with incredible views of the opera house, harbour bridge and city centre.
- Rooms and public areas are very clean and well kept.
- Comfortable TV room with plenty of channels available. DVDs available to hire from reception.
- Night’s out, barbecues and other events organised every day. All seemed good value.
- All rooms and dorms have ensuite bathrooms. Nice fittings and locking doors.
- Good security. Public doors are locked at night and dorms are accessed via key card.
- Large, well-equipped kitchen. One of the fridges may still contain a carton of milk I bought. You’re welcome Australia!
- Nicely furnished and comfortable common area with plenty of computers to use.
- Reasonably priced laundry room facilities.
- Dorms beds have reading lights and power sockets. Lockers have power sockets inside too. Very handy.
- Horribly expensive! You pay for the location and rooftop terrace. You may as well pay a little extra and get your own private room elsewhere.
- Bored, cheerless staff. They were generally helpful, but begrudgingly so.
- Rooftop terrace is locked at 2200 each night. Rather early.
- Not very social. Despite a daily event being organised by staff, no one really spoke to one another. Perhaps the size of the place or the decor didn’t lend itself to being particularly sociable.
- Not particularly cosy or welcoming. Sparse, basic decor.
- Expensive internet. There were plenty of computers available and also wifi but it wasn’t cheap. This is perhaps due to Australia not being as wired up as the rest of the world.
- Expensive breakfast. I suppose they didn’t have to offer breakfasts, but they also didn’t have to charge an arm and a leg for it.
- In-room temperature is controlled by reception, by key card activation and whether the window is opened. Rooms are either too hot or to cold. Never spot on.
- Similarly, the temperature in the tv room is also controlled by reception. If you want the air-con on, you have to walk down 2 floors to get it sorted. Ridiculous.
- Hardly any seats on the roof terrace.
- Announcements made over building-wide public address system regarding forthcoming events lended an unprofessional and holiday camp feel to the place.
- Snoring! Oh, the dreaded snoring!
- Sheets and bankets! It’s 2011, Australia! The rest of the world are using duvets. Join us, please!
- Despite paying a fortune, you still have to strip your own beds and take the sheets down to reception on departure. Pretty poor.
It’s difficult summing up YHA Sydney Harbour without getting tangled up with my impressions of Sydney and hosteling in general (both rather poor). There were elements of the hostel I really, really liked. The rooftop terrace for example could quite possibly be one of the best in the world, offering stunning views of the harbour and the city centre. The location was perfect, a short walk from everything Sydney has to offer (that is to say, not very much) while the rooms, bathrooms and public areas were functional, clean and modern.
The claim is that this is a 5 star hostel. In global terms, if you average everything out, it probably is. It’s the fact you end up paying for the terrace and the location that just sours the deal for me. I expected more for my money. Throw in some wifi at least!
If you can’t quite afford your own room in Sydney but you don’t want to stay in a flea pit, YHA Sydney Harbour is probably your best hostel option in the city centre. While, in my opinion, you don’t get good value for money, at least you’re assured of somewhere clean and secure to sleep and you get that amazing view. Steer well clear of the private double rooms. They’re nothing special and are definitely not worth your money. Look elsewhere.
Funky, modern, good value accommodation for students and travellers on a budget.
Having spent 5 weeks staying in dorms and hostels in Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, I needed to treat myself when I arrived in Hong Kong. I needed some space, some privacy and some comfort. Money was getting tight though, so I also needed somewhere that offered all of this but for as little money as possible. After a lot of review reading and price comparison, I found Y-Loft at Youth Square.
Taking up the floors 12, 13 and 14 of the Youth Square building in the Chai Wan district of Hong Kong Island, Y-Loft calls itself a hostel, but really this is a hotel that happens to have a few large dorms. The rest of the rooms are large, private, twin ensuite rooms that are comfortable, clean and funky! If you’re not a fan of bright green and orange, best stay clear of this one.
- Large, clean, private rooms, many with balconies facing into a central courtyard and all with ensuite facilities
- Modern custom furnishings with a zingy colour scheme.
- Big flat-screen tv with a couple of English language channels showing mainly boring British and American imports (except Big Bang Theory which is brilliant).
- Unusual room design. Enormous sink in the bedroom, separate from the rest of the ensuite bathroom.
- Direct connection to a shopping mall with shops and eateries open until late. Great if you have a late-night hankering for tiramisu.
- Power shower! Perhaps the most powerful shower head in the history of mankind. Was literally blown about the shower cubicle.
- Kettle and mugs in the room but bring your own tea bags and milk.
- Staff spoke good English and were very approachable and helpful. They could book tickets for you and had good local knowledge.
- Very quiet. No street noise at all.
- On-site laundry was spotless, easy to use and cheap. Buy tokens from reception.
- Free on-site gym looked barely used. Equipment was top of the range.
- Free Wifi in all rooms.
- A bit of a slog to get to. The building is directly connected by flyover to Chai Wan Station on the MTR Island Line (well signposted), but to get to Hong Kong Central takes around 30 minutes.
- Finding the reception for the first time is a complete pain and navigating the building itself will make you want to punch your way through a wall to save yourself time and effort. Read my advice in the verdict below if you need some help.
- The Youth Square building has four lifts, but they always seemed to be in use when I needed them. I often had to wait several minutes for one to become available.
- Firm bed. Very firm bed. Don’t jump onto it on arrival. You’ll snap your neck. Took a little getting used to but I did so much sightseeing, I still slept like a sloth.
Every box ticked as far as I’m concerned. Y-Loft was comfortable, clean and modern. On the negative side, a degree of patience (and maybe a degree) is required in getting to and from the building and navigating the building itself, but this problem is almost negated by the hotel’s many positives. In other words, it was worth the hassle. Price wise, Y-Loft was a complete bargain. Book through dedicated hostel booking websites for the best deals.
Where’s The Reception?
I’ve never had to write a ‘Where is the Reception?’ section before, but for Y-Loft, it is completely necessary. Finding it for the first time is a nightmare if you don’t do some research beforehand.
I’m assuming that you’ll be traveling to Y-Loft in the MTR. Take the train to Chai Wan, the last stop on the Island Line. Upon alighting, follow the signs for Exit A. Go through the doors into the New Jade Shopping Centre. Pass through the centre, veering right and pass through a second set of doors leading outside. Walk along the footbridge, then take the first right. Look up. That’s Youth Square. Look down again. You’re approaching a bizarre, user-unfriendly entrance to the building. Head straight on by stairs and slopes (not the escalator) and find the lifts. Call any lift and head for floor 12. Upon alighting the lift, turn right. Reception is just around the corner. Phew!
Where’s My Room?
Really? You’re kidding!
Nope. Listen carefully to the instructions given to you by the person on reception about where your room is. This building makes no sense whatsoever.
Y-Loft at Youth Square
238 Chai Wan Road
A cool, comfortable, clean & convenient base for your explorations in the island state.
Searching for somewhere to stay in Singapore actually took longer than I expected. What I was looking for was somewhere that offered me a lot for my restricted budget. My accommodation searches revealed that on the whole, you get what you pay for in Singapore. It seemed the cheaper the place, the less comfort and amenities you got. I quickly learnt that what I needed to find was somewhere that offered value.
Hangout @ Mount Emily had precisely that. A hostel/hotel geared towards young travellers and backpackers who need just a little extra comfort for their money.
- Staff were happy and helpful. Smiles were easy to find (actually, smiles were easy to find all over Singapore). Questions were always answered thoroughly & knowledgeably.
- Rooms are generally a good size. The two rooms I stayed in had ample room for two people. Good sound proofing.
- Big buffet breakfast included in the room price. Some strange choices (early morning lasagne anyone?) but much appreciated.
- Laundry facilities on-site. Really useful and cheap. I don’t know why more places don’t offer washers and dryers.
- Free unlimited use of internet-enabled computers and building-wide wifi.
- Large common room with pool table and big screen tv.
- Awesome rooftop terrace with a nice view of the city centre and a shower pool to splash about in.
- Cleanliness in rooms and in all public areas to a high standard.
- Dorms are nicely laid out. Custom-built lockable cupboards separate each bed offering a bit of extra privacy.
- Quiet neighbourhood with a small, leafy park right on the doorstep. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was lovely to come back to after a busy day of sightseeing.
- A general feeling that the place is well-run and that the staff care. Comforting for nervous travellers.
- Air-con! Wonderful, wonderful air-con!
- I wasn’t bothered by it, but some may find the short daily walk and MRT ride to and from the hotel a little tiresome.
- Due to its hybrid setup, it’s not the best place to meet people and make new friends.
- Plain rooms. Lots of Ikea furnishings.
- Some private rooms don’t have windows.
If you’re on a tight budget but require a few more home comforts for your money, this is the place for you. Ignore any concerns about the location. It’s really not that far a walk and you’ll be glad of the peace once you get back after being on the go all day. For the money, you could only really expect the hotel to be clean and comfortable. It is, yet you also get free wifi, free breakfast, a funky common room and rooftop terrace to hangout in, helpful staff on call 24 hours a day, big, airy rooms with air-con, laundry facilities and even bikes to hire. What’s not to like? Book far enough ahead, and you could bag yourself one of the biggest bargains Singapore has to offer.
Hangout @ Mount Emily
10A Upper Wilkie Road
More reviews on Tripadvisor
While in Hong Kong, I stayed at the brilliant Y-Loft in the Chai Wan district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island. My room was spacious, clean and modern. It was a real treat to stay there after weeks of staying in hostels.
There was however one flaw. My room took a while to get to. The hotel itself lives on the upper floors of a busy skyscraper (called ‘Youth Square’). There are four lifts, but more often than not, I had to wait a few minutes for one to become available. Then, upon reaching my floor, it was a fair old walk to my room.
This video captures the walk from the lift. It also captures me taking a wrong turn immediately after the lift doors open and the rustling of a carrier bag with a slice of tiramasu inside. Yes, you can get tiramasu in Hong Kong. No, I don’t feel stupid for eating tiramasu in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Vending Machine
Finally, the question of how exciting a video of someone buying a drink from a vending machine using a contactless ‘Octopus’ payment card can be settled. I’ll let you decide.
In which Matt shouts at some Japanese people, goes to see Lady Knox and samples some Kiwi ales.
9 April 2011 - 0028 New Zealand
That’s it! I’m sick if this place (Crank Backpackers). There are some Japanese dudes in the room next to mine who won’t shut up. They keep bursting into spontaneous laughter and talking. They were playing music but I banged on their door and told them to stop it. There really is NOTHING in the way of sound proofing here. Windows are single-pane while the walls are as thin as they can be. The doors are ill-fitting, slam loudly and all of them have squeaky hinges and rattly handles. It’s a hostel you can’t sleep in. What’s the point? I am definitely checking out in the morning and finding a room at a motel. There are tonnes to choose from and all the nearby ones have good reviews. For a few quid more than what I’m paying now, I can have a three room suite with digital tv. Due to the geothermal activity in the area, most of the motels offer hot tubs in their units too.
Right, the inconsiderate douche bags next door have been quiet for about 5 minutes now so I’m going to take my chances and try to get some sleep. I’ll tell you what, it’s very therapeutic writing this. I was sitting here stewing before, but it’s good to vent. Goodnight… I hope!
They weren’t too bad. I got to sleep shortly after I wrote that last night.
I’m currently on a bus to Wai-O-Tapu. For some reason, having just picked us all up, the bus waits at the tourist information centre for 15 minutes. A terrible idea. Whinge, whinge, whine.
Back at the bar across the street for my last meal in Rotorua. It feels like it’s the end of my trip even though I’ve still got over a week left. Tomorrow, Iain and Co are due to kindly pick me up to go back to Auckland. But tonight, it’s the last night of my tour of New Zealand. It’s been 3 weeks of variety and fun and amazing views. I will never forget my time here. So I’m celebrating an awesome trip with a glass of Mata, a local beer recommended to me by the friendly guy behind the bar. I ordered a bottled import and he produced three shot glasses and started filling them with local beers and said I couldnt get them at home and I should try them. It’s not bad. A little bit malty for my liking, but it’s okay.
Today, I spent the morning with a few other people from my hostel at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. A barren, unique and colourful landscape awaited us. One lake was luminous lime green, identical to the colour of Mountain Dew. Also, on the way, we stopped off at some awesomely violent, bubbling mud pools and the rather tame, disappointing staged but ultimately enjoyable Lady Knox Geyser. In all it’s been a great day.
In which I get the grumps, meet some Maori people & eat their food and stand in the eggy steam of some more geothermal features.
8 April 2011 - 0132 New Zealand
No climbing. Serge the Ukrainian was too tired for it, which is completely understandable. I don’t know why I wasn’t too tired really. I’m tired now. Trying to sleep but a local bar is insisting on playing music out on the street, or at least keeping it’s doors open. Very inconsiderate. I’m much more unhappy about the inconsideration rather than being kept awake. Even with earplugs, I can hear the music booming and the place’s patrons yelling at one another. I’ll be asking to move rooms in the morning. Honestly, the nerve!
Ten to 3 in the morning and they’re playing The Rivers of fricking Babylon! That’s not funny! That’s just a piss take. Urge to kill rising…
Now theres some idiot sitting outside on a bike or in a noisy stationary vehicle and leaving the engine running. What is the matter with some people?! SWITCH THE DAMN ENGINE OFF OR SOD OFF HOME! I hoping that in five minutes time, the license to irritate the neighbours runs out and I can start trying to get some sleep. What’s the point in having a hostel here if you can’t bloody sleep in it. It’s a valuable lesson learnt on this trip. The saving of staying in hostels is negated by the comfort lost. It’s not worth the saving.
Now… Two minutes to 3 and I dare say, sense has prevailed. The music has stopped. Perhaps a fellow hostel guest went and strangled the DJ. I applaud you sir. Ok, all clear I think. Goodnight Earth!
Well, I’ve been to reception and they’ve moved me to a different room. I have an entire 4 bed dorm room to myself on the opposite side of the building. And very nice it is too.
Anyway, enough whinging. Today, I’ve been to Whakarewarewa, a living Maori village set in a steamy geothermal village. Upon arrival, I was shown around the village by a resident who explained a bit about village life and pointed out some of the more interesting geothermal attractions (the most interesting being a natural pool of crystal clear water that was at a constant 100 degrees Celsius). He then took the group into the performance room where traditional dances and songs were performed. These were brilliant! Then, I went to the village cafe to have a Hāngi lunch, a meal of chicken, pork and vegetables cooked by the geothermal activity alone. Everything was overcooked and the entire meal had a distinct sense of being prepared by a grandmother, but I enjoyed it for its novelty and cultural significance. Then, I went on a nature walk to check out some more geothermal pools and lakes. In all, it was a great excursion and one I highly recommend.
Very comfortable in my new room so far. The tv lounge is just along to corridor so that’s a bit noisy but I fall asleep well enough in front of the tv at home so no concerns.
I came back from the Maori village and had a nap. After that, I popped to the Pak’nSave and got some more fruit. Can’t get enough of the stuff. Let’s hope it continues. Then, on the way back, I turned left instead of right and found myself at Government Gardens, a strange mix of old English bowling greens, a grand museum building and large gaping holes in the ground billowing steam. I stayed and watched the steam blow around in the wind and catch the light of the setting sun. For a short time, I was hypnotised.
Tomorrow, my last day in Rotorua is to be spent at Wai-O-Tapu, another geothermal reserve. This one boasts a full spectrum of colours being produced by the minerals and violent bubbling mud pools. That should take me to lunchtime. Then, who knows. Going back to do some more luging is a distinct possibility.
In which I cough up for a room upgrade and sum up my week in Australia.
21 March 2011 - 1038 Sydney, Australia
Yeah, not going to Blue Mountains today. The weather is atrocious. I’ll go tomorrow. Today might well be another chill-out day. Might head to the Australian Museum for 2pm when there’s a free tour on. That said, I find museums boring on the whole so I might not.
I’ve upgraded to a private room this morning. Sick of staying in dorms. The Korean guy sleeping in the bunk above mine last night snored. It sounded like he was clearing out a drain. The Argentinian guy in the other bunk was nice though. In the tv room now talking to an Italian guy who’s learning English.
After a lovely walk in the Botanic Gardens, I’m now back at the hostel and in a room of my own. And I’m loving it. The bed is massive. I’m going to like it in here the next two nights. All my stuff is spread across the floor as I savour the opportunity to sort everything out. I’m not anti social but I’m much happier in a room of my own.
With just one full day left in Australia, now’s perhaps a good time to have a mind splurge about Sydney. Here goes;
- I really like the fact the cab drivers all wear uniforms here. It’s a nice touch.
- If you want a good pizza while in town, go to The Australian in The Rocks area.
- Sydney is quite a dull city in global terms. It’s nice and all but there’s nothing special here. Nothing amazing. The Harbour Bridge and Opera House aren’t particularly remarkable feats of architecture or engineering. They pose well for photos, but I think the photos are good enough. There’s not much need to come to Sydney to see them for real. Nothing gets added to the visual experience.
- Australians are nice, friendly people. Apart from the staff behind the desk at YHA Sydney Harbour who are all universally and eternally grumpy, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with them. That said, of all the conversations I’ve had with Australians, references to us “poms” and the differences between Brits and Aussies has come up a lot. For Brits, the friendly rivalry between Australia and Britain barely registers on the importance scale (we’re more concerned with the French and Germans) but for Aussies, it seems to be very important. Dare I say, there seems to be a deep rooted inferiority complex at play. and that’s not me being a flippant pom, that’s my genuine assessment.
- Australia’s lack of history is notable for this European, though I can’t blame Australia for that. No, we can blame the Brits for not colonising the place sooner.
- The streets of Sydney are almost completely non-descript. I can’t think of a single word to describe them.
- Royal Botanic Gardens are wonderful. I dare say they challenge Jardin du Luxemborg in Paris for the top spot in my favourite gardens chart. So much exotic wildlife and a massive array of well kept and labelled plants from all over the world.
- Everything is horribly expensive in Sydney. The exchange rate from British Pound Sterling to Aussie Dollars is terrible. A sandwich costs about £5 on it’s own.
- Aussies have a very distinctive look. They all look Australian. I know, sounds obvious, but I know what I mean.
- Food here is poor, perhaps worse than the food in the UK. Apart from the pizzas at The Australian, I’ve not eaten very well.
- Manly is nice but no where near as good as people make out.
- Of all the places in the world I’d move to, Sydney would be rock bottom of my list. I really, really, really don’t see why people would want to live here (apart from the high wages). It’s not for me.
In conclusion, Sydney is dull. It’s been a nice week, but nothing has made me say, “wow!” Nothing! I guess we in Europe are spoilt in terms of interesting cities full of beautiful buildings and amazing sights and delicious food and quirky people. Sydney falls to the wayside by a long, long way. In fact, there is absolutely no comparison.
Off to the Blue Mountains tomorrow. I think. No, it’s definitely happening. Well, we’ll see.
In which I have a horrible night in a dorm and explore Little India & Arab Street.
13 March 2011 - 1208 Singapore
A rubbish night. After one night in a hostel dorm, I’ve already decided it’s not for me. The light got left on until 2am because not everyone had got back from nights out. The bloke beside me was a grumpy sod who point blank refused to engage in conversation with me. Three times I’ve walked into the room to find him in various states of undress and looking worried. There was bumps and someone erupting in loud night terrors and, well, that’s enough reasons. I value cleanliness, a good nights sleep and my own personal space much more than wealth. The benefits of a lower cost stay is lost completely. Luckily, the hotel staff here are awesome and have moved some bookings around to accommodate me in my own room for the remaining two nights. They even offered me the Internet rate as opposed to the walk-in rate. Ballseye!
This morning, after a heavy tropical shower which forced me and about 40 of my fellow MRT passengers to cower for cover in the local station lobby, I headed for Little India, Singapore’s mostly Indian area. The guide books were right. The smells from the authentically Indian shops are powerful. I happened upon an amazing Hindu temple with people bustling in and out. So, I removed my shoes and socks and joined them. It was very interesting, though it would have been nice if there was someone there to explain what was happening. That said, an interesting and valued experience.
Right now, I’m in Arab Street, the mostly Arab area of the city, finishing a glass of Teh Tarrik. I’ve wanted to try it for a long time. It’s lovely. Surprisingly sweet and refreshing. I really enjoyed watching the cooling process of pouring the tea from a height from one container to another several times in order to cool it. I’ve seen it on tv before, but to see it for real was great. Looking around, I’m the only Caucasian European looking person in the vicinity. It’s obviously very different for me to be the ethnic minority. I feel comfortable with it. No one bats an eyelid. Well, they wouldn’t. This is Singapore, a place where cultures mix well. There’s no animosity, no rivalry. Everyone just gets along. Why can’t the rest of the world be like this.
Right I’m off. They’ve just started playing the birdie song in the cafe. I wish I was kidding.