The lumpiest mattress in Penang

| July 2, 2009 | 15 Comments
saggingmatress The lumpiest mattress in Penang

Photo by MorrowLess (Creative Commons)—not the actual bed!

I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was positively horrified and in tears.

Based on a recommendation we got from a lovely Australian couple we met in Thailand, we decided to spend some of our last few weeks abroad in Malaysia.

While about to cross the boarder from Hat Yai, Thailand to Malaysia an incident occurred (I’ll save that story for another blog post). Regardless, it caused a fight between Daniel and me. Moreover, it caused a two-and-a-half-hour delay in our arrival to Penang.

So, rather then getting in at 7pm, we arrived at about 9:30pm and it was dark. Really dark. I started to panic on the way into Penang thinking about where we would stay that night. We hadn’t booked anything (thinking we’d have daylight and time enough to search a place out).

Daniel asked the minivan driver (a rather tough, scary looking Thai dude) where a good place to stay was. He smiled at us and told us he’d take us to a nice place owned by one of his friends. My panic level rose. We were eventually driven down a dark alley and let out in front of an old, rundown, horrible-looking backpackers hostel.

It evoked memories of Alex Garland’s description of the Khao San flophouse in which his protagonist (Richard, later played by Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself—except it was in Penang’s equivalent of Khao Sarn—down a sidestreet from Lebuh Chulia.

‘Here we are!” exclaimed our driver through gritted teeth. Sitting outside of the hostel were about five or six shirtless, beer-drinking men with three scary looking dogs. No other backpackers could be seen. I desperately tried to get Dan’s attention and to discretely whisper to him ‘Let’s get out of here. I am NOT staying here”. He ignored me and paid one of the men for the night. I was horrified that he had paid before seeing the room we would be sleeping in.

I could tell that he too was horrified, but was going to make us stay here to spite me. One of the men walked us down a dark hallway (think cave), opened the door to our room, and left.

I remember the room being like that which you would see in a horror film. There were bars on the tiny window (which would trap us inside if there were a fire) and the window only led to a tiny courtyard (which would be no good anyway even if we could get out).

There were two single beds with bare, sagging mattresses that looked and smelled like they had just come out of a dump. There were holes all over the walls and two ceiling fans hanging out of holes in the ceiling by a single wire right over the beds.

The bathroom was super tiny, grimy, and there was no hot water. The best part was all of the messages carved into the headboards of the beds by previous guests. One read ‘Watch out for the bats at night’, another told us to ‘Get out of here!’. Another said ‘I had sex in this bed’ (something that was definitely not going to be happening om this unforgettable night, and several nights hence).

By this point, I was fully in tears and telling Daniel that it wasn’t too late to leave and find a better place for the night. I didn’t care about the money, despite travelling on a bit of  a shoestring.

Well, I didn’t end up getting my way and I vowed that if we got out of this alive we would never stay in a place like it again! We survived the night by rolling out our sleeping bags to cover the mattresses, sleeping in our full clothes, with shoes still on, and being careful not to touch anything in the room.

I didn’t even use thebathroom once—and in the morning we checked out unshowered and went to another backpackers hostel for breakfast. The man serving us asked where we had stayed and when we told him he shook his head and said ‘Don’t stay there, they have peepholes’. To be expected, of course, but I had felt like my worst fears had just been validated.

eando The lumpiest mattress in Penang

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Thank God I hadn’t showered! Whether or not he was right, the place was horrible. There is a reason why the night there had only cost us the equivalent of C$3.00. Daniel nows admit that it was one of the worst places he’d seen (even after backpacking and staying in various, cheap and suspect hostels throughout Asia).

We spent the next two nights in Penang in absolute heaven at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (room pictured above), one of Asia’s finest, as we figured we deserved it and decided to splurge! Of course, the credit card still has yet to recover. And that was five years ago.

Every had such a terrible hostel experience that you felt you must share it with the world? Weigh in and let us know. Also, if anybody can guess the name of the hostel above, let us know and share in our misery!


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Category: Kathryn's blog

About the Author ()

Kathryn is a teacher whose experience has taken her from the classrooms of South Korea to the hallways of Canada. Her travels have taught her that backpacking is more than the seeing of sights. Instead, as Miriam Beard has so eloquently stated, "it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living". Along with her husband, Daniel, she is looking forward to trading in kindergarten-sized knapsacks for a nice 50L backpack in July 2011.

Comments (15)

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  1. Linda says:


    Katie, I loved that little bit of history. It is the first time I have heard it in your own words. I hope you never have to experience anything like it again.

    • Daniel says:


      Thanks for dropping in, Linda. I think I need to blog about this ‘experience’, too. Our readers our only getting one side of the story!

  2. zulu says:


    Penang is a beautiful place and I am sorry you had a bad experience with the first hotel. Travel rule # 1: Never trust other people to take you to a hotel. It’s necessary to do research and figure out where your hotel is even if you have targeted to arrive to a location during daylight.

  3. chris says:


    Glad you too found the E & O, Penang is one of the greatest destinations in Asia and that hotel is truly great.

  4. Shelz says:


    Hi, I’m Malaysian and I feel sorry for your horrible experience. I wonder why was there Thai driver in Penang?

    Anyway, there are a lot of great hostels in Penang and most of the Chinese there are trustworthy. I’m not sure about the Thai dude though, are you sure he’s a Thai?

    But do not believe in Taxi drivers especially when they said the place is owned by friend. I wonder if it’s a real hostel or homestay or just an abandoned room to make money out of the desperate tourists.

    • Daniel says:


      Hey Shelz—thanks for the comment. This experience had nothing to do with Malaysia, just a couple of bad choices made on our part! Believe me, it can (and does) happen anywhere in the world. While we were ‘greener’ travelers while in Malaysia, we’ve since learned not to rely on recommendations from taxi drivers! The irony is that this particular guest house has since been renovated — and from what we understand, is actually much improved.

      As far as Malaysia goes, we look forward to returning, and exploring further. It truly is a beautiful country. As for Penang, it’s the only other city in the world that I would live in other than where I am located now (Toronto). It’s a remarkable place — for its architecture, its cuisine and its people. So, thanks for the comment! And don’t worry—one negative experience has been outweighed by a great country!


  5. Oh an… this is bringing back repressed memories of a few places I stayed in India. *shudder*

  6. Tim says:


    That sounds horrible, but glad to see you made it out alive and well.

  7. Sofia says:


    It’s funny, we too ended up in this tiny village in Malaysia in the middle of the night with no place to stay. And we too checked in at one of the worst places I’ve ever stayed at. It seemed quite similar to yours, except there were no shirtless men with scary dogs sitting on the porch… so disgusting about the peepholes, yuck!!

  8. Peter says:


    That’s horrifying! I can’t believe you stayed there! I would have gone crazy long before i even got into the room!

    I found myself rooting for you as I was reading, thinking “get out of there! no, no, don’t follow the taxi driver!! OH NO, LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!” :)

    Daniel, did you ever post your own account of this story? I would love to hear the ‘other side’!

    Hmmm. Just noticed that the photo isn’t from the actual room. I’m a bit disappointed! And wondering what the real room looked like, hehe!

    • Kathryn says:


      Hi Peter,

      I don’t believe we took a photo of the room…..honestly, we didn’t take our shoes off, shower, or touch anything. I spent the time crying and thinking I was going to die (I know a bit dramatic but it’s true). Looking back, we should have taken a picture to go along with this story that we have shared with everyone we know. I am going to spend some time searching through photos to see if we took any of the place…but I doubt it. I by chance we did, I will be sure to post it


  9. I love this article because I had exactly the same experience in Penang. I slept on a mattress in a very run down hostel which had about 8 dangerously protruding springs. I couldn’t sleep all night through fear of serious damage! Luckily we managed to find a nicer and cleaner place to stay the next day.

  10. Kirk says:


    I am glad that this wasnt the actually mattress this simply looks horrible. Luckily it worked out in the end.

  11. Jeremy says:


    is that for real?!?!?! I can’t believe you guys actually stayed there. You guys are the real deal backpackers!

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