Back in the day, we couldn’t really fault anyone for turning their noses up at the idea of staying at a hostel. They weren’t exactly the plushest places to stay, and were pretty bare bones when it came to design and amenities. Nowadays, though, hostels have since upped their hospitality game a whole lot — and Bangkok’s Hostel Urby is one of those newer, sexier models, replete with a chill-looking riverside deck fitted with oversized floor cushions for lounging.
They also have a top-notch cocktail bar attached and are just two blocks from Chinatown’s main drag of Yaowarat. Knowing this, we decided to brave a hostel dorm bunk for the first time in a very long time.
Find Urby by taking a cab from MRT Hua Lampong, or walk from the station if you don’t have much luggage. It will take about 15 minutes. A few blocks from Yaowarat, on Songwat Road, you’ll see the green-edged, glass-front shophouse.
Check-in on a Saturday around 5pm took under five minutes. We surveyed the scene. There was a guy with long hair who was hanging out his laundry, and a few people hanging out in the common areas playing with their phones. Staffers on site told us that the hostel was about 40 percent full that day.
The decor in the common areas is sleek, modern, minimalist, and fun. Decked out in shades of taupe and gray, there are low slung sofas, ottomans, lofts, beanbags and floor loungers aplenty. There are no TVs anywhere in Urby, which is unusual for a hostel and kinda cool, lending the whole place a hushed and chilled-out vibe. Free filtered drinking water is available (both warm and cold, which is a nice bonus), with drinking glasses at several locations. No plastic bottles here — and we’re glad for it.
The hostel features several dorm rooms with 8 bunks each and a few simple private rooms with double bed. Towels can be rented for THB20 and snacks are available at the front desk though they have no real restaurant.
Breakfast is free tea, Nescafe, corn flakes, and milk or hit up Woodbrook, the attached popular coffee shop for drinks like Kao-Lud Affogato (THB120/US$3.7), a chestnut blended frappe served with a shot of espresso.
We also had a classic Americano (THB90/US$2.8) and the Rock Bake (THB160/US$5), a sausage-filled bun topped with melted cheese.
We threw our stuff in a large bottom bunk with a soft pillow, pristine white bedding, and a hotel-style duvet with white cover. Not too bad. After checking that the small reading lamp worked, plugging in a Kindle, and closing the bunk curtain on our stuff (though no one else was currently checked into our dorm), we left the room.
The sun was fading fast and we headed to Barbon, a name that translates to “good bar” in French and “upstairs bar” in Thai, to secure a riverside beanbag and a cocktail for the evening.
There’s something unusual about a Bangkok riverside cocktail bar with bespoke cocktails filled with trendy ingredients like yuzu and chili syrup with a hostel attached. Normally, you’d only find a bar like this attached to a boutique hotel, and a hostel would only have a beer bar full of backpackers chugging budget brews and cheap shots of local booze.
In this case, a bunk at Urby can be had on a Saturday night for THB275 (US$8.4) while the better cocktails on Barbon’s menu are THB280 (US$8.6), meaning you can sleep off a hangover in Old Town for less than the price of a cocktail upstairs (or probably the price of a cab home if you live in the city).
Bartender and drink menu creator Alfred said they were running a promotion in order to try to get hostel guests to drink at Barbon instead of heading out looking for cheaper options, which has been one of the issues with the current nice bar/cheap hostel setup. They were offering a free drink from their classic cocktail menu, including choices like Mojito, Gin Fizz, and Tom Collins, which normally cost THB150 (US$4.6).
It’s a pretty great value when you consider that, if you subtract the cost of the free drink from your hostel cost, you’re only paying THB125 (US$3.8) for your bed.
It’s also worth noting that we’ve never been offered a free alcoholic drink on check-in to even the nicest hotel, much less a fine cocktail.
Barbon’s midcentury decor and fluorescent sign inviting visitors to stay and get drunk in French is inviting — but not nearly as inviting as the riverside deck.
There was no one on the deck at 6pm so we picked the bag with the best view and waited for our Clover Club (THB150/US$4.6) cocktail to arrive. Served in a champagne saucer, the dark, deeply pink drink mixed gin, fresh lemon, raspberry, and simple syrup to a sweet, tart, boozy effect. It took awhile to drink and the buzz provided was heightened by the relaxation of watching the river from a floor cushion.
At Alfred’s suggestion, we also tried the Passionista (THB280/US$8.6, THB200/US$6.1 for hostel guests) from the signature drink menu. It arrived in bright yellow style with a wedge of passion fruit atop a rocks glass. The mixture of the eponymous sour fruit with Barbados rum, sake, orgeat, and (weirdly) Ovaltine malt was tasty, but try as we might, we could not detect the malt.
Other signature drinks include Do Not Jump In The River, with vodka, finger root, basil, coconut water, fresh lime, chili syrup, and dried coconut; Cha Highball with tea-infused vodka, bael, chrysanthemum, and lotus root; and Cloud Atlas with gin, yuzu, honey syrup, egg white, tonic, and osmanthus (THB280/US$8.6, THB200/US$6.1 for hostel guests).
Over the next few hours several more people arrived, but the place was never crowded. The vibe on the deck, laying on the floor watching dinner cruises and barges pass on the Chao Phraya River with fans whirring overhead, was terrific, and had it not been a bit noisy and smoky, it wouldn’t have been bad to even sleep there (hostel guests have access to the deck all night, while bar patrons get the boot at midnight).
However, the sleep in the hostel dorm was also quiet and pleasant with the hum of the aircon pretty much blocking out the occasional noise in the hall. We woke up refreshed and headed right back to the deck to watch the river with a free mug of Nescafe before checking out and heading back into the city.
Hostel Urby (and Barbon)
1222 Songwat Rd.
Bunks from THB275 (US$8.4)
MRT Hua Lampong