Design, Travel

A tale of two hotels in a tropical city centre


[Ian Macready]
Straight into the pool from your room at the Villa Samadhi

At Viewport we don’t always escape the chain hotels – they definitely have their uses if you’ve got to get a presentation ready for the next day and you want a desk with good wi-fi and a reasonable club sandwich on room service. But mostly we would be trying to find a place to stay that reflects the locale. Last year in Kuala Lumpur we tested out two exceptional places at different ends of the budget scale but both with a strangely similar vision.

BackHome is a hostel that opened in 2009 right in the centre of the historic city. The project linked 6 colonial-era shop houses from the 1920s and over two years turned them into a contemporary but importantly, a Malaysian hostel. And it is run by the brother of one of our VW+BS clients here in London which is nice and he gave me a bit of a tour. Although there is very little of the sense of the traditional shop house left behind the facade, the introduction of an inner courtyard and the widespread use of louvred windows, raw natural concrete, bare bricks and some greenery makes you very aware that this is the tropics. The building is now a series of three spaces: the original two storey shophouse running along the front that makes up the bedrooms, the second inner courtyard space and the new build third space running along the back to house the washrooms, laundry and storage areas. If you stay there, the choice is between a dormitory of four to eight beds or one of the very nice double rooms. The clever arrangement of the beds in the shared rooms maximises privacy and each bed has its own storage units incorporated so that your rucksack is not strewn over the floor. On the staircases, the balustrades work as drying racks for the towels which is strangely very cool. Best of all is the Lokl cafe, which if you’ve just touched down in the country  and have not yet got your bearings, has a good menu of western and local food and the best coconut toast I’ve ever had.

Not too far away in distance but light years in budget, (a private double room at Back Home is the sweet price of £25 INCLUDING breakfast) is the Villa Samadhi. Here the idea is that you are staying in the business and embassy part of town, just a few minutes from the Petronas Towers, but you’re in a resort. First problem is that you need to get pretty good directions because my taxi driver did not have a clue (gawd bless London’s black cabs eh?) and drove around for some time before we found the very private gate.  But once inside the walled compound it’s all change from the snarled up traffic of KL. There are only 21 rooms arranged in an arc around the pool and either you’re on the ground floor and step out of your terrace door and straight into the pool, or you have a balcony overlooking the pool. Even the smallest room is bigger than many London flats at 50 square metres. There is a very good restaurant attached and some fancy poolside couches to lie around in, if you cannot face the 50 metre walk back to your own poolside terrace.  A daft touch is that your room is secured by a chunky padlock, but hey I suppose they are just keeping it real. Importantly and this is the link to the BackHome hostel, is that you definitely know that you are staying in the tropics and in Malaysia. I was not really knocked out by the design – the rooms are very typical of luxury resorts – but the service is top notch and the sense of being in a peaceful resort in the centre of chaotic KL is (perhaps) worthy the money. As many high end chains try to recreate the notion of a boutique hotel with some upscale interior design, Villa Samadhi and even the BackHome hostel, brings you back to the reality: a boutique hotel is about scale, proper service and an original idea.

The street facade of BackHome
The courtyard with drying guest towels
The clever arrangement of the beds in the shared rooms
A concrete desk in a double bedroom
The hostel kitchen
Now, that's a nice little touch
An internal staircase
The Lokl cafe in the hostel
Coconut toast in the cafe
A surviving shop house next door
The very private entrance to the Villa Samadhi
Now that is a resort
Straight from your room into the pool
The not very clever padlock on the door