A last night in a dorm

6 Jun
Trying to sleep in a dorm, fruitlessly

Trying to sleep in a dorm, fruitlessly

My backpacker days are really over

. When I arrived in Puerto Princesa (on Palawan Island) after a shaky flight, I just went for Lonely Planet’s pick of guesthouse, to make my life easier. However, since I have the ‘South-East Asia on a Shoestring’ guidebook, the suggestions are of the ‘shoestring’ type: rooms in basements, minimalist cold showers, dorms with 4 bunk beds hosting 7 other travelers. And no clue if there’s something like ‘dorm etiquette’

Arriving in Puerto Princesa at dusk

Arriving in Puerto Princesa at dusk

I went for easy and cheap in Puerto Princesa– I rang the Banwa Art Guesthouse from the airport – and a tricycle later I checked into a basic double room… in the basement: 4 bamboo walls, leaving just enough space for a bed with mosquito net and a noisy fan (no aircon here). For the rest there was no furniture besides a little bedside table. So where do I put my clothes and toiletries? Some desperate travelers before me had thrust some metal wire between the bamboo to have at least some hooks. Maybe one cannot expect more for 450 peso=7 euro.

The common (cold) shower was a bare affair, composed of 4 naked walls with a trickle of water coming from a tube in the wall. Besides some hooks there was nothing, no mirror, no soap holder (let alone soap), no rack for your toiletry bag,… I don’t mind basic, but it should still be practical. (I sense I am getting old…)

Cosy open air common living room full of art

Cosy open air common living room full of art

The common area was superb though, with lots of arts and crafts, natural wooden furniture, paintings all over. The bar system was ‘self-service and note down what you had on a drink list’ – very convenient and trustful. Mellow music was coming from the public access CD player. There was a computer with internet in the corner and wireless all over. This living room area was obviously the place to be – rooms were just for sleeping. Everyone gathered there and it felt like an evening at a training course where people hang around to chit chat, exchange travel stories and make new plans. The real backpacker feeling.

Even basic guesthouses have WIFI nowadays

Even basic guesthouses have WIFI nowadays

Unfortunately they had made a double booking and I had to move out of the double room. The only available space in the guesthouse being the Dorm. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever tried this before (besides at work camps) and I didn’t want to go through the hassle to find another pension, so I thought to give it a go for 250 peso (=4 euro). Mind you, you had to pay for everything extra: use of wifi, use of locker, etc. There were 4 bunk beds in the room, which means 7 other travelers and their bags spread all over the floor (because no wardrobes shelves etc).

I was on the bottom bed (my favourite), with a jetlagging sleepless American twisting and turning above me, shaking the bed at every move. There were 2 fans that made worse noise than the SEAir propeller plane, and they sent the curtain next to my bed flying so that at every turn of the fan the outside light would jump into my eyes.

Is there Dorm Etiquette?

Is there Dorm Etiquette?

It’s during these difficult moments to catch sleep that I wondered whether there was any sort of “Dorm Etiquette” – what is acceptable and what not when sharing a room with strangers?

  • Can you switch on the light when coming in? (some girls did) Or is it preferable to make noise when you stumble around trying to find your stuff?
  • How much clothing should be worn? (I ran around in undies) And would this vary in a mixed or single sex dorm?
  • How late can you read or write on your computer (in your bunk bed)? How early can you put your alarm clock?
  • Is there a time limit on the use of the shared bathroom? Proportionate to the number of fellow travelers?
  • What noises are acceptable during the night? Can you have ‘visitors’ in your dorm bed? (someone had) What noises are acceptable from the bathroom (behind a thin bamboo wall)?
  • Should you lock your bag? Or use a locker? Or just not bring anything valuable?

An interesting experience, but I think I have shared enough rooms in my life ;-) except for with that special person I would love to share my room with.

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