The first time I was in Europe in Barcelona in 2009, I stayed at a Chinese-run hostel to save on accommodation.
This time in Florence, I did the same since accommodation in Italy isn’t that cheap.
A Chinese-run hostel is unlike the usual international hostel that you see:
- The business usually doesn’t advertise on hostelbookers or similar sites (but I’ve seen one advertise on AirBnb).
- The clientele is mainly Chinese-speaking people (as you would expect).
- The hostel is in an apartment.
In Florence, I stayed in the Chinese-run hostel for 5 nights since it was one of the cheapest option around.
I paid 25 euro for each night I spent in the dorm and paid an extra 5 euro for dinner. The price includes a Chinese breakfast every morning.
Back in Barcelona, I booked a double room for myself and was given a room large enough for 6. This time in Florence, I wasn’t able to be as generous with my money so I opted for a bed in the dorm.
On the night I went, my dorm which had 6 beds (including one unoccupied upper bunk) only had 4 residents. One of the beds was occupied by the other lady who helps out at the hostel.
However, on the busiest night, there were 8 people sleeping in it (with extra beds stuffed into the large space). The lady who helped out at the hostel had to sleep in the kitchen, along with the owner of the hostel.
What does a Chinese-run hostel look like?
First off, it’s usually in an apartment with rooms boarded up to make smaller rooms or in the case of dorm rooms, a large room with a few beds pushed against the wall.
The Florence hostel I stayed at had 3 large rooms with multiple beds and a smaller room with a double bed. One of the large rooms was used as a dorm room while the other 2 were rented out as doubles for couples.
There is a kitchen/dining room where everyone has their breakfast.
If you are lucky, there are more than one toilets/bathroom. If you aren’t lucky (like me in Florence), there is only one bathroom/toilet.
I had to share that one toilet/bathroom with 13 other people on the busiest day in Florence but it wasn’t too bad because everyone was polite about doing their business quickly.
What I like about a Chinese-run hostel is that the guests are less random people: everyone is Chinese (either from China, Taiwan or less likely Malaysia). Since we share a common language, things get friendlier easier.
The dorm owners are usually very generous about travel tips in their cities. The lady in Florence took us out for a walking tour of Florence while the lady in Barcelona had a notebook filled with travel tips.
The people you meet at a Chinese hostel in Europe
The people I’ve met at the hostels were usually from China.
A lot of them were students studying in other parts of Europe, taking time off for a weekend holiday at a nearby European city.
Most of these Chinese kids are spoiled.
Two of the people I met in Florence were studying in Switzerland. They took the train down to Italy the night before and came to Florence to “do some branded goods shopping”. The transport for each of them were 300 euro for a return trip but it wasn’t much of a problem for them.
But I did meet one not spoiled Chinese student who was studying in France and was visiting Florence.
In Florence, I also met a newly wedded couple from Taiwan who were more rational beings. I’m thinking it’s a combination of being Taiwanese and being adults that made them so much more pleasant than university kids. (I sound like a cranky old lady.)
I’ve only stayed at Chinese hostels run by ladies from mainland China. I’ve read about those run by Taiwanese families but not stayed there before.
I never sat down and asked the ladies why they decided to leave their country and come to Europe. And if running a hostel was their ambition when they left home. I feel that it’s too personal to ask such questions, although they do make good stories.
Food at a Chinese hostel in Europe
The Chinese hostels usually provide breakfast. The food is likely mainland Chinese-styled breakfast with buns and noodles as dishes. I did eat a seafood paella once in Barcelona.
For some extra euros, the hostel owners would prepare an extra serving of dinner for you. The food is still Chinese.
In Florence, I got the chance to eat dumplings–something I haven’t seen for a whole month. The filling of the dumpling was odd though, there was glass noodles and some vegetable with soy sauce. (I like dumplings with juicy meat fillings the best).
Other dishes include stir fry dishes such as this. On the upper right is Chinese-style pork knuckles. They are divine!
Would I stay in a Chinese-run hostel again?
It would depend on the price and the country.
For example in Athens, there was a Chinese hostel advertising on online forums. However, the price for a dorm bed was exactly what I paid for a single room.
In Rome, I e-mailed a Chinese hostel to ask about their bed prices. The hostel didn’t have any dorm beds left and only had a 60 euro private room. I decided to opt for an AirBnb room instead.
I do like Chinese-run dorm better than international ones because I get anxious interacting with too many people. In a Chinese dorm, the number of people is limited to the rooms they have, which makes it easier to interact since there’s not as many people around.