The ‘poshtel’
By Lousa Lim
Saturday August 15, 2009

It’s not a hotel. Neither is it a hostel or a B&B. So what the heck is it? Welcome to one of the latest boarding concepts to hit Kuala Lumpur.

You know you’re in the big city when there are more buildings per square kilometre than trees. Or when the pavement is crowded with people, people and more people — Saudi and American tourists squashed side by side, co-existing in harmony.

Or when the carousing just won’t let up, especially at 3am on a hopping Friday, when everyone is out there partying their socks off but you’re trying to get a little shut-eye.

Co-founders Zulkifli Mat Jusoh and Masila M. Ariff in front of one of their famed container rooms.

 

Co-founders Zulkifli Mat Jusoh and Masila M. Ariff in front of one of their famed container rooms.-Azman Ghani/ The Star


 

Oh yes, this is all part of the experience of living in the big city. Not that I had any idea. Having officially made my transition from island girl (Penang, that is) to city girl (Klang Valley) more than 20 years ago, I’ve still not encountered the frenzied, maddening, eye-opening experience that is the way of life for many big city dwellers.

I’ve stayed in big cities like London, Madrid and even Singapore, but it’s always within the hushed, sparkly confines of some posh five-star hotel, effectively cocooned against the noise, pollution and, yes, even excitement. Meanwhile, my parents have managed to seek refuge in upper middle-class suburbia somewhere in Petaling Jaya, where nothing much happens and nothing ever will.

So what happens when I get an invite from 41 Berangan, one of the latest B&B to open near Jalan Ceylon, where weekend revellers go to get wasted and where tourists stay to get cheap foot rubs and indulge in some sightseeing or retail therapy?

I decided to be a sport and go.

Backpacking? Boo!

It was the sign that gave it away. If not for its sign, 41 Berangan could easily be mistaken for any home. The facade was unimpressive and spartan, and the driveway was small, but never judge a book by its cover, as they say.

Spruced up to look like a poshtel.

 

Spruced up to look like a poshtel.-Azman Ghani/The Star


 

With a knapsack in one hand and a worn-out Kuala Lumpur road map in the other, I was ready to slum it.

Bring it on! I thought. At least it ain’t camping! After buzzing my way in, however, it struck me that the interior was actually pretty nice (thank goodness). Cheerful and spotless, it had none of those grimy, crumbly walls or suspicious-looking furniture stains you find in many budget hotels or dubiously managed B&Bs.

41 Berangan opened for business early 2009 when its free-spirited yuppie owners Zulkifli Mat Jusoh, Masila M. Ariff and Eveline Robijns (who’s currently living in India) stumbled across a deserted house during a weekend out together.

arty chair

“We were all working in advertising firms then. But as avid travellers, we were in love with the idea of opening a B&B one day . . . although it always seemed like some distant, far-off dream,” said Zulkifli.

“But then we came upon this place, in this little lane, no less, which reminded us of the Marais district in Paris.”

41 Berangan is located on Jalan Berangan, a shabby-chic neighbourhood just three minutes away from the Golden Triangle and a minute from the upscale restaurants and bars lining Jalan Ceylon by foot. It isn’t by any means the only affordable, “non-characterless” accommodation in the area, especially since backpacker lodges have been mushrooming all over KL of late, but it is certainly special.

“There’s this new thing in the UK and it’s called a poshtel,” explained Zulkifli.

“Budget travel is all the rage nowadays with the economy and all, so more and more boutique accommodations are catering to this new kind of crowd. They want comfort and cleanliness, and they want it at a low price. And they’re not just made up of the backpacking crowd anymore, but also families or older and more discerning travellers. That’s what we envisioned 41 Berangan to be — a poshtel.”

This new jargon in the hospitality industry left me scratching my head.

41 Berangan hotel bedroom

Was it some sort of marketing ploy to drive the declining tourist revenues? More importantly, did it live up to the hype? I strolled around this poshtel in search of answers.

Communal living room? Check. Cute, kitschy art? Check. Green, airy courtyard? Check. DVD player with good selection of DVDs, including two whole seasons of Will and Grace? Check. Computer terminals with free Internet access? Check. CCTVs in the hallway for paranoid androids like me? Check. An international cast of decent, non-grubby-looking guests? Check, check.

And then for my own crash pad, a superior room on the second-level with (yes!) en-suite bathroom.

There were 11 rooms in all, ranging from RM80 for a standard room with shared bathroom to RM200 for a deluxe room with two double beds and en-suite bathroom, and mine was one of the more expensive ones. Sure, the stark white surroundings and utilitarian bathroom could do with some gussying up, but the walls are concrete and therefore not paper-thin while — here’s the best part — the bed is blissful. Yes, 1,000-thread-count of fresh, white Egyptian sheets and back-loving mattress type of blissful.

Counting sheep

“Berangan means dreaming in English,” said Zulkifli. “It just so happened that we bought a house on a road called Berangan, but it made sense to work with that theme. By providing beds that are as snuggly as possible, we hope to transport our customers to a land of dreams.”

Unfortunately, it was a Friday, and as much as I tried to bury my head under the pillows, the bellows of what seemed like several thousand partygoers rang incessantly throughout the night. Thankfully, I wasn’t in one of those lodges on the very busy, very noisy Jalan Ceylon. I was right in the heart of all the action, and yet distant enough to enjoy it.

I didn’t tear my hair out that night. But my advice is this: opt for the cheaper standard rooms if you’re a light sleeper and you’re checking in for the weekend. It has the same heavenly bed (all rooms do) and the absence of windows (bad news for claustrophobics) can only mean better sleep at night.

Nevertheless, Zulkifli was quick to point out that he’s planning to add a layer of glass to the room I stayed in to filter out the noise.

Chatty and gregarious, he made the perfect host. His amicable character is perfectly calibrated to offset Masila’s more sober, judicious-minded personality. There was no denying that they were the yin and yang of the business.

And together with some mutual friends, they have come up with some of the most ingenious decorating ideas you’ll find anywhere, including the shipping containers turned courtyard rooms and recyclable cargo pallets turned bed frames.

“The container rooms were meant to be a temporary solution because we want to build a bigger place someday,” said Masilah. “It was much easier to remove than a cement wall.”

Little did they realise that it would become an instant hit, especially among foreign guests.

“There was a foreigner who insisted on staying in this particular room for several weeks, saying he loved to hear the sound of the rain falling on the roof,” she said. It’s also proved to be irresistible among younger KL-ites, who, I’ve been told, had booked the place just for the fun of it.

“One even booked it for her parents as a surprise gift for their anniversary,” said Zulkifli.

If staying in a funky tin box doesn’t exactly float your boat, there are numerous other things to do, and the hosts are more than happy to give you a few pointers.

“I’d advise tourists to get their shopping fix first. Go to Sungei Wang and Pavillion, which is a walking distance away, and then take a taxi down to KLCC, Central Market or Chinatown.

“For dinner, come back for some great, local fare at Jalan Alor,” said Zulkifli.

They have also arranged day excursions to places like Taman Negara, Malacca and the elephant sanctuary in Pahang for more intrepid guests.

“This is just a small aspect of our dream,” said Zulkifli. “We have empty plots of land in Hulu Langat and Kelantan, and we’re hoping to transform them into a weekend getaway for locals, many of whom have no idea what real kampung life is like. It’s still in the planning stage, though.”

Masila added, “We hope to build a brand with Berangan. And who knows? Maybe our guests can choose to sleep in container chalets instead of a kampung house.”

Count me in!

41 Berangan
41, Jalan Berangan
Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 2144 8691
www.41berangan.com

 

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