Until recently, one of the downsides of the Philippines is the lack of youth hostels. Although it’s not very difficult to find budget accommodations, hostels are quite a novelty in the archipelago’s tourism biz. And as a frequent solo traveler, I do seek the comfort of hostels because it’s not only more affordable, but it’s also the simplest sure way to meet people.
But even with today’s booming demands for tourism, you can count in your fingers the number of credible hostels all over the nation. Today, everyone seems to be making a beeline to the Philippines, making it a popular destination for backpackers. What was once the road less travelled, Philippines quickly became a hit and still continue to earn its spotlight. With that kind of attention from travelers, now is definitely the perfect time to have more hostels.
I’ve heard about The Circle Hostel before, but somehow, I was under the impression that they only had one location, which was Zambales. Turns out, there are now three locations which can all be found in Luzon (biggest island/main land of the Philippines)– Zambales, La Union, and they’re newest branch in Baler. These locations all have two things in common: they’re all at the beach, and they’re all known for surfing. A couple of weekends ago, I was invited to stay at The Circle Hostel, and here’s a spoiler alert: it was amazing, and it’s everything you’d want in a youth hostel.
The Circle Hostel La Union is located in San Juan, just about a three minute walk to the beach. It’s very central, perfectly located right by restaurants and bars, but still nicely tucked away from all the noise. So it’s not only easy access to catch some waves in the morning, but you’re literally next to a variety of food spots at any time of the day.
One of my concerns about staying in a hostel is how clean it is. Sharing a big dorm room is one thing, but sharing a restroom is another. We arrived at around 3am, and even then, I can tell that they maintain the cleanliness of the place. Can you imagine how inconvenient it would be if they didn’t? I love walking barefoot in the sand but sandy floors on the other hand is such a nuisance, so it was definitely a relief how well-maintained it is here. You’re required to take off your shoes when you go up to the rooms and the common area, which are both covered in banig, a handwoven mat. Definitely a local thing, which makes the ambiance here even more appealing.
The theme of the hostel seems to give out a hippie vibe in a young and free atmosphere. Very humble in its non-pretentious way. It’s one of those hostels that instantly makes you feel at home. The number one rule in Circle is that “there are no strangers here”, and they definitely live up to this. Everyone seems to be on the same level. The common area, equipped with bean bags and some hammocks, is the perfect hangout spot. On a fully booked night, you’ll find strangers playing cards with each other, others exchanging travel stories, while a bottle of vodka is being passed around.
For dinner, you can talk to the Circle team and chip in with others to buy fresh ingredients at the market and the kuyas (literally translates to “older brothers”) will cook something up and serve it in a surfboard for the traditional boodle fight meal where everyone eats with their hands on a banana leaf. Compared to other hostels I’ve stayed at, Circle doesn’t stick to just the typical backpacker culture, but the presence of Filipino culture is highly apparent. This place is the next best thing to staying at a local family’s home.
There are no air conditioned dorms at The Circle Hostel, but each room is equipped with a couple of strong ceiling fans that will absolutely keep you cool at night. It might be a little hot during the day, but that’s what the common area is for. Each bed has a mosquito net, and trust me when I say that I slept like a baby on both nights I was there. As far as I know, this branch doesn’t have private rooms. There are two dorm rooms, a co-ed (mixed) dorm, and an all-female dorm, and a bed will cost you between 450-500php ($10) a night depending on the season. The bathrooms are surprisingly very clean. You also have the option to sleep in a hammock instead for 350-450php ($7) a night. There was a blackout that we encountered one morning, which also cut off the running water. If you’ve been in Asia long enough, you know this is nothing new.
The entire vicinity is painted in inspiring quotes and images. And you know what the fun part is? You get to leave a piece of you by painting in any corner of Circle of you wish to. It’s such a fun idea that completes the friendliness vibe of the hostel.
You should know though that Circle Hostel doesn’t have a bar, restaurant, surfing lessons, tour packages, and all that jazz. Instead, they will refer their trusted locals for whatever service you prefer. They do this because they believe in cultivating an atmosphere of support to the local businesses in the area. Instead of taking away their sales, they give them more instead. This is pretty admirable because it’s not only noble, but it’s exactly how a symbiotic community should be.
With everything I mentioned, nothing still tops the people that you meet here. It’s usually the case when you’re traveling. I’ve stayed at many hostels before, but Circle is one of the very few that definitely stands out. It’s one of those that everyone actually interacts with each other, guests or employees alike. Did I also mentioned the Circle team kicks ass?! And clearly, there are no strangers here. Just friends waiting to meet.
To make your booking reservations, you may email them directly at: email@example.com for reservations in La Union, Zambales@thecirclehostel.com for reservations in Zambales, and Baler@thecirclehostel.com for reservations in Baler. Check out their official website, Instagram, and Facebook page too.
Thank you Circle Hostel for inviting me to stay in exchange of a review. Thought, photos, and opinions are all mine.
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