I paid $45 to stay in a capsule hostel in the heart of Singapore's backpacking district for one night. I'll never go back to it.

·7 min read
Me inside a pod.
The author inside a pod.Marielle Descalsota/Insider
  • I spent a night at Galaxy Pods at Chinatown, a capsule hostel in Singapore's backpacker district.

  • It cost $45 a night for a double-bed pod, which could really only comfortably fit one person.

  • The hostel was bustling late into the night, but the general atmosphere was not welcoming.

Chinatown is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Singapore.

A street in Chinatown, Singapore.
A street in Singapore's Chinatown neighborhood.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The historic enclave is one of the most vibrant parts of the city-state. It's dotted with heritage buildings, bars, and rows of food stalls.

It was home to Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. Nowadays it's become a multicultural site where mosques and temples coexist in a single street.

Chinatown is also popular with backpackers. Mosque Street is home to some of the city-state's busiest hostels.

Mosque Street in Chinatown.
Mosque Street in Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

Many of these hostels are built within shophouses.

As Singapore has been rated the second-most-expensive city in the world, many backpackers choose to stay in budget hotels and hostels.

Chinatown's Mosque Street, which has a row of hostels, is within walking distance of attractions like the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It's also accessible: It's just a five-minute walk from the Chinatown MRT station.

Galaxy Pods at Chinatown is a spaced-themed capsule hostel on Mosque Street. With its blue-and-yellow color scheme, it stands out from the rest of the hostels.

Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

I've always been curious about backpacking, but the pandemic has hampered my ability to try it out abroad.

When I came across Galaxy Pods at Chinatown, I thought it was the perfect place to live out my backpacking dream for one night. The cool photos I found online of the glowing capsule pods piqued my interest.

I booked a double-bed pod for 60 Singapore dollars, or $45, and made my way to Mosque Street on a Friday in early March.

The hostel's owner didn't pick up my calls when I attempted to reach him for comment. Insider paid for my stay in full, as is standard with our reporting trips.

Right outside the hostel was a rainbow flag and a row of electric cars.

Rainbow flag at Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
A rainbow flag at Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hostel's affiliated bistro, Galaxy 28, is known for being inclusive of local LGBTQ communities.

"We do NOT discriminate — whether you are straight, Gay, Trans, Lesbian, Bi, or anything in between, everyone is welcome," the bistro says on its website.

After I collected my key card, I made my way up the hostel's stairs. My first impression was a bad one: I was shocked by the pungent, rotten stench.

Inside Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
Inside Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The carpet looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in years.

The decor, with bleak lighting and tall, wooden doors, wasn't inviting. Barely any natural light filtered into the building, save for the restrooms, which had windows.

I had to climb three floors before I reached the living area where my capsule was located.

The living space had about a dozen capsule pods. They looked more like oversize washing machines than spaceships.

A shared hostel at the top floor of Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
A shared hostel at the top floor of Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The space was crowded: Towels, shoes, toiletries, and other personal items lined the sides of the pods. Various smells wafted through the air. Sometimes it was the strong scent of perfume; other times it was farts, as there was barely any ventilation in the room.

Despite what appeared to be a low standard of cleanliness, the hostel said it used technology to mitigate viruses and bacteria.

"Our hostel is equipped with UVC lights in all our common areas, a new technology that have the ability to zap airborne viruses & bacteria to enhance protection for our hostel guests," the hostel wrote on Facebook.

I took off my shoes and settled in to explore my room for the night.

The sleeping pod itself was tiny. I'm only 5-foot-1, and it was just right for me.

Me inside a pod.
The author inside a pod.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

Inside the pod, I found black dust coating the bedsheets. Every time I shifted my weight, I could hear the metal of the pod clanging. That meant everyone in the room could hear every move I made — just as I could hear everyone else's.

The pod was replete with the basics: a duvet, towels, pillows, a television that wouldn't power on, and a mirror.

The bed inside the pod.
The bed inside the pod.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

Because the pod is made of metal, there was barely any air conditioning or ventilation. The fan installed behind the mirror wasn't in good working condition.

I left part of the pod's door open at all times so I could feel the cool air from the central air-conditioning unit, which relieved some of the claustrophobic feeling of sleeping in a small container.

But because I left the door open, I could smell and hear every time someone opened a packet of char siu pork with rice for dinner, and I could catch the occasional small talk between guests.

That said, the bed was surprisingly comfortable — I had one of the best sleeps I've had in a long time.

The mood inside the hostel was not welcoming. At times, I felt as if I were intruding into people's homes. Some guests had heaps of belongings stuffed into corners of the room.

Some guests had items tucked behind the pods.
Some long-term renters had items tucked behind the pods.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

One lady told me to get out of her way while she headed out for the night. Based on the amount of stuff stored inside her pod, it seemed as if she had been staying at the hostel for more than a few days.

Another guest had a table set up inside his pod. I caught a glimpse and saw it was perfectly arranged with medication, stationery, and other belongings.

It seemed as if some of the guests weren't there just for an overnight stay. The hostel told me a 30-day rental for a single bed cost SG$780, while the double cost SG$1,650.

The shared bathroom had an open-air layout, so it had better ventilation than the room did.

Toilets and showers in Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
Toilets and showers in Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hostel had two floors of bathrooms, and I never had to wait or compete with anyone to use the shower.

The bathroom was pretty dirty, however, with grime on the floor, walls, and toilet bowl. Thankfully, it did have a water heater.

Toilet/shower at the Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.
A toilet and shower at the Galaxy Pods at Chinatown.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

I'm not squeamish about bathrooms, but it seemed as if this one had been used by dozens of people without any cleaning in between.

Some bathrooms had bottles of brand-name shampoos and body washes, which again made me feel as if I were intruding into someone else's home.

All told, I was in a rush to get out of there, and I took one of the quickest showers of my life.

When I returned from a stroll to the nearby hawker center at Maxwell at about 2 a.m., I found the bistro was bustling.

Galaxy 28 Bistro.
Galaxy 28 Bistro.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

People were chatting and relaxing in the bistro, which had a space-themed interior. Neon lights lit up the otherwise dark space.

Some people seemed to have just come from work, wearing formal clothes and carrying a backpack. As Singapore prohibits the sale of alcoholic drinks after 10:30 p.m., the bistro was serving what looked like tea. Nearly every table had a tea pot that was shared between friends.

I would stay in a hostel again — just not this particular one.

Taking a walk at 2 a.m.
Taking a walk at 2 a.m.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

If you're visiting Singapore, Chinatown is definitely worth checking out, as is the Galaxy 28 bistro. There's barely any nightlife left in Singapore since the pandemic started, but Mosque Street was bustling even after dark.

But based on the cleanliness of the bathroom and the general atmosphere in the hostel, Galaxy Pods at Chinatown doesn't get my vote of confidence when it comes to accommodations.

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