And then my hostel burned down...

Malaysia's flag
Asia » Malaysia » Wilayah Persekutuan » Kuala Lumpur
August 19th 2007
Published: August 19th 2007
Edit Blog Post

8.30am, brushing my teeth a day of internet cafe work ahead trying to restore whatever else I can from the travelblog database crash. The air-conditioning starts roaring loudly.

People are shouting, there are some cracking noises, the sound seems quite close - getting closer. I spit toothpaste out on the floor. The hostel is on fire. I look out of my room, an orange glow is coming from the end of the corridor, people are panicking, some grabbing belongings, others running down the hallway clad only in bedsheets.

I grab my laptop, my passport and money, and my backpack and get out of there - virtually everything I own is in this little room, and it's going up in flames.

"FIRE!" people are yelling, I head down the stairs out on to the street, crowds are gathering, people from all over China-town are heading in to gawp and gasp. Black stinking smokes is billowing from the top of the building.

I dump my bags with a disorientated and shocked Irish girl and head back in. A blond girl who left everything in her room comes with me. We're lucky our rooms are furthest from the inferno enveloping the end of the hallway. Call us stupid but insurance companies are assholes and will probably claim "Act of God" or tell us that our list of belongings wasn't submitted before the start of the trip, it's worth a risk, a calculated risk.

I grab my dive equipment and chuck a few more things into my dive bag, and then I look out again, this is really serious, down the corridor the ceiling is melting, flames are licking along the cheap fibreboard and the sound is intense, I head out again.

People could still be in there. I head back in, start down the corridors yelling "Get out" - smashing on doors making as much noise as possible. A Canadian in shorts and flip-flops is doing the same. Two Japanese girls (maybe Korean) poke there heads out one of the doors, bleary eyed not knowing what is going on - "Get out!" - and point down the corridor to the stairs, they stumble away in the right direction, a few more stragglers emerge, we head back away from the flames and smoke and back towards the safety of the street.

The sirens are starting now. The crowds have grown. The Red Dragon Hostel is collapsing! windows are cracking. At reception people are checking out! - what the hell! - I go behind the desk, get the woman to open the safe grab everything (people's passports and wallets) and we head out to the streets.

A few minutes later, the fire engines arrive, foam and water start pouring into the blown out windows. People are standing around dazed, some have everything in those rooms, passports, money, everything they own in some cases.

I take photos now.

After an hour we realise that no one was hurt. After several hours after a trip to another hostel a few streets away to find a room. We are let into the hostel.

I go back to my room, it's relatively ok - I pick the few smoke and water drenched objects I left. I don't think I've lost anything. It turned out to be the same for nearly everyone, broken cameras, filthy clothes, drenched books and passports, a few lost nearly everything, no reports of missing passports yet. The damage had mainly been towards the back of the hostel and the floor above was destroyed but uninhabited.

It could have been very very different.

Not a single alarm sounded.

There were NO fire alarms in the building - if there were they didn't work. Why hadn't they been inspected? How did the owners obtain a licence to run a hotel with out basic safety precautions.

It turns out the lady who runs the hostel just rents the building, the owners of the building try to get away without doing any maintenance. I feel sorry for her - but it could have been very different.

The lights went out after a few moments, people were getting up. If this had happened in the middle of the night I don't think everyone would have got out.

The emergency exits were locked.

A Dutch couple had run down the emergency exit stairs and been trapped one floor down - their only option was to run back up past all the flames and out the main exit.

Come on Malaysian authorities - DO YOUR JOB - I know this is the same in many other parts of the world - but "50 years Malaysia truly Asia" - this incident is not going to do that tourism campaign much good. Back handers? Inefficiency? Under-staffed? Over-worked? and I have every sympathy for the individuals at the ground level.

I don't think the hostel I will stay in tonight will be much better - though they say the fire alarms work - but probably if I look the emergency exits will be locked and fire hazards will be all over the place.

Funny in a situation like this how we react. I've talked about this with others, nurses who thought they'd be good in a situation of this nature panicked and stumbled towards the glow, some people at first went back to sleep only to be roused by disbelieving boyfriends/girlfriends. I kept relatively level headed. I am ashamed to admit my first concern was for my stuff - only as I realised how serious this could be (and after anything valuable I owned was safe) did I really start to think about others.

So I write this a few hours after everything has calmed down, a run of bad luck that I seem to be having continues, and I'll work trying to restore as many blog entries

Doing the full monty... I think being checked to see if they had anything they shouldn't.
as possible today and I'll write something positive and interesting about diving again soon...

Over and out...

Additional photos below
Photos: 8, Displayed: 8


19th August 2007

Glad You're OK
Man, it seems bad luck is following you these days but it will all turn around hopefully. We appreciate everything you do and have done for all of us on I personally hope you haven't been too shaken up. If there is anything we can do to help, let us know. Thanks for everything. Mike Turner (
19th August 2007

Glad you're safe and all others too, thanks for letting us know, just realizing what a lucky escape you've all had, expect other parents will be horrified and relieved too, love mum and dad
19th August 2007

Wow, I probably wouldn't feel safe enough to sleep in a hostel again. Can you bring along your own fire alarm and leave it in your room from now on?
19th August 2007

Wow Ali what a full on month you're having, first blog blowout and then hostel burnout! Hope you're faring OK and are managing some relaxation and recuperation time. Take care, and thanks for running such an awesome sight.
19th August 2007

Rough Month!
Good to hear you got out ok and got your stuff out. Shades of Childers - that Aussie hostel fire a few years back. What a rough month!
20th August 2007

Glad to hear no one was seriously hurt considering no fire alarms and locked doors! I will never complain about a US hotel again.
20th August 2007

Turns out the locked doors were latched from the inside - if the couple had known where to look they could have used it. Everyone is OK - no reports of injuries. The hostel will not reopen. I wrote the blog entry about 4 hours after the events - so I'll leave it as is. I slept well last night - despite being in a very similar hostel two blocks away :)
20th August 2007

Glad that you're ok.. lucky it happenned in day time not night time while people sleeping..
20th August 2007

seems like ur life is full of excitement!! glad that you are ok. i have to say i am impressed that your first reaction was to grab ur laptop and your passport. if i were in that situation, i would panick and wouldn't know what to do. hope good luck will follow soon.
23rd August 2007

Glad you were all ok. Here's to your luck changing!
28th August 2007

Really glad to hear that you are okay. I was there around the Chinatown one day before it happened just to do some research about Malaysia on the 50th Anniversary. What an experience for you. Hope you have a better place now in KL :)
7th September 2007

Wow! Glad no one was hurt. I've enjoyed reading your blog. You take captivating photos. I came across your blog earlier, but I didn't realize until now you "the Ali" that hosts this website! Thanks for all your hard work on the site. Happy (and safe) travels!
26th October 2007

hi ali
i just read this entry today... and thank god that u and others are still in one piece... what can i say? in this case (and many others) i wont be hesitant to say that im ashame to be a Malaysian. the authorities seem to have the mentality where they'll only buck up when things happen!! sad to say that sometimes even, nothing's being done at all!! few days in the news and that's it - sooner or later it will be forgotten... im sorry u get this in KL. hope ur journey down the road will be a much better one... safe trip!
26th October 2007

Hey Addie
Don't be ashamed to be Malaysian - it's a great country with so many great people - but like everywhere it has it's problems - at least Malaysia didn't invade another country lying to it's own people in order to justify it's greed for oil - USA, UK and others... puts these things into perspective.
14th February 2008

Glad you are ok.
Hi Ali! As a Brazilian from Rio, I am very ashamed how it happened. I glad you are ok.
19th June 2008

A TravelBlog datbase crash AND the hostel burn down! One of those days... ;)
8th October 2008

Hey, this past summer there was a big fire in my apartment building in the middle of the night and apparently there were no working fire alarms in the building (and no fire extinguishers). Thanks to someone like you who went around screaming "Get the f*** out", everyone got out okay. But yeah, it's pretty funny how bad slumlords can get even here in the US.

Tot: 0.512s; Tpl: 0.019s; cc: 15; qc: 60; dbt: 0.0474s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb