Container van concepts are all the rage — we see them in restaurants, boutiques, and even dormitories. But we bet you whatever comes to mind right now isn’t as smartly designed as Vessel Hostel, the latest hip accommodation in the lively surftown of San Juan, La Union.
Sleek, modern, practical yet cozy, Vessel Hostel is the brainchild of Buji Libarnes and Nikki de la Paz-Libarnes, architects by profession and long-time surfing fans. Buji, in particular, has been coming to La Union since 2000 to catch waves — way before it was considered “cool”. Back then, being a surfer meant that each vehicle cruising along NLEX with a top-loaded surfboard belonged to someone you knew, Buji shares. Now the crowds have swelled and businesses have grown, but the couple’s love for surfing has not waned.
Shortly after getting married, Buji and Nikki finally bought their own San Juan home in 2014 just by the Urbiztondo highway, leaving enough space behind their lot “just in case”. They could have put up a garden patch, but the idea for a hostel came when they realized that there weren’t enough places to house the growing influx of tourists mostly coming from the city.
Vessel is then, essentially, their backyard. The hostel is an extension of the couple’s own home, in terms of aesthetic as well as their philosophy. Nikki shares that having guests at Vessel is like welcoming friends into their home.
Featuring bright and open spaces, Vessel is filled with modern elements adorned with hints of 60’s nostalgia, reflecting Buji’s own aesthetic, who’s a fan of the carefree, mid-century surfing lifestyle. As the couple shuttles between La Union and Manila, Buji always takes home a retro souvenir from one of the city’s vintage stores, adding to his ever-growing collection of trinkets in the hostel.
Vessel houses four floors with their own dorm rooms, boasting of ergonomic elements. While the interiors are impressive and all, our favorite part would have to be the details. Each nook and cranny show the couple’s attention to detail: each of the bunks features their own desks that function both as a workspace and compartment. Seemingly mundane features such as magnetic snaps for the bathroom and lavatory are there to maximize space and keep their guests moving smoothly. Every crevice is carefully planned, although made to look effortless.
Less than a year after they opened their doors, Vessel’s expansion is already underway. Although they have no private rooms yet, couples seeking more intimate quarters may want to check out Vessel’s garage — a chic space with a romantic DIY feel that comes with its own reading area, a sink, and an outdoor shower, adorned in rustic festoon lights. It’s glamping meets Woodstock.
The bed is something special — that is to say, a Volkswagen Kombi converted into a sleeping area for two, with its own air conditioning to boot. Buji and Nikki smile at the mention of the Kombi, a haven of fond memories which include several camp-outs with every spontaneous trip to LU. The Kombi still runs, and Buji takes it out for a spin from time to time to keep the motors in condition.
The roof deck features a kitchenette that seems to be plucked straight out of a 50’s suburban home. There’s complimentary continental breakfast every morning, yet a tiny portable stove allows for some light cooking. The wide space on the balcony allows for a beautiful view overlooking the Urbiztondo highway and the sea. Feel free to hang out for a session of people watching or for checking the waves.
Vessel’s room rate is at P980 per bunk bed. The Vessel garage (Volkwagen Kombi) is at P2,900 per night. Check out their website at vesselhostel.com.
Urbiztondo Highway, San Juan, La Union (across Sebay)