The Getaway
Oh My Pod: Staying Overnight at the Panda Pod Hotel

Pod hotels are pretty common in Asia. With little space in cities and lots of people, pod hotels (also known as capsule hotels) enable lots of travelers to fit in a relatively small area.

This concept is nothing new – hostels have been around for centuries and have housed multiple unrelated travelers in one room. Pod hotels effectively take this concept up a notch. Rather than bunks, pod hotels provide each traveler with a private area (you guessed it… a pod) to themselves. The Panda Pod Hotel in Richmond, BC, provides pristinely white bedsheets and towels to each guest.

There are almost no hostels within close proximity to the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and with hotel accommodations costing over $200/night, a solo traveler can have a comfortable bed for half of the price and be close to the airport for an early morning flight. Join me as I describe my experience at the Panda Pod Hotel.

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01 Arriving at the capsule hotel

I approached the Panda Pod Hotel on Foot via No. 3 road as I passed by a Chinese Seafood restaurant and a yummy-looking dessert place called Jack Frost that serves Korean-style shaved ice.

From the outside, the hotel appears like a typical storefront in the area, only the windows are covered with decals, and the door provides instructions to go around to the other side of the building.

So, I turned the corner on Granville Ave and made a left into the alley, where I walked past a series of dumpsters to find the lobby of the Panda Pod Hotel.

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02 First (internal) impressions

As I entered the tiny lobby, the very kind and friendly attendant asked, "Are You Matthew?" as I had booked a reservation and had indicated I would be arriving at 8 pm.

Before I could do anything else, the attendant took a key fob from behind the front desk, placed its back against a sensor on Locker #18, and opened a locker with a fresh pair of slippers waiting for me. She instructed me to take the slippers, place my shoes on a tray, and put them in the locker.

She then handed me the fob and showed me a locker where I could place my backpack and other items. I hovered the fob over the sensor, opened the locker, and found a water bottle and a white towel.

If my backpack couldn't fit in this locker, the pod hotel had a luggage storage room at the front of the hotel.

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03 The pod hotel tour

We then walked down a long hallway where she showed me the bathroom and ultimately led me to Pod #18. There are two separate rooms which include approximately 30 pods each.

There are two levels of bunks within the pod hotel. When I reserved, I chose to stay in a lower bunk because I'm an adult.

Beneath each set of upper and lower pods is another locker, so you don't need to store your clothes directly in the pod.

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04 The pods: a visual inspection

I expected to find fully-enclosed capsules, only to find 32 tiny sleeping quarters with openings at their feet. The setup feels like a series of 32 human-sized cubbies with beds.

For privacy, the capsules are equipped with a rolling blind.

The Panda Pod Hotel contains as many creature comforts as possible within a 56 cubic foot space.

They spared no hospitality detail – the sheets were crisp and white. And the pod was spotless.

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05 Inside the pod: bedding and other features

A view inside the pod @kvasiryyc / Instagram

The bed takes up the entire floor of the space. The wood bottom provides additional support. As a side sleeper, the mattress provided more comfort than expected.

One great feature of the pod is a fold-down table where you can place your phone, water, or anything else you may want for the night.

The pod also features an outlet located very close to the table. The outlet includes a traditionally grounded three-prong and a USB 2.0 slot. There's also a bar and a hanger, which is meant to hang your towel once you have showered.

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06 The (communal) washrooms

bathroom sinks and mirrors Mathew Levine

Speaking of the showers, this was, in my opinion, the most disappointing feature. Given that you're paying CAD 80 per night, you'd hope to have more space to place your clothes, change, and shower. Alas, the men's facilities were tiny, claustrophobic, and not inviting in the least. Although, unlike hostels, the showers include soap and shampoo dispensers.

Despite the lack of space, the washroom appeared impeccably clean. I can't comment on the state of the women's bathroom. For those with mobility issues and non-binary people who don want to use a men's or women's room, the hotel provides the option of an all-gender washroom, which also doubles as the laundry room.

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07 Common areas

For meals, the Panda Pod Hotel has a kitchenette. There's a refrigerator, coffee machine, single burner stove, sink, tables, empty vending machines, and some relatively comfortable chairs with cushions. It also lacks a window or much space.

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08 The neighborhood: downtown Richmond, BC

One great benefit of the hotel is its location on No. 3 Road in Richmond. It's close to great shopping, one of the best foodie locations in North America. Before checking in, I picked up some take-out Chinese BBQ chicken from HK BBQ Master, which was featured on Seth Rogen's episode of the Netflix show, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, hosted by David Chang.

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09 Nearby restaurants

Located on the same block as the Panda Pod Hotel is the Jack Frost Café, which specializes in Bingsoo, a Korean shaved ice dessert containing fruit and condensed milk at the bottom.

If it's a cold day and you're hungry for some Pho, Pho Lan Beef is located right next door.

Also on the same block is Bamboo Grove, a Richmond institution specializing in Northern Chinese Cuisine. If you've ever wanted to try Geoduck, Sea Cucumber, Abalone, or Bird's Nest Soup, this could be your opportunity.

The Richmond locations of Lower Mainland institutions Kirin and Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant are nearby. McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, and White Spot have nearby outlets if you are looking for bigger chains.

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10 Things to do nearby

For nearby fun, there's a ridiculous number of indoor golf facilities, enabling you to simulate playing golf throughout the year and through all hours of the night. The hotel is also near several eSports-oriented facilities, such as the Net8 Esports Arena.

Numerous nearby badminton facilities are open until 11 pm. And if you want to play billiards, several venues are open until 2 am.

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11 Getting there or away

The Panda Pod Hotel has its own parking lot should you drive there. Parking is severely limited compared to other airport hotels and is not open to those who go off the premises.

The hotel is located a 7-minute walk away from the Richmond-Brighouse station on the Canada Line. Richmond-Brighouse is located a 26-minute ride away from Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver.

To take the Canada Line to YVR, you will need to transfer at the Richmond Bridgeport station. Including a 7-minute walk, you can expect to arrive at the airport in 30-40 minutes.

Because my flight left early, I chose to take a taxi with Richmond Taxi. Another person who stayed at the pod hotel was going to the airport at the same time. We shared the cab, which ended up costing about $24.

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12 Waking up

As the pods themselves are not noise-proof, the hotel requires that guests in rooms be quiet from 10 pm to 10 am. If you need to wake up for a flight, you have two options:

A staff member from the hotel will wake you up at any time you request You can set a vibrate-only alarm.

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13 Leaving in the (very early) morning

Mathew Levine

The Panda Pod Hotel has a front desk agent who works all night. Irene, who was working the front desk for the graveyard shift, had coffee ready at 4 am if we wanted it. I appreciated the gesture.

She also called the cab company for me, as I was up earlier than expected and figured I should arrive at the airport as soon as possible. I was delighted with the service at the hotel.

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14 Issues you might encounter

yellow door with Panda sign Mathew Levine

The pods can only sleep people who weigh less than 220 pounds. This information is listed on the hotel's website.

Booking anywhere other than directly through the hotel may cause complications as well. Another guest booked via booking.com. When this guest checked out, the hotel insisted on including Booking.com's commission within the total rate payable to the hotel. The guest eventually paid the full rate and indicated that he would complain to management and to the website.

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15 My overall impression

Panda face with welcome Mathew Levine

The Panda Pod Hotel serves a function similar to a shared room hostel and with generally more comfortable beds. It's an excellent option for individuals stuck overnight waiting for a layover at YVR who don't want to spring for a full hotel room. Anybody traveling with a companion would likely get a better value at one of the other hotels in the area.

It's great to see a conveniently located, 5000 sq. ft storefront turned into lodging for up to 64 people. What an efficient use of space!

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