I first heard about capsule—or pod—hotels during a trip to Japan, where they originate, a few years ago. At the time, they were described to me as hotel-hostel hybrids with tiny tube-like rooms of twin mattresses where salarymen spend the night if they’ve had one too many to drink and missed the last train home. I later learned that these accommodations are also popular with low-maintenance, on-a-budget travelers looking for somewhere to rest their head, though that first part about them being short-term stays for folks having a night on the town immediately made me wonder: why aren’t there any of these hotels in impossible-to-hail-a-cab, ride-sharing-less Vancouver?
While the city of Vancouver remains without capsule hotels, two—the first ones in Canada, in fact—have popped up nearby in recent years: Pangea Pod Hotel in Whistler and Panda Pod Hotel in Richmond. So, what’s it like sleeping in a 28-to-41-square-foot compartment? And how do these accommodations stack up to their counterparts in Japan? I visited each to get you the lowdown.
Pangea Pod Hotel
Pangea Pod Hotel opened in 2018 as Canada’s first capsule hotel and, in increasingly pricey-to-stay-in Whistler Village, offers a budget-friendly accommodation option for those looking to make the most of the area’s outdoors. (Rates start at $50 a night.) The pods here are much more spacious than their predecessors in Japan: each 32-to-41-square-foot capsule houses a double memory-foam mattress which you can share with a mate or spread out on solo—starfish-style—plus USB charging ports, a lockable cabinet for valuables, lighting, a mirror and sufficient shelving and storage for your stuff. There’s a blackout curtain you can close to contain your pod for privacy, as well as white-noise fans and complimentary ear plugs for light sleepers.
Pangea is home to eight suites, each of which contains six to 18 capsules. Each suite also has its own set of shared bathroom facilities. The one I stayed in had three separate shower rooms, three separate toilet rooms and two vanities, which ensure you’re not standing around waiting for someone to finish a marathon shower when all you need to do is brush your teeth. During my visit, these amenities were also clean and well-maintained, which is much appreciated by someone who has been traumatized by many a hostel restroom.
Besides the shared bathroom facilities (bring flip-flops for walking from between the shower and your pod, and general strolling around your suite), Pangea errs much more on the side of hotel than hostel. There are fresh towels awaiting you upon check-in, and body wash, shampoo and conditioner in the showers. There’s also an in-house restaurant and happy hour-ready bar and the Village’s only rooftop patio. The place has a cool boutique-y vibe, too, with art prints decorating each pod and murals by formerly Vancouver-based artist Ola Volo splashed across walls in the entryway and restaurant. Near the lobby, there are also convertible racks for mountain bike, ski and snowboard storage. The only downside—or bright side, depending how you look at it—is that Pangea is 18-plus, so this isn’t exactly a spot you can pack the whole brood into.
Panda Pod Hotel
Launched in Richmond this past spring, Panda Pod Hotel resembles the capsule hotels of Japan more closely than Pangea does. The cheery, 3,000-square-foot space houses 62 pods in two separate rooms (one designated for male travelers and the other for female travelers). Most pods are 28 square feet—just large enough to hold a twin-size latex mattress, a small foldout shelf that can be used as a table, and an electrical outlet and two USB charging ports. The capsules are crafted from wood, which is coated in a soundproof film to limit noise, and each capsule is equipped with its own motion-sensor light and a pull-down shade for privacy.
Like at a hostel, bathroom facilities are shared. (There’s a restroom with a number of toilets, showers and sinks for women, and one for men.) Complimentary towels, toothbrushes, ear plugs and razors are available by request. Guests are asked to remove their shoes at Panda’s entrance and are given a pair of slippers to wear while inside the hotel. Personal items are kept in a locker, which is accessible with a key fob, near the front desk; larger luggage items are kept in a storage room. There’s no key or key fob needed to enter the two capsule rooms, which some may be uneasy with in terms of security, though I was assured that there is someone manning the front desk 24 hours a day. (You have to get past concierge before you can get to the pods.)
I found the operation generally clean, pleasant and no-frills, which reflects Panda’s affordable price point (rates start at $60 a night). Another huge plus? The super accessible location. Panda is situated a seven-minute walk from Richmond-Brighouse Station, where you can get to Vancouver International Airport in 20 minutes and downtown Vancouver in 25 minutes via the Canada Line, making the hotel a popular pick with solo travelers and folks looking for a place to sleep during a lengthy layover or unexpected flight delay. Which—another plus!—gives visitors a chance to get acquainted with the region’s transportation line, a highly rated local attraction in and of itself, surprisingly enough.