We came to the Banilah hoping for a comfortable, boutique-style guesthouse, based on the outpourings of positive reviews on TripAdvisor. As good a guide as TA is most of the times, there are moments like these where it utterly fails me.
First, the positives:
The rooms have a certain design flair. The whole guesthouse feels cozy, with a central courtyard with koi fish and plants. The guesthouse has a café where various cats lounge around all day.
Now for the bad stuff:
First and foremost, the guesthouse's description of bathrooms is misleading. To call them en-suite is very generous. They are, essentially, "private shared bathrooms." If you want to go to the toilet, you have to step out on a private balcony, and into a cramped, bare concrete bathroom. It may be a private bathroom, but it has all the inconvenience of a shared bathroom because you have to step outside if you want to go in the middle of the night.
Second issue, mosquitoes. Now, to be fair, it wasn't so bad when we were there, but I can't imagine how it's like in the rainy season. That bathroom I mentioned above? It's crawling with mosquitoes drawn to the water. The pretty trees and pond in the middle mean that there are so many mosquitoes that they installed mosquito nets on the beds on the ground floor, which we saw on the way out. What was puzzling, though, was the attitude of the staff: instead of trying to solve the problem, they tried to talk around it. They told us to get into our rooms quickly at night, and remove our shoes indoors to avoid a mosquito invasion. They also suggested that we should use spray to get rid of them. This is just a silly expectation.
Third, there is absolutely no noise isolation in the room due to bare concrete walls and a wooden door. I'm usually very tolerant of noise, but this was ridiculous. Someone on the floor above dropped a coin or a pin, and the noise woke me up. We could hear every car, every motorcycle, every guest milling about. A garbage truck woke me up at 8h30 AM. The guests make an effort to keep quiet, which is good, but it doesn't make up for poor construction. Bring earplugs.
Fourth, the room really isn't designed very well. The room is on the small side but adequate in size, but there are a few odd design choices. For instance, there is no mirror in the room. Solution? There's a small mirror on top of the closet (next to the television!), which is angled towards the ceiling. For a flashpacker-oriented guesthouse, its lack of electric plugs was puzzling. There was only one for the whole double room.
Fifth, we found the staff insincere. The owner or manager did her ten-minute routine of highlighting hot spots on the map, but you could tell she didn't care about it at all. She just rolled off the spots like a well-rehearsed routine. Nevermind that I don't drive a motorbike, know a bit of Thai, and love Thai food; I got told where to go on my imaginary motorbike, what "soi" means, and where to try Thai food in a Lonely Planet-approved restaurant. When the staff saw that we looked unhappy with the rooms, they were very quick to tell us that if we didn't renew the room before 9 AM the next day, they'd give the room to someone else. Guess what we did.
And so, the four days we had planned to stay here turned into a sorry evening. The next morning, thirty minutes before checkout, we decided to head downstairs and hang out with the cats for a cup of coffee... only to be told that the coffee machine was broken.
To end this review on a positive note, I want to mention that one of the members of the staff was very kind and helpful to us on our way out. She called a tuk-tuk for us and arranged a fair price to our next destination. Too bad the negatives outweighed the positives, and by a wide margin.
Every room is noisy, so pick one at the back of the guesthouse to avoid street noise.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.