The accommodation situation on Lanta has changed a good deal over the last few years: the main difference being the amount of new resorts, hotels and guest houses which means an increase in the selection of resorts, standards and price levels. Perhaps, as a consequence to this, the variety of guests has increased dramatically as has the amount of travel agents from abroad organizing trips to Lanta.
We are often asked if we think this is a positive trend or not, and are we not worried that Lanta will follow in the paths of other holiday destinations in Thailand. Quite honestly we can say that we in spite of the island?s fast development Lanta has maintained its original and unique feeling. In our opinion the local authorities have also lived up to their responsibilities in tightening the reins on new development by implementing strict rules for new buildings (including their height) and at the same time maintaining and reinforcing the ban on jet skis and para-gliders and now, new for this coming season, the ban on deckchairs on the beaches. The authorities are aware as to what such a large increase in tourism can bring along and, in a good way, have managed to avoid the usual traps such development can bring with it. We feel quite comfortable in stating that the development over the last five years on Lanta has improved life for both locals and visitors.
Over the years Lanta Diver has become one of the leading agents for accommodation booking on Lanta (and also the rest of Thailand, including Bangkok) where we have a very large selection of hotels in all price ranges. Maj Britt and Queen work full time all year-round in order to find good and suitable accommodation for our guests, divers and non-divers alike. The reason for Lanta Diver?s vast expansion on the accommodation scene is that we avoid automatic booking systems and maintain our personal contact with each and every person who gets in touch with us. We have learned that one family?s dream holiday is vastly different from the next family?s; we do not hesitate to offer our own personal opinions and try to give each guest an idea of the resort they are about to book. Our subjective opinions can be positive as well as negative, but we have over the years become quite good at judging what it is our different guests actually want or would like.
Unfortunately, over the past few years along with the expansion of the accommodation market a few not so serious tour operators and accommodation booking agencies have appeared on the market. It is very difficult to judge from their fancy websites whether the money you are about to pay will actually reach the resorts, or whether they do have a contract with the resort and can actually book at all. In either case you may find yourself out of pocket and with no accommodation when you turn up! In order for an agent to be legally allowed to book accommodation and in order for their guests to have protection in any shape or form the tour operator/booking agency must have a valid (they are only valid for 2 years and difficult to renew if there has been complaints) TAT license (Tourist Authority of Thailand license), so always ask for a copy of the license and if in doubt double check with the TAT via their website. All professionally run resorts and hotels will ask their agents for a TAT license before granting agent rights, but many of the resorts and hotels on Lanta and other small islands tend to forget about this, leaving the guests completely without any legal rights at all. During the past year we have had to ?rescue? several guests who have booked with these agents and found themselves with nowhere to stay having paid rather a lot of money. Remember that there are unfortunately both older and new ?agents? operating in this way, so if in doubt, double check, ask for references straight away: you will most probably not get hold of the agent when you are here as most of them do not have offices or shops where they can be reached. Even more likely is that they are for some strange reason nowhere to be found when you are looking for them to explain where your money has gone.
What, then, is our opinion about the Thai accommodation market? For one thing we have learned to take very little notice of the traditional star rating of hotels and resorts. There are small, quite basic family owned and run resorts which (through their owners? incessant and persistent efforts to keep their guests happy and comfortable) achieve results which cannot be presented through stars. There are also posh five star resorts that - despite their stars - resemble a poor version of Fawlty Towers; but obviously there are (a few) five star resorts that actually deserve the stars they so proudly display. As we are present on the island at all times it is easy for us to be updated on the affairs and happenings in all the resorts. A normally very peaceful and quiet resort can suddenly be troubled by a neighboring resort doing building work or keeping a noisy bar open to all hours. Also another resort that has never really been up to scratch can transform into a real heaven through a change of ownership, staff or a new chef and kitchen. As previously mentioned, all our opinions are subjective and obviously our thoughts and evaluations will not be shared by all. What we can promise is that we will try to do our utmost in order to provide a fair and true picture of the hotels and resorts.
There are many places to stay and the prices vary a great deal depending on time of year and season. During the low season (when a lot of resorts, restaurants and other things are closed) you can find a basic clean and ?ok? fan bungalow for about 400 Thb, sometimes even lower. During the high season the prices will at least double and during the peak period around Christmas and New Year prices are increased further. Prices for A/c bungalows and rooms are normally slightly higher than those for fan bungalows and these days the fan bungalows and rooms are located at the back of the hotels and resorts. Generally the prices for pre-booking are slightly lower than the ?walk-in? prices, but to be honest at some places the prices can be negotiable if you have the time and energy to walk around and find a free bungalow. However, the resorts we work with have promised to maintain their prices and not to have any ?special offers? in favour of walk-ins and detrimental to those who have booked and paid well in advance. What is also worth knowing is that the small, very cheap and basic resorts seldom have a functioning booking system and are often not only closed but unattended for six months of the year.
A few years ago it was, if you were not too fussy, quite easy to find a bungalow or room if you rented a moped and drove around the island. This is not the case anymore, during the past few years we have frequently had guests in the shop desperate for accommodation after having been told by friends and ?experienced Thailand travellers? that there are always free bungalows and rooms so there?s no need to pre-book. No surprise, then, do these people end up paying high prices if something can be found as the resorts are not inclined to bargain when the demand exceeds the supply; especially during the period mid-December to the end of February we definitely advise against coming to Lanta without having pre-booked accommodation.
Another big change during the past few years are the roads. The muddy, dusty and extremely bad roads are a thing of the past and now all the main roads on the island are tarmac or concrete making the resorts and beaches further down the island easily accessible. When deciding where to stay there are a few factors to take in to consideration. If you intend to stay at or around the resort and take it easy it does not really matter where the resort is located However, if your plans are to travel around and visit different restaurants or villages or you plan to dive some thought should be given to the traffic situation. Mainly at night (it is pitch black after 6.30 pm) you should try to avoid long moped trips. Even though you obviously would not consider driving a car or moped after a few beers there are unfortunately others who are not as considerate. The Lanta roads at night are quite scary. So if you plan to party and have an active night life it is a good idea to stay quite far to the north in order to minimize late transportation and if you are a diver, it might be nice to stay an extra half hour in bed in the mornings and to get back a bit earlier in the evenings. (At Lanta Diver we pick our guests up from where ever they stay on the island starting right down the southern end of the island one hour before we pick up from the resorts at the northern end).
As you have probably understood by now we are more than willing to help you book hotels, resorts and transfers regardless of whether you are a diver or not. We have a few favorite resorts which we present here and as these very often are fully booked; we also have many others which we consider to be nice and good value for money. Our resorts are carefully selected and take good care of our guests. We are in touch with the resorts daily and previous guests have been more than happy. We always try to provide you with a true and fair picture of the selected resorts and you are always welcome to get back to us for more information.
Of course we also provide transfers to and from airports, between different locations and destinations. For all transfers we provide air-conditioned minivans and all our drivers are well aware of the importance of safety and comfortable rides for the guests. Over the years we have stopped working with some companies as their drivers did not live up to our expectations and we are now quite happy with the team of drivers who transfer our guests. More and more of our vans now have child safety seats, but please be aware that Thailand is still a far cry from European safety standards when it comes to safety belts and children?s seats.
We are a bit different from the traditional travel agent, but we are very happy to help you find accommodation both on Lanta and at other destinations in Thailand. Look at our conditions for booking and have a look at the various resorts. We judge most of the resorts? prices to be fair and we have good contacts with the owners/managers and know they do their best in order to have contented guests. However, do remember that this is Thailand and you can not expect it to be home from home, this is a different part of the world, a different culture and things are valued differently, and if this is a good or bad thing then you have to judge for yourself. We hope that the tourist industry will not alter the people and the culture on Lanta too much. Thai efficiency and organization might not be what you expect, but we think this is well compensated by the wide smiles and sunny nature of the Thai people.