Franck first came to work in Koh Lanta in 2001 when Pimalai opened its portals to the world and has been here overseeing its highly successful trajectory and development ever since. Franck is better qualified than any other Westerner to comment on Koh Lanta’s development and evolution over the past couple of decades and what the future portends.
Koh Lanta is about four hours’ drive south from the Sarasin Bridge and when I first visited the island back in 2004, I described it as “Paradise Postponed” in articles I wrote.
The reason was that access to this lovely island was then constrained by the need to cross two small pieces of sea by two slow and rather decrepit vehicular ferries, which took up to two hours to negotiate, often in blazing sunshine.
Hence the island was largely undeveloped in the mainstream touristic sense, although there was an abundance of bric-a-brac backpacker-style guesthouses, bars and internet cafes strung along the cratered road that ran through the arrival town of Saladan.
Fourteen years later, in May this year, I had the great pleasure of staying at Pimalai again and catching up with Franck over a wonderful supper in Seven Seas. I asked Franck how he felt Koh Lanta was developing in these days of burgeoning tourist arrivals.
“While Pimalai goes from strength to strength in terms of occupancy, yield and customer satisfaction, it’s as though the rest of the island is stuck in a time warp. In many ways Koh Lanta is just as ramshackle and dilapidated as when I arrived here some 18 years ago. The roads, which often flood, are still deeply rutted and unfinished with clouds of dust and stones thrown up by the abundant trucks careening about. While at Pimalai we ensure that best environment practice and waste disposal are deployed, generally on Koh Lanta there’s little treatment or recycling of waste.
“I have only ever seen a single garbage truck on the island and its operations are rather mysterious and I am not entirely sure what happens to the collected garbage.”
It’s true that a bridge linking Koh Lanta Noi to its bigger “Yai” sister opened about three years ago after many years of planning, but you still have to negotiate the stretch of water between the mainland and Lanta Noi by the same decrepit ferry. Time consuming and hot it is too!
Why the first bridge took so long to be built and the second much-needed bridge is still “in planning” is a matter of conjecture on the island. When I asked Franck about this, he simply shook his head and smiled ruefully.
As the last vestiges of glorious dusk vanished over the panorama spread before us, I asked Franck what he thought the future held for Pimalai and Koh Lanta.
“We can control and maintain the beauty and pristine environment within the boundaries of the resort itself, and I am confident that our future will continue to be very successful in a sustainable way. But much evidence suggests that the island is on a downward spiral of environmental neglect which will eventually impact visitors’ willingness to come here.
“Sadly, if we look at Phuket as a model of what may happen to Koh Lanta in the future, well it doesn’t bode well, does it?”
Seated in the Seven Seas restaurant high above Kan Tiang Beach and the fabulous surrounding amphitheatre of rain forest greenery, it was easy to feel that all was well with Koh Lanta, but my return trip up the island the next day confirmed Franck’s warnings only too starkly and I couldn’t help but feel sadness that this once-lovely “little patch of heaven” was rapidly becoming “Paradise Lost” rather than just “Paradise Postponed”.
Pimalai Resort, Koh Lanta. Call +66 (0) 2320 5500 or email email@example.com