The first requirement of any hotel in Papua New Guinea is: is it safe? On arrival greeted by a manned security gate, high fences, barbed wire and very obvious security presence gives you great confidence in the Lae International Hotel.
The next issue: can you book a room?! Papua New Guinea is a hotel owner’s dream, where the best hotels fill every night and they just keep putting the prices up and still guests come! This is supply and demand in action, as determined by a booming, resource-driven economy and a lack of hotels.
Lae is the second largest city in Papua New Guinea; the manufacturing and industrial heart of PNG, the shortened name for the country. There are only a few hotels and the main ones are the Lae Traveller’s Inn, the Melanesian Hotel, the Huon Gulf Hotel and the Lae International Hotel, which is known as “the Inter” by locals. The Inter is the largest hotel in Lae and located in the centre of the town. It opened in 1987, with over 100 rooms.
The Lae International is well spread out over many acres and all rooms are accessed along covered walkways and stairwells. Everything is low level and rooms look out over well maintained, lush gardens. It rains a lot in Lae, making it all very tropical and green.
This spacious environment provides a chance to exercise, a treat in PNG where walking on the streets is often not advised, certainly after dark. A basic gym is also available, but with older equipment. The swimming pool is a functional rectangle, but it is surrounded by a number of shaded areas to sit under.
The Sportsman’s Bar, on the ground floor, is popular with local businessmen and has a good collection of sporting memorabilia. It is open seven days from 11am to 11pm. A quieter bar, the Aero Club is above the reception and a good place to conduct business meetings, as well as being open in the evenings.
The Kokomo, named after the Hornbill bird, coffee shop on the ground floor is perfectly acceptable. Daily specials, dinner buffet and an à la carte menu ensure that there is reasonable choice. Often in hotels in PNG, the quality and finesse of the main course is not so good; the tendency is for simple food and large quantities. At the Kokomo, the dishes tried were a surprise and well-prepared and presented. Service was friendly and efficient.
Another option is the Italian restaurant that is linked to the Kokomo coffee shop: Luluai’s Italian Restaurant which has a good selection of pizzas.
For those who want to go upmarket, the Vanda restaurant on the second floor offers the best fine dining in Lae. Open every evening, except Sunday; on Fridays it serves a seafood buffet.
Expect the cost of food to be the same as 4 and 5 star hotel restaurants in Australia, not the prices you might expect in Asian hotels of similar standards.
One of the main sources of income for the hotel is hosting conferences and the Lae International Hotel has a large conference centre that can accommodate up to 400 people. It is located next to the swimming pool and ‘break-out’ groups often make use of the shaded tables around the pool.
The hotel dates back to 1987 and is starting to fade at the edges, however, the Inter is well maintained. Rooms, whilst looking somewhat older, are perfectly well presented and of a reasonable size. Housekeeping is well organised and the rooms are clean. Facilities are adequate, although not luxurious.
We tend to judge a hotel room in PNG by very basic elements: Does the water work? Does the TV work? Is there electricity? The Lae International passes those tests and is well equipped with generators and water treatment systems. The TV reception was patchy, but did have the main international channels and most of the Australian ones. There was no safe in the room, which was a disappointment.
Real keys are used, not electronic ones, so one lesser point on the security scale. Desks have a hole to lock your lap top. Do make sure you bring with you a computer cable to lock your computer to the desk.
Another big issue in hotels in PNG can be noise. The Lae International Hotel, having rooms well spread out and most a long way from the bars, was very quiet at night. An air-conditioner that worked without emitting huge noises meant sleep was cool and peaceful.
Rooms are not cheap and equal the top end prices you might pay in Australia. The difference is that most hotels in Australia discount in some form. That rarely happens in PNG due to the high demand. The exceptions are weekends and the Lae International, like many other hotels, does occasionally offer a weekend package, so it is worth checking that out.
A real frustration in PNG is the availability of an Internet connection and, at every hotel we check, we are never sure if it will work or not. Despite signs saying that the Inter has an “improved wi fi” system, it failed to work during our stay. The business centre had computers and was well set up, but of little use without email, the main reason that we might use it, and the Internet connection failed to work there as well.
A small shop sells some local souvenirs, chocolate and newspapers. Not that you would spend much time looking, but there is a small aviary and an enclosure with tree kangaroos in it.
Lae itself, although being the second largest city and largest cargo port in Papua New Guinea, has little to offer the visitor and is not a very safe city to move around. There is a golf course, a botanical garden, an interesting war cemetery (Lae was occupied by the Japanese during World War II), a yacht club (from which the Lae Game Fishing Club operates), the annual (in October) ‘Morobe Show’ and PNG’s second largest university, the Papua New Guinea University of Technology or ‘Unitech’. The Rainforest Habitat, located on 10 hectares at the university, displays a collection of animals and birds (a full list of species can be found at www.habitat.org.pg), including about 80 specimens from 12 of the 43 known species of ‘bird of paradise’ in its 3,000 square metre rainforest enclosure.
The airport is a considerable distance away from the city and takes about 45 minutes by vehicle. It is the last known location at which Amelia Earhardt was seen before disappearing over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. The Lae International Hotel uses a transfer service run by Guard Dog Security, which they operate in a protected minibus with armed guards! From Lae there are flights to Port Moresby and some of the main towns on the island. The Highlands Highway starts in Lae and it is possible to drive up to Mount Hagen, Goroka and other highland towns, and has an off-shoot to Madang.
From our stay, it would seem that the hotel itself is one of the attractions of Lae and was very busy at the weekend with local expatriates and their families. The pizzas appear to be a big draw card.
There is little of interest around the hotel and the city centre is about 15 minutes’ walk away. Not that there is much in the centre that would encourage you to walk there! The closest alternative dining option is the Melanesian Hotel, which is about 20 minutes’ walk away, located opposite the GPO. Walking there at night is not recommended, so you would need a car to make the journey.
Overall, the Lae International Hotel is perfectly acceptable and is above the standards of most other hotels in PNG. A great feature was the friendly staff, who are very welcoming.
Lae International Hotel
4th Street, Lae, Papua New Guinea
(675 472 2000)
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