Feb 1, 2014

Laos - from a landlocked to a landlinked country

Landlocked Laos is fast turning into land-linked after the newest bridge over the Mekong River separating the country from Thailand opened last month and plans for railway links begin to take shape.

The director general marketing, Saly Phimphinith, said the newest Mekong River Bridge linking Chiang Rai province in Thailand and Huay Xai in Laos would accelerate tourism growth in Northern provinces bringing more tourists from China and Thailand.

The road bridge opened in mid-December 2013 linking highways in Chiang Rai province with the R3A route north to Luang Namtha, and Yunnan province in China.

Already there is a steady stream of container trucks plying the R3A route to transport Chinese exports from Kunming to northern Laos and all the way to the Laem Chabang seaport on the Gulf of Thailand.

Tourism is expanding, too, with Chinese bus tours from Yunnan and private cars visiting Laos and North Thailand.

The deputy director also noted that an agreement had been reached with China to build a rail line from Luang Namtha, in the far north of Laos, all the way to the Vientiane and the border with Thailand via the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang.

It would merge with rail lines in China to Kunming and would eventually be part of a high-speed rail network covering Thailand south to Malaysia.

Malaysia investors recently agreed to build a 220 km rail line from Savannakhet in central Laos to the border with Vietnam where it would merge with Vietnam’s rail system to coastal towns in the central region including Danang.

In the west the line would end at the Mekong River border town of Savannakhet that faces the Thai town of Mukdahan. Cost of the project is estimated at M$5 billion and will not be completed until 2020. The Lao PDR government has already approved a plan to expand the airport at Vientiane with a new international terminal. A new terminal at Luang Prabang, the country’s most popular destination, was completed last year.

Laos attracted an estimated 3.7 million tourists, last year, of which 91% came from Asia. The top market was Thailand, followed by Vietnam, China, South Korea and the United States.

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