Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

How making travel easier will change Laos tourism: new road and railway will draw more mainstream visitors, but will adventure seekers be put off?

A view of the Vientiane-Vang Vieng section of the China-Laos expressway in Vientiane, Laos.
Photo: Xinhua

There’s something endearing about travelling in Laos; its rugged, jungle-clad, mountainous interior provides one of Southeast Asia’s great adventures.

Because of a lack of modern infrastructure, though, such a trip can be fraught with frustration and uncertainty, especially for those on a tight schedule. Poor infrastructure also sustains poverty in remote regions.

For better or for worse, Chinese-developed and -funded infrastructure is opening Laos up to the outside world. This development is best exemplified by two major projects: the 414km (257-mile) rail link that, when it opens (scheduled for December 2021), will connect Boten in Yunnan province, on the China-Laos border, with Vientiane, the Laotian capital; and the China-Laos expressway, the Vientiane-Vang Vieng section of which was inaugurated in December 2020.

These links are expected not only to boost trade between the neighbouring nations but also to open Laos up to more international tourists.

The high-speed railway in particular is a welcome addition to Lao tourism, says Duangmala Phommavong, managing director of Exo Travel Laos – which designs itineraries for tourists – and a board member of the Laos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“It presents visitors with a fast, inexpensive transportation option for exploring northern Laos. Stations are located in all the major northeast tourism hubs [including Unesco World Heritage site Luang Prabang]. The tourism industry eagerly awaits its opening.”

As well as attracting individual travellers who would have once been put off by the limited options for getting and out of the country – expensive flights or bone-juddering bus or van journeys – the new links and associated upgrades will, Phommavong hopes, appeal to a different kind of visitor. “The luxuries offered by more modern cities could attract more higher-end, longer-staying tourists, with better accommodation, restaurants and shops selling local products.

“More tourists translates into more opportunities for tour operators and the area’s villages. This also leads to more jobs. But the stress must be placed on sustainability.”

Read the full article at South China Morning Post:

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