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Easier crossing into Laos thanks to a fourth bridge over the Mekong River

The opening of the fourth friendship bridge over the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos on Dec 11 is boosting trade and tourism as well as the area around the city of Chiang Khong on the Thai side.

CHIANG RAI – For the last three years, pylons, mud, dust and noise disturbed the quiet low profile life around the city of Chiang Saen, an old historical city belonging before to the Lanna kingdom and today a lively market place for all Northern Thailand hill tribes who come for trading with their Laotian counterparts. The city is today a popular destination for travellers as it serves as a gateway into neighbouring Laos. From the city of Huay Xai, on the opposite side of the Mekong, many boats offer mini-cruises on the river up to Laos old royal city of Luang Prabang.

Both cities are now linked by the bridge, which spans the Mekong river over  480 meters long; It is 14.70 meters wide allowing vehicles over two lanes. New equipment at Chiang Khong customs office has been installed to accommodate the flow of visitors. The opening ceremony has been presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on December 17. The cost for the bridge reached THB one billion (US$ 300 million).

In an interview with Thailand’s daily Bangkok Post, Sornchai Sroipongphrai, chief of Chiang Khong customs office, said that border trade at this checkpoint was estimated at 13.6 billion baht this year, up almost 9% on 12.5 billion baht in 2012. In the future, experts estimate that trade could reach 100 billion, especially following the AEC (Asean Economic Community) completion in late 2015.

The opening of the bridge will strongly reduce the cost of transporting goods. It is estimated that a container will be now charged US$ 15 instead of the US$ 60 asked until last year by ferry operators.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.