CHIANG RAI -Tourism in Chiang Khong has been booming since the opening of the fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge thanks to arrivals of tourists from southern China, but development of this district of the northern province of Chiang Rai is proving difficult.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) revealed the number of Chinese tourists crossing Chiang Khong border was 22,000 last year, up from 18,000 in 2012 and only a few thousand in 2011.
Isara Sathapanaset, director of the TAT’s Chiang Rai office, said arrivals had significantly increased since the success of the film Lost in Thailand (2012), which was a huge hit in China.
The opening of the bridge last December will help tourism in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, as tourists can travel easier, he said.
The bridge over the Mekong River links Chiang Khong with Ban Houayxay in Laos.
It connects with the 1,800-kilometre Highway R3A, which links Bangkok and Kunming, the capital of southern China’s Yunnan province.
Three other Thai-Lao Friendship Bridges have been built over the past 30 years.
Nong Khai’s bridge opened in 1994, followed by those in Mukdahan (with an opening ceremony in December 2006 and opened to the public the following month) and Nakhon Phanom (2011).
Mr Isara said Chinese tourists often travel in convoys of 4-8 vehicles. They usually stay in Chiang Rai on the first and last days of their stay and also visit Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Lampang, Sukhothai, Bangkok and Pattaya.
Chiang Mai’s Maejo University conducted a survey of 449 people in Chiang Khong from Feb 27 to March 27. They were asked about the readiness of the district to be a new border tourist destination.
Of the respondents, 77.5% think the opening of the bridge will increase the number of visitors, 12.9% believe the number will not change, and 9.5% expect visitors to drop since the new border crossing is more than 10 km from the previous one.
The poll also found 90% of respondents believed Chiang Khong was ready to become a new tourist destination, particularly for its culture and hotels, while 84% thought the development of Chiang Khong into a tourist destination would stimulate trade and increase local incomes, 10% had no idea, and 5.3% did not see any benefit from tourism development.
The poll revealed Chiang Khong residents wanted improvements to tourist attractions and the creation of new ones to attract visitors.
They also urged better public utilities and public relations.