CHIANG RAI – The number of Thai tourists visiting Bokeo province is expected to double once construction of the fourth Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River in the area is finished this September.
Provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department Director, Mr Somephone Keomany, stated in the Vientiane Times on Monday that works were underway on a 200-room hotel/resort close to the soon-to-be-complete bridge on the Mekong, which will be ready to receive more visitors from neighbouring countries.
The project, backed by Korean businesses, has reached 80 percent completion.
Bokeo province has traditionally been a popular tourist destination for visitors from neighbouring countries, particularly Thai people.
“We see Thai people crossing the Mekong River by ferries from the Thai side to tour Bokeo province every day,” Mr Somephone said.
Thai tourists make up the largest visitor numbers to the province each year, followed by Chinese, but visitor numbers from Germany, France, the United Kingdom and other European countries are also sizeable.
Most visitors take a tour of the city before hopping aboard a boat headed for Luang Prabang province; however Bokeo is no longer just a stopover point, with many tourists staying for several days to explore the sights.
Many Thai tourists take the chance to visit the Special Economic Zone and popular Bokeo Nature Reserve.
Each day mini-buses full of Thai nationals can be seen around the province seeing the city, its markets, and learning a bit about traditional Lao culture.
The new Friendship Bridge is also expected to boost tourist numbers from Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore upon completion in September, while more visitors are expected from Japan and the Republic of Korea.
The bridge is part of the Greater Mekong Sub-Region North-South Economic Corridor, which links Chiang Rai province in Thailand to Yunnan province in China, via Laos.
Locally, it will connect Done village in Huayxai district, Bokeo, with Ing village in Chiang Rai.
The project is jointly funded by Laos and Thailand, with the total cost exceeding US$44.8 million.
According to Bokeo provincial officials, the Chinese government is providing US$20 million in grant aid so the Lao government can meet its 50 percent share of the costs.
Laos will also provide more than 4 billion kip in compensation payouts for people whose properties are affected on the Lao side of the bridge.
In the first six months of 2013, more than 200,000 tourists paid a visit to Bokeo; in the whole of 2012, more than 300,000 came to the area.
The increase is part of an overall national trend – in 2011, 2.7 million tourists visited Laos, which jumped to 3.4 million in 2012.
The government is targeting 3.7 million annual tourist arrivals by 2015, which would generate about US$500 million in revenue.
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao