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Pakaimas Vierra The Iron Lady of Border Trade in Chiang Rai’s Golden Triangle

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CHIANG RAI – After decades operating in the Golden Triangle, Pakaimas Vierra is known not only as a leading business person, but also an iron lady.

A media personality turned businesswoman, Ms Pakaimas owns the Mekong Delta Hotel in Chiang Rai on the Thai-Myanmar border. She is one of the few operators who managed to successfully reap the benefit of late prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan’s “turn battlefields to marketplaces” initiative in the early 1990s.

Ms Pakaimas, also known as Jae Tim, pioneered border trade with neighbouring countries at a time when few men dared to. Now her businesses span tax-free shops operated under the Indochina brand; tourism activities, both on land and water and in neighbouring countries; and Mekong River transport.

She owns the first Thai vessel to cruise the Mekong River. With three modern ships in the fleet, her tours cover Xishuangbanna and Jinghong in southern China and Luang Prabang in Laos. Ms Pakaimas wants to add two more ships to her fleet.

She upgraded her hotel from a boutique to a 100+ room facility and is now in negotiations with major national and international hotel chains, including Furama. The development is just in time for a tourism boom and influx of people and goods from China. The river has been populated for centuries, linking the area to the sea.

Ms Pakaimas’s businesses include tour boats and cargo ships along the Mekong River. – Photo Nauvarat Suksamran.

Her business also offers exploration tours and caravan trips along the R3A and R3B roads to southern China, as well as other destinations.

Ms Pakaimas decided to open the Mekong Delta Hotel in Mae Sai, just 3 kilometers from Tachileik in Myanmar, in 1999. She considered it a natural expansion from her tour company business, which at times encountered uncertainty as a result of border conflicts and clashes involving ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.

The hotel, which is situated about 3km from the famous Tham Luang cave, boasts complete multi-purpose services, with modern meeting facilities and conference rooms.

Tours to neighboring countries have become more popular, and a stable border situation helps the business, Ms Pakaimas said.

Mae Sai is a major border town that receives not only a huge number of goods from China via Myanmar, but also visitors in accordance with China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

With three modern ships in the fleet, her tours cover Xishuangbanna and Jinghong in southern China and Luang Prabang in Laos.

“Our facilities as a mid-sized hotel on the border can cater to state authorities who are on study trips, especially those with work involving customs, immigration and border issues,” Ms Pakaimas said. “Many guests are members of chambers of commerce or port authorities. We are the best-equipped place for study trips.”

Most of the hotel patrons are Thais, she said. There are also facilities for VIPs.

She tends to forward foreign visitors to five-star hotels in Chiang Saen or Chiang Rai.

As China has aggressively pursued its One Belt, One Road initiative through rapid infrastructure development, Ms Pakaimas’s business empire and her role as a leading figure in the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, Thailand-Myanmar Culture Association and Thailand-China Culture Association has been strengthened.

Building connections with security and development agencies can play a vital role in linking those interested in opening new markets in neighboring countries, especially in southern China, she said.

She confirmed that Mekong Delta is in talks with international hotel chains for further development.

Major hotels in nearby areas such as Kengtung, Myanmar are operated by local investors open to Thai business counterparts, Ms Pakaimas said.

Her duty-free shops in Tachileik, Myanmar and Bokeo, Laos are thriving. She is considering another such shop in Mae Sai and wants to cooperate with investors to develop a warehouse at Chiang Saen port.

Ms Pakaimas travel agency and hotel in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai.

Over the years, Ms Pakaimas has worked together with state authorities to solve problems for investors wishing to explore new markets in the border areas. She has arranged a series of caravan trips for Thai traders to Kengtung and Taunggyi in Myanmar, as well as Jinghong in southern China.

Ms Pakaimas also organized study tours for various groups, including companies that wanted a dialogue with authorities in China, Myanmar and Laos along the R3B Road from Mae Sai to Tachileik, Kengtung and southern China, as well as the R3A Road stretching from Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai to Bokeo and southern China.

Both roads are major routes for goods transport in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and they pass key border towns in China.

She sees potential in the new Mekong bridge that links Pong in Myanmar to Luang Namtha in Laos, due to open this month. It will serve as a major goods transport route to southern China. There is another Mekong bridge in Xishuangbanna near Galanpa town, linked by train from Kunming.

The bridges can accommodate trips along the Mekong River from Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai to ports in southern China and Laos, Ms Pakaimas said.

“The Port Authority of Thailand already signed a memorandum of understanding with its Laotian counterpart to promote cooperation, and a similar document is scheduled to be signed between Thai officials, authorities in Guan Lei, China and Pong, Myanmar very soon,” she said.

The Mekong River remains important for year-round water transport. Efficient water control from Jinghong dam makes it possible for large ships with almost 500 tonnage gross to cruise the river.

One potential business is a vessel with storage facilities for frozen chicken from Thailand to Guan Lei port, which is known as a market with unlimited demand, Ms Pakaimas said.

Oil tankers can reach Sobloy port in a special administrative zone that links China and Myanmar. This area in under the influence of Red Wa, an organised crime gang.

Ms Pakaimas is a key figure in the trade routes to southern China. Her sincere and straightforward business style has helped her gain trust from Myanmar generals, investors and authorities in China and Laos.

In recent decades, she has been invited to several business forums on border trade, while the Thai authorities and companies seek her advice and cooperation on border trade opportunities in the area.

But she is also known for her big heart.

Ms Pakaimas has made full use of her connections to facilitate several successful missions behind the scenes, including the rescue operation at Tham Luang cave where she helped coordinate assistance for the cave experts. She also lent a hand during several crackdowns on border crime.

“We must be ready for new developments, such as a railway network from Kunming, China to the Thai border via Xishuangbanna through Laos,” she said. “New cities are being constructed and will soon be completed. Once finished, lots of people will move quickly to Xishuangbanna.”

By Nauvarat Suksamran
Bangkok Post