New bridge brings swell of Thai tourists
The new Second Friendship, Bridge linking Thailand and Laos has provided for a swell of tourists entering Vietnam on the Trans-Asia Highway.
The new bridge across the Mekong River has connected the central coast of Vietnam with Thailand via the Trans-Asia Highway, which runs from central Vietnam through Laos and Thailand to Myanmar.
Between 1999-2003, only 1,300 Thai visitors crossed into Vietnam at the highway's Lao Bao border gate in the central province of Quang Tri.
But thanks to the bridge's opening on December 20, more than 1,500 Thai tourists entered Vietnam via Lao Bao on the first day of the new year (January 1, 2007), according to the provincial tourism authority.
Recent policies to waive visas between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have also supported the boom.
The bridge is part of the Trans-Asia highway or the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) initiative which aims to boost trade, tourism and transportation along the highway.
Established at a Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) group meeting in 1998, EWEC aims to integrate the region's economies by renovating sections of the highway and strengthening its cross-border links.
Yood, a Thai driver who has transported goods between Laos and Thailand for ten years said the new bridge takes two hours off his journey by cutting out a tedious ferry queue.
The Friendship Bridge now offers north-eastern Thai residents much easier access to central Laos and Vietnam where they can visit shopping centres or tour the Laotian countryside and Vietnamese coast.
EWEC tourism development aims to bring Laotians and Thais who live inland to central Vietnam's beaches.
Director of the Quang Tri - based DMZ (De-militarised Zone) travel agency Le Van Tham said that tours of central Vietnam target high-income Thais at US$300 for an average four-day trip.
He added that World Heritage Road tours to the Central Highlands have also become increasingly popular with Thais and Laotians.
Bringing tourists to Laos
The bridge also makes it easier for Vietnamese tourists to visit Laos and Thailand.
Savanakhet, Lao's second largest city, boasts tourist attractions such as the Ing Hang Tower, Huan Hine stone house, Phone Temple, and the Hortai Pitok ancient library.
The Noong Lom and Don Deang districts on the outskirts of Savanakhet attract travellers interested in visiting primitive forests.
Many Vietnamese tourists may also choose to visit the overseas Vietnamese community in northeastern Thailand.
Large groups of overseas Vietnamese live in Mukhdahan, Nakhon Phnom, Sakhon Nakhon, Kalasin, Khonkaen, and other Thai towns.
Tham said these Viet Kieu signal a potential market for "Back Home" tours recently launched by travel agencies in Quang Tri.
(Source: Viet Nam News)
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