By Pick Keobandith

Laos has had its first ever high speed train since the 3rd December 2021. It is called Lane Xang (Million Elephants) as Laos was previously known as the Lane Xang Kingdom. The train’s exterior is red, blue and white, representing the national flag of Laos from 1975. The interior seating is patterned with Dok Champa (Magnolia champaca).

This summer, with the support of H.E Mr Phoukhong Sisoulath, ambassador of Laos in Belgium and his team at Lao Ambassy in Brussels, I had a pleasure of talking about this première with H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone, Minister of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
To what extent will the new railway link between Vientiane and Boten (the Chinese border) change the level of exchange between Laos and China ?

H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone :

  • Due to the situation of Covid and the zero Covid policy of China, the transportation of people between Laos and China is not yet possible by rail and the transportation of goods is still limited. Nevertheless, I believe that when China will be fully reopened, the use of the railway to connect between the two countries will increase because it is fast and convenient, with the last destination in China being Kunming and in Laos Vientiane. This will much contribute to the rapid socio-economic development of the Lao PDR, realising the potential for the connectivity in the region and the word at large. Thanks to the railway, landlocked Laos is effectively transforming to be a land linked country that connects ASEAN with China and Europe which will play an important part in the development of transport and communication sectors of Laos, serving as potentials for further tourism development to attract influx of tourists to Laos, logistics development, reducing transport costs, promoting the exchange of information and the movement of capital, stimulating economic development. All these will enable Laos make significant strides in national development.

This railway will also facilitate communication within Laos as it connects the Capital Vientiane to Vang Vieng and Louang Phrabang. What will it change for the citizens and businesses of Laos?

H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone :

  • I observe that after the opening of the railway, tourism within Laos has increased substantially with a large number of Lao people using the railway. Compared to the past when travel from Vientiane capital to the northern provinces of Laos usually took one day and in the rainy season it even took longer because of the road conditions. However, after the opening of the railway, the mobility between the provinces along the railway has increased and the number of tourists has increased, contributing to the fast development of the private sector. Today, the Lao PDR has near-fully reopened, reduced restrictive measures to enter the country. This has allowed for an increased number of tourists from neighbouring countries to enter Laos to use the train for visiting different provinces that offers popular tourism destinations.

This unprecedented investment is part of the much larger and ambitious pan-Asian railway plan. What is the timeline for the completion of this project? When will the Vientiane – Bangkok link be operational?

H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone :

  • The Lao-China railway project has been completed and become operational from December 2021, while trans-Asia railway networks are largely in existance. However, more rail networks will be built between countries in the region to more facilitate and develop connectivity in the region.
  • Vientiane-Bangkok rail link has been in operation since 2009 through relying on the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge I for rail transport of people and goods, using an one meter wide track, but which still has restrictions in terms of speed. The Lao PDR and Thailand have been in consultation to conduct a study and survey to design a specific bridge for railway in order to meet the ever increasing needs of rail transport.

This initiative is likely to accelerate the modernisation of the country. Is the Lao government planning specific measures to preserve Laos’s authenticity and cultural heritage which make it an attractive destination for tourism?

H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone :

  • The construction of the railway is part of the efforts to modernise the country but this modernisation is always in keeping with the Laos identity. The design for construction of rail stations was based on and inspired by the various factors of Lao identity to further emphasise the preservation of the Lao culture and national heritage. The government is promoting the tourist sites along the railway, as well as encouraging the development and exploitation of tourist sites effectively in a beneficial way, the production of products for tourism, managing tourism signs, promoting tourist markets, ensuring safety in the tourism service, exploring more tourist sites along the railway, and also encouraging investments in tourism development between Laos and China, exchange tourists, expanding tourism between Lao and China, lifting the quality of service. In exploring new tourist sites, there is the need for the protection of the environment, the nature and agriculture, as well as the historic heritages of the Lao nation.