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 February 19, 2004
New Thai-Lao Bridge Approved

 The Thai Government has approved the construction of a 3.3 kilometre bridge linking Thailand and Lao PDR across the Huang River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong River. Thailand will bear the full cost of 70.75 million baht (about US$ 1.8 million) for the bridge which will link the northeastern province of Loei, Thailand, with the province of Sainyabuli, Lao PDR. Construction is expected to start in early 2004 and take about a year to complete.

The bridge is one of a number coming up across waterways in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, due to open in 2006, is being built across the lower reaches of the Mekong River linking the western Laotian province of Savannakhet and the northeastern Thai province of Mukdahan.

The bridge across the Huang River is in line with the Economic Co-operation Strategy (ECS) approved by regional governments to develop road linkages between Thailand and Lao PDR, a landlocked country which needs access to ports in Thailand.

The strategy was agreed upon during a high-level meeting between Thailand, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia on November 12, 2003, in Bagan, Myanmar. It covers co-operation in tourism as well as other issues related to Trade and Investment Facilitation, Agricultural and Industrial Cooperation, Transport Linkages and Human Resources Development.

The bridge will not immediately have an international immigration checkpoint, though that is a logical next step for governments to discuss after it is opened.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Deputy Governor for International Marketing, Mrs. Phornsiri Manoharn said, "Over time, these bridges will go a long way towards helping tour operators open up new destinations and build fly, drive, air packages in one of the most exciting and unique parts of the world.

"They are a critical element in our plans to promote international and intra-regional travel," she said.

Mrs. Phornsiri said it was very important for Northeast Thailand to get some international exposure.

Well-known for natural attractions, Loei province is home to the Phu Kradueng National and Forest Park, Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary, Phu Pha Man National Park and Phu Rua National Park.

These parks are dotted with caves and waterfalls, highlighted by beautiful scenery along the banks of the Mekong and Huang Rivers.

While Loei is a very popular destination for domestic Thai tourists, the new bridge will certainly help boost international tourism, too. In 2002, international visitors to Loei increased by 18.31% to 4,246.