Third Mekong Bridge opens
NAKHON PHANOM, 17 November 2011: The Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, spanning the Mekong River, at a site 8 km north of Nakhon Phanom’s town centre, officially opened last week.
Thailand’s Princess, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, presided over the opening of the bridge, 11 November, at a ceremony attended by high ranking government officials from both Thailand and Laos.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, connects the northeastern Thai province of Nakhon Phanom with Khammouan province in central Lao PDR.
Officials said it would help to boost tourism and trade and reduce the transport delivery times for cargo between the two countries.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also attended the event.
Princess Sirindhorn also inaugurated a border pass building where an exhibition on close ties between the two neighbours is now on display.
Thailand and Laos have inked an agreement to jointly develop the economy in border areas under the theme ‘twin city’. The friendship bridge is also part of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy.
The ‘twin city’ concept is already working in two other border areas where friendship bridges opened — the first in 1994 linking Vientiane in Laos with Nong Khai province in Thailand and the second in 2006 linking Mukdahan province in Thailand with Savannakhet in Laos.
The first bridge was funded by the Australian government , while other bridges have been financed by grants and loans from Thailand and China.
The third friendship bridge is part of Asian Highway Route AH15, connecting Thailand’s Udon Thani province to Vinh in Vietnam.
The Thai government funded the construction of the third bridge with a budget of Bt1,723 million (US$57 million), while the Lao government provided land and tax privileges for the import of construction machines and materials.
The Thai construction company, Italian-Thai, started construction in 2009 on the two-lane friendship bridge. It spans 1,423 metres with a road width of 13 metres.
The construction of the Thai-Lao friendship bridge should improve cooperation between the two countries, as well build a economic corridor to Vietnam.
The bridge was commercially in business 12 November when the first group of travellers paid Bt50 each for private cars to make the crossing. Cars of seven to 12 seats are charged Bt100, while medium-sized passenger cars with 12 to 24 seats are charged Bt150 Buses pay Bt200 if they have 24 seats or more.
In addition, the province has assigned the Transport Co Ltd to introduce an international bus route from Nakhon Phanom to Khammouan.
It takes one hour and a half for the bus to complete the 29 km transfer between the two provinces and the fare costs Bt70 per person (18,000 Kips). Buses operate daily 0730 to 1800.
There is no provision for people to walk or cycle across the bridge. Cycles have to be stored on buses or in cars to cross the bridge.
Nakhon Phanom Chamber of Commerce vice president, Jit Jirachat told TTR Weekly that officials in Nakhon Phanom province were discussing with their counterparts in Khammouan Province to allow tourist buses from both provinces to cross the bridge and run their own independent services between the two province outside of the arrangement for the official bus service.
He said Laos should give an answer on the proposal by end of this month.
The bridge is part of Asian Development Bank’s East-West corridor project that envisages a road link from Myanmar passing through Thailand and Laos to Vietnam’s central region.
Most of the route is on Highway 12 that meets a new road leading to the bridge about 8 km north of Nakhon Phanom.
Once across the river the bridge road links with highway 13 in Laos north of Tha Khaek. At present tankers and commercial vehicles use a ferry that crosses from the town centre of Nakhon Phanom to Tha Khaek.
The downtown ferries will continue to serve Lao and Thai citizens only, while all commercial vehicles and buses will use the bridge.
Last year, 19,850 Thais passed Nakhon Phanom Immigration checkpoint, while there were 55,302 international tourists excluding border pass travellers.
Meanwhile, Khammouan province deputy governor Somchay Phetsinuan said the opening of the bridge should improve tourist arrivals. On average, there are 300,000 tourist arrivals to the province annually.
“The bridge connects Hom village in Meuang district of Thailand’s Nakhon Phanom province to Veun Tai village, 13 km from Tha Khaek. It now provides the shortest route for exporters trucking goods to the central seaports of Vietnam.”
Mr Somchay added: “ The bridge will now be the main international border crossing. The previous immigration checkpoint will be used only to process Lao and Thai nationals making short excursions. Everyone else will need to use the border checkpoints at the bridge.”
The bridge supports the Lao government’s policy to transform the country from a “landlocked to a land linked nation”, to bolster trade, investment and tourism.
Khammuan provincial authorities are now planning a new road as well as an upgrade of Highway 13 to improve links with Vietnam.
There are two other Lao-Thai Friendship Bridges across the Mekong. The first connects Nong Khai province in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos and the second connects Mukdahan province in Thailand with Savannakhet province in Laos.
Meanwhile, a fourth bridge is under construction to connect Thailand’s Chiang Kong in Chiang Rai and Huay Xai in Bokeo province in Laos.
This will be main overland route from China, transiting Laos and connecting with highways in Chiang Rai province to Chiang Mai, Lamphang, Phrea, and Phitsanulok all the way to Bangkok.
It should be ready to open 10 December 2012.