BOKEO, 23 April 2015: Lao authorities expect to gain Asian Development Bank funding later this year for a project to improve roads and infrastructure in Huay Xai district of Bokeo that could boost tourist arrivals.
The proposed project will be funded by an Asian Development Bank loan at a cost of USD24 million with the Lao government contributing a modest USD1 million. Usually ADB support is partially in grants and soft loans.
The province’s deputy governor, Khamking Euaymanihak, told Vientiane Times that ADB would approve funding for the project in September.
“The project could take about two years to complete…it is critical for the province as we are preparing for the Asean Economic Community scheduled to start at the end of this year,” he told local media.
Core elements of the project focus on improving infrastructure in Huay Xai district, which faces Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province across the Mekong River. The aim is to upgrade the town so it is more “liveable for both residents and tourists.”
The project includes embankment construction, an upgrade of a river port, the creation of a seven-hectare public park and the construction of 3-km road linking the provincial town to the fourth Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge.
Embankment construction on the Mekong River is popular in Laos, mainly funded by foreign governments. But some of the embankments are eyesores with little community value. A striking example is the embankment close to a casino at the Golden Triangle. It is best described as a concrete white elephant adorned with a string of street lights to illuminate a deserted road. It has no practical value for the villagers who live on the Lao side of the Mekong River.
Authorities said they will use ADB funding to build 16 roads in the small riverside town of Huay Xai as well as drainage systems. All this is being done in the name of tourism. It is doubtful that the entire town has more than eight streets of any significance.
The fourth Friendship Bridge that connects Huay Xai to Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province is part of the R3A route identified as the North South Economic Corridor.
There are also reports that an South Korea investor will spend USD42 million to build a tourism complex with hotels, restaurants, spas, a shopping centre and a casino in the area.
There are also plans to build a second airport to replace the small one that is used for a daily domestic flight to Vientiane. A new airport that would be funded by the nearby casino could compete with Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang International Airport in Chiang Rai to attract regional flights.
Currently, about 160,000 tourists a year pass though Huay Xai on overland routes (river and bus) to Luang Prabang. Most tourists prefer to stay in Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the Mekong River and cross over to Huay Xai in the early morning to catch the ferry to Luang Prabang.