CHIANG RAI, 20 December 2016: Representatives of the public and private sectors in four upper northern provinces enjoyed a boat trip, last week, along the Mekong River that was reportedly designed to explore tourism potential in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).
Chiang Rai’s vice governor, Boonwet Sripuangjai, led the 120-km cruise that started in the riverside town of Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai and ended up river in Kenglap Township in Myanmar.
Participants were supposed to survey the potential and come up with itineraries that could be sold by travel agencies and travel booking websites that would put Chiang Rai on the tourist map.
The most popular river tour starts in Huay Xai and travels in the opposite direction, down river to Luang Prabang in Laos. Establishing tours northbound on the river has proven more problematic due to the changes in water level, while the final destinations do not command the same kind of interest as Luang Prabang with international visitors.
The deputy governor at the close of sightseeing trip said the river and towns on its banks could be ideal destinations for tourists during the winter season.
“The charms of the Greater Mekong Subregion lie in the traditional lifestyle of local people, the natural scenery on both sides of the river and the picturesque morning mist,” he said.
The vice governor of Chiang Rai added that tourism-related agencies were mulling over a plan to promote tours covering Thailand, Myanmar and Laos and possibly southern China in the future.
This is not a new consideration. Tour companies have offered itineraries to neighbouring destinations using Chiang Rai as a gateway for decades, but the one route that struck a cord with international visitors was the iconic sail down river to Luang Prabang.
Itineraries that combine Chiang Rai with the main cultural destinations in Myanmar would have a better chance of success. It would require crossing the border at Mae Sai and connecting with airlines serving Tachileik
Tachileik airport just over the border in Myanmar is served by daily flights. As of this month, seven airlines serve Tachileik covering all the popular tourist destinations in Myanmar.
Now that travel restrictions have eased a traveller can visit Chiang Rai and then continue their journey by airline using a domestic flight departing Tachileik to visit Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay or Yangon.
They will still need a visa, but that has been made more convenient with the introduction of Myanmar’s e-visa service with online payment using a credit card. Mae Sai/ Tachileik is one of just three land border checkpoints that are valid entry points for travellers who have an e-visa. It allows you to enter Myanmar via Tachileik and exit at another immigration checkpoint such as Mandalay, Bagan or Yangon.
Ending the need to backtrack to Mae Sai gives Chiang Rai the opportunity to be a gateway for travel itineraries that also feature Myanmar’s top heritage destinations. It allows travel firms to package a tour to far north Thailand and continue the itinerary to neighbouring Myanmar without retracing steps.
The downside is that some Myanmar’s domestic airlines have adopted a dual pricing policy for fares that doubles or trebles the fares for foreigners. The airline websites are not user friendly, but this gives innovative travel agents in North Thailand an opportunity to package and make the trip convenient and user-friendly for visitors.
Tachileik, is a border town in the Shan State of eastern Myanmar facing Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province. It is the administrative seat of Tachileik township and most populated city in eastern Shan State.
Chiang Rai town is 62 km south of the border town of Mae Sai, a one-hour commute by road. (Highway 1).
Airlines flying from Tachileik
Air KBZ: Heho and Yangon.
Asian Wings Airways: Heho; Kyaingtong; Lashio.
Golden Myanmar Airlines: Heho and Mandalay.
Mann Yadanarpon Airlines: Heho; Kyaingtong; Mandalay, Lashio and Myitkyina.
Myanmar Airways International: Yangon.
Yangon Airways: Heho, Lashio.
Air Mandalay: Yangon.
(Initial source: National News Bureau of Thailand with added reporting).