Mekong mulls its 2019 meeting moments


DALI, 8 October 2018: The 2019 annual Mekong Tourism Forum will be held in Dali at the end of May, according to Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director Jens Thraenhart.

He is currently on an inspection trip of the conference host city with officials from the Yunnan Tourism Development Commission and Dali Prefecture Development Commission.

In a Facebook Page post on Saturday he said discussions had narrowed down the conference dates to the “end of May.”

At the close of this year’s MTF hosted 26 to 29 June in Nakhon Phanom in Northeast Thailand, Chinese officials confirmed the 2019 destination venue was Dali, but said questions remained on whether the event should be moved back to its traditional May slot or dates in early June.

Thraenhart said in his Facebook Post, “Dali is truly a spectacular destinations and exciting host venue for the MTF.”

A highlight of the MTF is its optional post-event tours. At the weekend, Thraenhart inspected post trip options, one of them being a visit to Shaxi, a famed market town on the ancient Tea Horse Trail linking China to Europe.

The historical market town in Jian Chuan county, Dali prefecture, Yunnan province, lies halfway between Dali town and Lijiang.

Shaxi’s major tourist attraction is the Sideng market square, which according Thraenhart made the World Watch List of 100 most endangered sites in 2011.

Whether it still remains in danger possibly from ‘overtourism’ and commercial development is likely to crop up as a topic during the MTF next year.

Thraenhart in his Facebook post concluded: “We are planning something very unique, never been done before. Stay tuned.”

But MTF’s avid supporters and potential delegates will encounter some logistic challenges staying tuned if they are not residents in China.

Obtaining a visa is one challenge. It will cost USD30 and requires a visit to a Chinese consulate or embassy.  The passport must be valid for at least six months.  MTF’s host committee in Dali will need to provide delegates with an invitation letter.  Technically, attending an event in China comes under the business visa category.  Visas are valid for a visit of up to 90 days.

We checked Skyscanner for fares to Dali from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, three major regional airline hubs gateways, for flights during the last week of May 2019.


From Bangkok the fastest travel time to Dali requires a combination of Thai Airways International and China Eastern flights.  The routing involves a change of airline in Kunming, China, for the domestic flight to Dali.  The overall travel-time is six hours 35 minutes departing Bangkok at 1045 and arriving in Dali at 1820. It will set you back THB37,739 (USD1,500) for the roundtrip fare.

China Eastern has the cheapest deal at THB13,575 (USD414) with a travel time of 11 hours and 25 minutes each way and a change of plane in Chengdu. The outbound flight departs at 0325 and gets you to Dali’s airport by 1550 the same day.

Kuala Lumpur

For the fastest travel time, from Kuala Lumpur expect to pay THB31,217 (USD952) on a routing combining China Eastern and Lucky Air flights. The end-to-end journey of 15 hours and 10 minutes requires a change of airline in Shanghai.
The return trip is shorter with a travel time of six hours and 35 minutes via Kunming.  The Flight departs KUL at 0210 and gets you in DLU at 1720.

The cheapest fare at THB26,419 (USD806) requires a marathon journey of 25 hours and 10 minutes on the outbound route flying China Eastern with a change of plane in Shanghai. The outbound flight departs KUL at 1610 and gets you in DLU at 1720 on the following day.
The return routing is a combination of China Eastern and Lucky Air with a change of airline in Kunming and shorter travel time of six hours and 35 minutes.


The same time consuming travel routes emerge for flights booked out of Singapore.

The fastest roundtrip travel time is achieved with a combination of Silk Air and China Eastern on the outbound route logging an overall travel time of 15 hours and 45 minutes with a change of airline in Chengdu.
The return leg on China Eastern and Sichuan Airlines offers a shorter trip of eight hours and 30 minutes with a change of airline in Chengdu.  The penalty for time starved MTF delegates is a fare of THB72,212 (USD2,198), which is ludicrously expensive considering the actual flight distance.

The cheapest fare at THB32,349 (USD986)  is on offer from Air China both ways with a change of plane in Beijing. But wait for it you will be travelling for 25 hours and 30 minutes on the outbound trip departing Singapore at 0900 and arriving in Dali at 1030 on the following day.

The return trip departs Dali at 1120 and travel time end- to-end, with a change of plane in Beijing, is 19 hours and 10 minutes. You are back in Singapore at 0630 also on the following morning.

Travel starved or financially challenged getting to the Mekong Tourism Forum will once more illustrate just how disconnected the Mekong Region’s secondary destinations are from the major aviation gateways of Asia. Ironically, they are also happen to be the most fascinating destinations to visit.

However, Thraenhart has a response. He said:”One thing you (you might consider) is the high-speed train now available from Kunming to Dali… tickets can be booked online at ctrip or
“Also this December, a new high-speed train will open from Dali to Lijiang, around a one hour trip , according to local tourism officials, which will open up Lijiang as a post tour destination for MTF delegates.”
So the train wins. Fly to Kunming on THAI from Bangkok and take a train trip to Dali.


  1. I would suggest to travel overland instead of flying – at least from Thailand. From Chiang Rai, you can travel to Jinghong and then continue straight to Dali. This will be an adventure, you will not forget easily. Also, you’re not dependent of any airlines to fly with.


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