HALONG BAY, 22 January 2019: Self-drive holidays spaning the Mekong Region gained an airing on the sidelines of the ASEAN Tourism Forum, last week, when Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, urged neighbouring countries to open up more land routes.
One of Thailand’s leading business newspaper, Thansettakij, reported the Minister had met with leading tourism officials from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to discuss ways to promote self-drive holidays between the four countries.
They make up an informal sub-group in ASEAN often simply referred to as CLVT. (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand).
Thailand has ambitious plans to promote travel to 55 destinations many of which share borders with Laos and Cambodia.
As more than 1 million Vietnamese tourists visited Thailand in 2018, mostly on low-cost airlines, he believes there is also potential to grow self-drive holidays that would pass through Laos to visit border provinces in Thailand.
Citing a growing economy and affluence in Vietnam he reportedly told his counterparts that Vietnam has enough luxury cars owners, who are members of car clubs, to develop self-drive holidays involving all the four countries.
There is nothing new in the message. For years travel leaders in the Mekong Region tourism industry have been arguing the case for two-way, self-drive holidays that cross international borders. However, the snags are many including strict national legislation banning right-hand drive cars entry to Vietnam, restrictive police escort rules and driving licence regulations.
Thailand also tightened rules for cars crossing the border with Laos in 2016. Strict rules virtually ended the self-drive option for Chinese holidaymakers, who travelled through Laos to visit Chiang Rai province in North Thailand in the hundreds during the cool season months.
In response to the Thansettajik report a tourism expert based in Thailand, Pasit Poomchusri posted on Facebook,
“I was a joint draftsman of the ASEAN vision on this and was the first person to talk about the promotion of single car travel…not caravans in the four countries.”
Saying self-drive holidays in the region is a part of the ASEAN 2025 vision he warned the experience had to be convenient and safe as was the case in Europe.
“If we promote (self-drive holidays) it must be free from risk not driving in the country for survival first. Do not jump forward too far with these dreams. It could be a 20 year wait.”
Another tourism expert, Mana Chobthum, added in a Facebook post, “the grouping of CLVT tourists markets are a OK, but we should look at the bigger picture and consider travel from ASEAN neighbours, not just China.
“As for overland travel by private car we have to look at Singapore and Malaysia that both have potential for self-drive holidays to Thailand.
“For the rest of the countries (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) the records show we need to improve road safety as does Thailand… It requires proper educated drivers. Traffic rules and signs need to be consistent and be the same in all the countries.”