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ATF: Vision of car travel revived


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.”


  1. Singaporean and Malaysian drivers face no obstacles in driving to Thailand (and vice versa for Thai vehicles heading to these two countries). Entry regulations are very simple and all 3 nations drive on the same side of the road. Road infrastructure varies from good to excellent in all these countries and indeed, it is very common to see Malaysian registrations driving around Thailand, not just the south where in places like Krabi, Malaysian and Singaporean cars/bikes are almost as common as Thai registrations during holiday times, but even in the north i spot an average of 2-3 Malaysian cars driving up or down the Bangkok-Chiang Mai highway almost every time i travel this stretch of road. Similarly, Thai registrations are common in Penang and also Langkawi and even occasionally make it to Kuala Lumpur.

    Thai cars can travel to Laos and vice versa without difficulty either, despite driving on opposite sides of the road to each other. Unfortunately, motorcycles can’t with Laos progressively making it more difficult for motorcycles to enter, in many cases requiring a tour and police escort.

    Cambodia definitely needs to sign a cross border transport agreement with Thailand. It is difficult to comprehend why this hasn’t happened so far, despite the positive experiences of the 21 year old agreement between Thailand and Laos. Thai vehicles can enter Cambodia at some borders but not others (and vice versa) while Cambodia does not offer insurance or any temporary import documents for foreign registrations entering the country, however Thailand does both for Cambodian vehicles entering Thailand.

    The standout country is Vietnam. Thailand also has car clubs with many well off members who have expensive cars (actually, Thais are in general far wealthier than Vietnamese) and they should be allowed to drive to Vietnam unrestricted without having to face ridiculous rules made up by old dinosaurs in the Vietnamese government who don’t allow RHD cars in as an excuse to protect local drivers who would otherwise receive less business. Only with a fair reciprocal agreement should Thailand open its doors to Vietnamese cars. In any case, Vietnam has nothing to fear from RHD cars driving on the right. UK vehicles drive all around mainland Europe without incident while 80-90% of all Burmese registrations are RHD and they also drive on the right.

  2. It’s true that Thailand and the neighboring countries, especially in the Mekong region, have different traffic rules for driving, therefore the situation in each country is different and the security and safety must be most emphasized to to deal and resolve negative factors that will harm the country. If we try to make it smooth and easy to travel by cars in this region it could encourage narcotic smuggling and human trafficking plus international crime etc. We must let the development grow slowly and this idea would go on development and progress by itself and no need to push it too much beyond what is manageable which will lead to a lack of controls.

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