CHIANG KHONG, Thailand, 6 December 2019: Chiang Khong’s mayor is preparing his speech for the opening of the first-ever music festival, 21 December, in this tiny Mekong River town that overlooks neighbouring Laos.
Residents are counting on their mayor to address their economic plight in a few passing words of welcome before the bands perform on a stage next to town’s old ferry port.
Since the Friendship bridge opened 11 December 2013, just seven km south of the old downtown ferry port, town folk have seen their livelihoods and business prospects sink substantially. Restaurants, shops and even the riverside hotels claim fewer visitors wander through town. In the past foreign visitors lingered around the single street near the port sipping a coffee or snacking while they waited for the ferry.
After the bridge opened, foreigners were herded south to bridge, leaving the townfolk wondering whatever happened to the tourism boom? The ferry remains for just Lao and Thai citizens who hop on for their daily market trading runs.
Organisers of the music festival claim the mayor hopes to use the event to make a plea for foreigners to be once more allowed to cross to Huay Xai in Laos on the town’s ferry.
He has the figures to back his plea. The line of trucks and cars that queued for the vehicle ferries was a captive audience. Today the streets are clear, but residents who thought it was a good idea at the time now rue the day the bridge opened.
Locals are hoping the first music festival will catch on with both residents and tourist and herald a return to the good old days.
Well-known motorcycle tour specialist and resident of Chiang Khong, David Unkovich says the festival could be a gamechanger for the tiny town. He inspired residents to give it a go noting the festival venue on the banks of the Mekong River presented an outstanding and unrivalled venue.
“There is nothing like it, and with a blues and jazz festival theme, it is different from pop festivals… It will catch the imagination of international travellers,” he confidently predicts.
He also points to the town’s success at organising weekly running events including an ultra-marathon race in November covering more than 100 km from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong.
“Every Sunday the streets are packed with runners who visit Chiang Khong to compete on quiet lanes passing through beautiful countryside with river views,” he commented noting that the organisers will move the run to Saturday 21 December to boost attendance at the music festival.
Starting just before sunset the festival’s venue is as good as it gets; bang on the banks of the river where invited bands will blast out jazz and blues with the last gig closing around 2300.
The bands from Chiang Mai and Bangkok will entertain from 1715 starting with the local Young Chiang Khong Band. That will follow on with RibbindaSky and Mulitple Standards both from Chiang Mai at 1800.
Other bands go on stage from 2100 onwards led by The GG Band featuring. Por North Gate (Saxophone) from Chiang Mai and the Midnight Ramblers travelling from Bangkok.
The final gig will be presented by another Chiang Mai band, Chiangmai Blues featuring Chart Bebop.
The event will wrap up by midnight and organisers are confident that far north Chiang Rai province will have got itself a firm fixture on the music calendar.