Laos and Thailand have commenced a trial run of the new cross-border railway service before its official launch, which is expected to be announced within the upcoming few months.

Operated by the Lao National Railway State Enterprise under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, in collaboration with the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), the trials are scheduled to take place between 14 and 17 May from Thanaleng Railway Station to Vientiane Khamsavath Station in Laos.

After this initial trial run, the testing will further extend from Udon Thani Railway Station and Nong Khai Station in Thailand to Laos’ Thanaleng Railway Station and Khamsavath Station from 18-20 May. 

The construction of the Lao-Thai Railway Project began in 2013 with an initial completion target set for the end of 2021. However, the Khamsavath Station project encountered delays, resulting in its completion in 2023.

The Lao-Thai Railway and the Laos-China Railway are crucial components of a regional rail network aimed at connecting China to Singapore through Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. 

While the rail train was anticipated, the first regional express freight train from China-Laos-Thailand-Malaysia, carrying 30 containers of electronics and vehicles, recently departed from Chengdu, China. Its destination is Port Klang, Malaysia, with stops in Laos and Thailand along the way.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/15/laos-thailand-railway-prepares-for-official-opening-with-trial-runs/

Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 9 May in Moscow during his visit to Russia from 7 to 11 May. The leaders praised the strong and growing relationship between their countries and reaffirmed their commitment to enhance cooperation, particularly in trade, defense, and cultural exchange.

President Thongloun highlighted the successful implementation of the Treaty on Amity signed three decades ago, stating that the current period favors the further development of bilateral relations and friendship. He proposed continued cooperation and the implementation of various proposals to deepen ties.

Putin acknowledged the recent 12-percent growth in two-way trade and economic relations. He also mentioned the expansion of defense and security cooperation and expressed gratitude for Laos’ support of Russian language studies.

During his visit, Thongloun also attended the Victory Day parade in Moscow, marking the 79th anniversary of the Great Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The Russian president thanked Laos for providing T-34 tanks to Russia, which he described as symbols of victory.
Putin emphasized that fostering a strategic partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a key foreign policy priority for Russia.

In addition to meeting with Vladimir Putin, President Thongloun held talks with Dmitry Medvedev, Chairman of the United Russia Political Party to further strengthen ties between the two countries.

The meeting between the two presidents marks a significant milestone in the 30-year friendship between Laos and Russia. Both leaders expressed optimism about the future of their relationship and the continued growth of cooperation in various fields.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/13/lao-russian-presidents-celebrate-30-years-of-friendship-in-moscow/

Laos, like many developing nations, faces challenges in maintaining its road networks, which are crucial for transportation and connectivity. Recognizing the importance of well-maintained roads for Laos’ development, Japan has stepped forward with a commitment to assist in overcoming this challenge.

As part of this pledge, Japan will provide 24 units of essential road repair equipment, comprising road stabilizers and motor graders, to the Lao government.

The equipment, valued at 800 million yen (approximately USD 5.3 million), will be deployed nationwide to facilitate road repairs. This assistance comes as part of a broader aid package, with Japan committing 1.5 billion yen (approximately USD 10 million) in new aid signed on 26 April.

Photo supplied.

A ceremony was held in Vientiane on 9 May for the handover of the “Economic and Social Development Program (Road Repair Related Equipment).” Japanese Ambassador Kobayashi Kenichi presided over the event.

Traditionally, road repair in Laos involved removing pavement sections and laying new pavement after waste disposal. However, with the introduction of new support equipment, old pavement can now be reused as new pavement material during road construction.

These efforts are expected to extend the service life of roads, shorten construction periods, reduce costs, minimize environmental impact by reducing road waste, and expedite recovery from disasters.

Japan has been a key partner in Laos’ infrastructure development journey, supporting projects such as the Second Mekong International Bridge, Pakse Bridge, National Road No. 9, and Vientiane National Road No. 1. These initiatives not only enhance comfort and safety for residents but also strengthen crucial logistics routes vital for economic, industrial, and trade development in Laos.

The partnership between Japan and Laos has flourished since its elevation to a strategic partnership in 2015. Japan remains committed to addressing Laos’ diverse challenges through effective cooperation for sustainable economic and social development.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/10/japan-boosts-road-repair-efforts-in-laos-with-new-equipment-handover/

In a move to combat climate change, the Lao government, in partnership with AIDC Green Forest, is launching a forest carbon credit initiative (REDD+) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from forest destruction and degradation.

The initiative, announced at a signing ceremony on 5 May, follows international standards and is a crucial national strategy to combat climate change. While REDD stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” the REDD+ program includes managing and protecting forests, building learning centers, patrolling, and enhancing people’s livelihoods. 

Under the agreement, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will work with AIDC Green Forest to implement the project. This initiative is not only about protecting and restoring forests but also improving the quality of life for local communities. However, despite the recent announcement, no other information regarding the practical approach of the project has been released.

According to Pheutsapha Phoummasak, President of AIDC Green Forest, the scheme aligns with global efforts to reduce forest destruction, a major contributor to climate change. He emphasized that it will also strengthen the national economy and contribute to the overall development of Lao society.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project was signed in December 2022, which involved a feasibility study of 10 forests covering 1.7 million hectares. 

From these, eight forests were selected for the initiative, including Phou Khao Khouay National Park, the Nam Muan-Nam Ngoung National Protected Area, Nam Ngum National Protected Area, Phou Phanang National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area, Phoukhiew-Phouthan-Phouhai National Protected Area, Nong Ta Ngok National Productive Forest, Trans-Boundary Biodiversity Conservation in Protected Forests between Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, the Phou Hin Poun Protected Area

The project is expected to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.4 million tonnes annually, contributing to Laos’ Nationally Determined Contribution. This includes measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance climate resilience.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/09/laos-launches-forest-carbon-credit-initiative-to-combat-climate-change/

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) launched the ASEAN-EU Blue Book 2024-2025 at the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta on 8 May. The Blue Book underscores the strategic partnership between ASEAN and the EU and showcases new cooperation programs under the EU’s Global Gateway strategy.

The launch event was officiated by Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN; Sujiro Seam, Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN; and Hjayceelyn M. Quintana, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN and Country Coordinator for ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations. Diplomats from Permanent Missions and Embassies of EU Member States graced the occasion along with staff from the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN-EU programs. 

The Blue Book serves as a testament to the robust and comprehensive cooperation between ASEAN and the EU with the aim of ensuring regional peace and security, fostering sustainable connectivity, promoting free and fair trade, and advancing sustainable development across ASEAN.

This year’s Blue Book also highlights the Team Europe approach and Initiatives on sustainable connectivity and green transition in the ASEAN region. Under the Global Gateway strategy, the EU has pledged to mobilize EUR 10 billion in investment from Team Europe for green and connectivity programs in ASEAN. 

‘In 47 years of ASEAN-EU relations, we have proven the strength of our strategic partnership and what we can do together in the face of global challenges. This Blue Book offers a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted and deep relationship between our regions and the commitments of our two regions to join hands in the pursuit of our common goals,’ said Sujiro Seam, Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN.

Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN, Sujiro Seam (Photo supplied)

‘The ASEAN-EU Blue Book continues to serve as a valuable platform in showcasing the EU’s meaningful support towards ASEAN Community-building efforts, the potential of our Strategic Partnership as well as the progress and key achievements in the implementation of the ASEAN-EU Plan of Action (2023-2027). I share the significance of the Blue Book in advancing the visibility of our partnership to generate awareness among all stakeholders in our regions,’ said Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN.

Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN (photo supplied)

Ambassador Hjayceelyn M. Quintana also conveyed that, ‘As we go through every page of the Blue Book, I invite our ASEAN and EU partners to implement more activities and projects that would further enhance our partnership.  Deepening the strategic partnership between ASEAN and EU, two of the world’s most advanced and successful regional organizations could serve as a model of partnership for other groupings around the world, which contribute to the promotion of international peace, stability, and prosperity.’

Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN and Country Coordinator for ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations Hjayceelyn M. Quintana (Photo supplied)

Highlights of the ASEAN-EU Blue Book 2024-2025 include:

  1. The December 2022 ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit and the 24th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting, held in February 2024 in Brussels;
  2. The Global Gateway initiative, showcasing the EU’s commitment of €10 billion from Team Europe for green and connectivity projects in ASEAN;
  3. The October 2023 5th ASEAN-EU Policy Dialogue on Human Rights, preceded by the 3rd ASEAN-EU Civil Society Forum and followed by the AICHR-EU study visit to Strasbourg;
  4. EU cooperation priorities and updates on EU-supported projects across key sectors in ASEAN;
  5. Compelling stories from the field, illustrating the tangible impact of ASEAN-EU cooperation on the lives of ASEAN’s citizens

Download the ASEAN-EU Blue Book 2024-2025:

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/09/forging-forward-asean-eu-launch-blue-book-2024-2025/

https://europa.eu/!kkmHnD

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/09/forging-forward-asean-eu-launch-blue-book-2024-2025/

In Laos, where traditional retail infrastructure lags behind its Southeast Asian neighbors, online shopping has become a trend despite its limited e-commerce presence, largely driven by social media platforms and innovative cross-border shopping.

With a lack of established e-commerce platforms within the country, Lao citizens have adapted by leveraging social media, particularly Facebook and TikTok, as a virtual marketplace. Groups and pages dedicated to buying and selling everything from clothing to electronics have proliferated, creating an online shopping ecosystem.

Phiyada “Namfon” Ounthong, a 24-year-old employee, has been selling home appliances and clothes on her personal Facebook account since 2019 to make extra income. She explained that she opted for Facebook as her sales platform because it is the most widely used compared to others.

“Many people have started buying things online because of how convenient it is,” Namfon said. 

“Customers can select their preferred products and price, and then either collect them from a shipping company of their choice or have them delivered to their doorstep.”

Namfon added that she has her customers transfer money to her personal bank account and then deliver the products to a shipping company chosen by the customer.

Despite the slow emergence of e-commerce in Laos, some goods demanded by customers may not be available in-country. This situation forces Lao people to navigate the complexity of the problem by using middlemen to facilitate cross-border shipping. For instance, many buyers have found ways to purchase and receive products from Thai e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Lazada, which do not typically deliver to Laos.

Dokfa Malaythong, a 23-year-old resident of Vientiane Capital, often shops in Thailand and appreciates the diverse range of products available there compared to Laos.

“In Thailand, they have unique clothing styles that I like but can’t find in Laos,” Dokfa said. “One of my most unique purchases from Thailand was an LED clip-on reading light, something Laos doesn’t offer.”

She explained that some people in Laos even buy food and food-related products from Thailand, showing the diverse needs of Lao people that go beyond what their own country offers.

“I order and pay for the products on the official e-commerce website before paying the middleman to retrieve them for me,” Dokfa added. Without revealing the middleman’s identity, she mentioned that her products usually arrive at a storage room provided by the middleman, where she goes to retrieve them and complete her purchases.

E-commerce has become increasingly popular in Laos, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has led the Lao government to recognize the importance of establishing clear regulations to safeguard investors. The introduction of a new decree to support e-commerce growth has bolstered trust in digital transactions among both businesses and consumers.

Latthana Douangboupha, the deputy director general of the SMEs Promotion Department in the Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce, highlighted the importance of e-commerce in empowering SMEs during a seminar in Vientiane on 15 September last year. The seminar aimed to develop e-commerce policies and strategies to strengthen SMEs in the digital era, with government officials and representatives from various Lao companies gathering to exchange knowledge and experiences in e-commerce and digital business. 

Despite the apparent success of online shopping in Laos, challenges remain. The reliance on social media and informal cross-border arrangements can be risky, with issues such as fraud and product quality concerns being raised. Furthermore, the lack of a formal e-commerce system within Laos limits the potential for growth and the establishment of consumer protections that are standard in more developed e-commerce markets.

Laos’ online shopping landscape presents a unique case study in the evolution of e-commerce in developing countries. As online shopping continues to grow in popularity, there is a pressing need to develop formal e-commerce regulations within Laos to ensure consumer protection and sustainable growth.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/09/laos-embraces-online-shopping-via-social-media-cross-border-innovation/

Tour guide wearing a mask

In response to the surge in tourism, Laos is ramping up efforts to ensure tour guides are well-equipped, as many currently lack adequate training. 

Deputy Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Darany Phommavongsa spearheaded discussions on this issue, highlighting the importance of preparing guides for the influx of visitors. 

A training course, scheduled from 6 May to 19 July in Vientiane Capital, will focus on imparting essential skills for guiding tourists across Laos’ key sites, blending classroom teachings with practical field exercises. Darany emphasized the critical need for proficient guides to maintain high standards and curb the unlawful practice of foreign guides taking local positions.

The primary goal of this course is to prepare tour guides to meet the increasing demands of domestic tourism. Since Laos officially reopened after the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2022, there has been a rapid increase in tourist numbers, with around 3.4 million visitors recorded in 2023 alone. Popular destinations such as Vientiane Province’s Vang Vieng, Feuang District, Luang Prabang, and Champasack Provinces have seen significant increases in visitor numbers.

Alongside this tourism growth, the sector is facing operational challenges due to a shortage of skilled workers, particularly tour guides. There is a specific lack of guides who are fluent in languages spoken by tourists from various countries, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, English, and French, among others.

Darany stressed the necessity of maintaining high standards in the tourism sector and ensuring that trained guides meet the expected criteria. She cited concerns over the prevalence of unqualified foreign guides, which contravenes existing regulations.

“This job should be reserved solely for Lao nationals and we should not allow people from other countries to do this job. But to be successful, we must strengthen our capabilities in this domain to supply a sufficient number of qualified guides to cater to all visitors,” she said.

However, the issue of a shortage of tourism workers is a recurring challenge for the tourism industry in Laos, as discussed by several tourism experts in January 2023.

Jason Rolan, an American tourism expert based in Laos, echoed Darany’s statement while sharing his own. From Rolan’s perspective, Laos’ tour guide availability is cripplingly low during peak periods for certain markets. This seasonal polarity is a constant problem. “Historically, the high periods are extremely high, while the low periods are often very quiet,” he added.

“Specifically, for the Chinese market, there is a shortage of guides as the number of Chinese tourists visiting Laos is increasing due to improved connectivity. It’s time for the guide pool to keep up,” said Rolan.

According to the tourism expert, the shortage stemmed from the impact of Covid-19, which he described as “dealt an awful blow to the tourism industry,”  including tour guides. This global pandemic has driven numerous workers away to find work in other fields, as tourists could not visit Laos. After the pandemic subsided, many workers who left the industry did not return.

“The industry needs to find enough people to replace them and recruit more to supply certain markets which are also increasing,” added Rolan. 

Rolan attributed the challenges of recruiting new guides to limited guide training sessions, typically held only once per year and for a maximum of around 50 people. He also noted that most Lao people do not usually view tourism and hospitality jobs as stable career paths. 

With over 1.1 million foreign tourists visiting Laos in the first quarter of this year, a 36 percent increase from 2023, the demand for skilled guides is more pressing than ever. This surge is due to the ongoing Visit Laos Year campaign and the rising popularity of the Laos-China Railway, which traverses through tourist-rich provinces like Luang Prabang and Oudomxay.

Under the Visit Laos Year 2024 initiative, tourism authorities and businesses are enhancing services at accommodations, eateries, and attractions to enhance the overall visitor experience. 

As Laos gears up to host more tourists, ensuring well-trained guides is paramount. By prioritizing local talent, the country aims to not only meet but exceed visitor expectations, offering a memorable and enriching experience for all.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/08/laos-to-enhance-tour-guide-training-to-meet-growing-tourism-demands/

The first China-Laos-Thailand-Malaysia express freight train began its journey from Chengdu, the capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan Province on 30 April, and it is expected to arrive in Port Klang in Malaysia on 8 May.

Loaded with 30 containers filled with Liquid Crystal Display monitors and new energy vehicles, the train is traveling along the China-Laos railway line, traversing through the rail networks of Laos and Thailand before reaching its final destination in Malaysia.

This all-rail expedition is projected to cover the distance to Thailand in merely five days and to Malaysia in eight days, presenting a substantial reduction in transit time by approximately 50 percent when compared to the traditional sea route originating from Qinzhou City in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Industry experts anticipate that this new rail route will not only bolster the Laos-China rail services but also foster stronger economic and trade relationships among China, Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. Additionally, it is expected to expedite the expansion of the regional inland railway network, providing crucial support for economic interactions and growth between Sichuan and Southeast Asia.

This recent development builds upon the collaborative efforts between China and Thailand in linking their railway networks via the Laos-China railway line. Notably, this integration has substantially reduced transportation durations from Thailand to southwest China, reducing the timeframe from one week via sea transportation to about one to two days.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/06/new-express-freight-train-links-china-laos-thailand-malaysia-in-regional-trade-boost/

Laos is targeting a significant increase in tourism in 2024, with over 1 million foreign tourists already welcomed in the first three months of the year. The top arrival was from Thailand, with 337,689 visitors, according to the Tourism Development Department of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism.

With Thailand remaining the leading source of visitors to Laos, Vietnam came second with 263,160 arrivals in the first quarter of 2024. China, the Republic of Korea, and the United States follow closely behind, highlighting the country’s appeal to a diverse range of international tourists.

ASEAN countries alone recorded a total visitors of 620,250 while the accumulated numbers of visitors were from Asia and the Pacific. Other contributors include countries from Europe totaling 84,788 visitors, 35,191 visitors from the Americans, and only 2,539 visitors from Africa and Middle East countries combined

Laos’s appeal as a travel destination has been recognized by various travel magazines, which have lauded it as an attractive destination for “slow travel.” Its cultural attractions, outdoor experiences, and timeless charm have been singled out as key draws for tourists seeking a unique and authentic travel experience.

The Lao government is optimistic about the future of tourism in the country and aims to host at least 4.6 million international tourists in 2024, generating an estimated revenue of 1.3 billion USD. With its diverse attractions and commitment to sustainable tourism practices, Laos is poised to emerge as a leading travel destination in Southeast Asia.

To achieve its tourism goals for 2024, Laos has implemented short-term and long-term strategies to enhance its competitiveness in the region. These strategies are expected to not only boost tourism but also contribute significantly to the country’s economic recovery and development.

Laos’s tourism sector is seeing promising growth, with the Visit Laos Year 2024 campaign playing an important role in attracting visitors and displaying the country’s art, culture, and traditions. The campaign aims to not only promote tourism but also to educate tourists about Laos’s history and the sustainable use of its natural resources

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/05/02/laos-welcomes-over-1-million-tourists-in-first-quarter-of-2024/

The Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) 2024 kicked off on 25 April in Lijiang, China, under the theme “Visionary Journeys: Redefining Tomorrow’s Travel.” This prominent gathering involved pivotal figures from the travel sector across the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), which included Laos, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, focusing on transformative discussions to reshape the region’s travel landscape.

The event saw over 400 attendees, including tourism ministers, industry leaders, non-governmental organizations, the media, and private sector representatives. Discussions at the forum concentrated on innovation, collaboration, and progressive strategies aimed at developing tourism that is economically advantageous, environmentally sustainable, and culturally enriching.

Participants at the event. Photo supplied.

The keynote address by Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism, Zhang Zheng, highlighted the evolution towards sustainable and aware tourism in the GMS and advocated for enhanced cooperation to develop a regional tourism brand and improve the resilience of tourism in the area. His speech emphasized China’s readiness to enhance collaborative efforts with GMS countries to lift tourism cooperation to new levels.

From Laos, Khom Douangchantha, Director General of the Tourism Marketing Department, and Kettasone Sundara, Director of the Tourism Marketing Activities Division, were present, highlighting Laos’ active role in influencing the future of GMS tourism. Notably, Khom received the Mekong Tourism Forum flag from the Chinese hosts, marking the transition of the forum’s venue to Luang Prabang, Laos, for the upcoming MTF in May 2025. 

Aditta Kittikhoun, Senior Partner at RDK Group, sharing his insight at the summit

Additionally, representing Laos at the panel titled “Crossing Bridges, Building Connections for Cultural Integration and Prosperity” was Aditta Kittikhoun, Senior Partner at RDK Group, a Laos-based media and marketing firm. Aditta shared his expertise on the shifting digital media landscape and its influence on tourism marketing in the GMS countries, highlighting the critical role of digital communication in promoting cultural integration and economic prosperity within the region.

Delegates also gained valuable insights about culture and tourism investment in Lijiang from Kimi Xiaozhou Liu, CEO of TripAdvisor China and Vice President of Trip.com Group. Liu delivered a keynote speech titled “Visionary Journeys: Redefining Tomorrow’s Travel”, which provided a comprehensive view of future travel trends and strategies essential for the sustainable development of the tourism industry in the GMS.

Suvimol Thanasarakij, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, stressed the importance of sharing best practices and innovative strategies among GMS countries to foster a unified and prosperous tourism future. The gathering in Lijiang offers an unparalleled opportunity for stakeholders to collaborate on innovative tourism models that prioritize inclusivity and community involvement.

The forum also featured a session on “Unleashing Potential: Enhancing International Cooperation to Propel Tourism Growth”, focusing on sustainable travel as a tool to address major development challenges in the Mekong region, including leveraging digital innovations for sustainable transformation.

The MTF 2024 has provided delegates with an immersive experience in Lijiang, including a field study in the UNESCO-listed Old Town, enhancing their understanding of how traditional culture can be integrated with modern tourism practices to create sustainable and vibrant travel destinations.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/04/29/mekong-tourism-forum-2024-sets-stage-for-2025-tourism-event-in-luang-prabang/