All aboard: LCR driving Laos-China tourism boom

The passenger train, from the Lao capital of Vientiane to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, was introduced on April 13 last year.

Niem Chheng

Niem Chheng

The Phnom Penh Post


Visitors stroll past the former Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, Laos in June. PHOTO: THE PHNOM PENH POST

July 11, 2024

PHNOM PENH – The number of regional visitors to Laos and China’s Yunnan province has seen a sharp increase since last year’s introduction of passenger services on the Laos-China Railway (LCR).

The passenger train, from the Lao capital of Vientiane to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, was introduced on April 13 last year.

From the date of the launch until the beginning of April this year, 172,023 passengers used the service, according to Lao Deputy Minister of Tourism Darany Phommavongsa, who met with a group of ASEAN journalists who were touring the LCR at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in late June.

One year to the day after the initial launch, an additional pair of passenger services were added between Luang Prabang, Laos and Xishuangbanna, China.

During the June press conference, Darany noted that the LCR had transformed Laos from a landlocked to a connected country, “making the dreams and aspirations of the Lao people come true”.

“This success is due to the joint implementation of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, which both countries must continue to pay attention to, in order to achieve high-quality development and to continuously upgrade cooperation,” she said.

She explained that the Lao government aimed to develop the Lao-China railway into an economic corridor that generates large income for the nation. The corridor will contribute to improving the country’s economic situation through the transportation of passengers, including international tourists, as well as carrying goods between Laos and China.

The railway also made a hefty contribution to the “Visit Laos 2024” campaign, which aims to promote Lao tourism and attract more international guests, creating jobs, bringing in foreign currency and supporting the conservation and protection of the country’s art, culture and traditions, while sharing its long history.

“The opening of the Lao-China railway has made a great contribution to the Visit Laos 2024 campaign, by facilitating the travel of both domestic and international tourists, allowing them to enjoy a fun, high-quality travel experience,” said Darany.

In correspondence with the increased number of arrivals, the deputy minister added that the Lao government has constructed several new infrastructure projects, while focusing on the preservation and protection of cultural heritage sites and traditional activities, especially along the railway line.

“The information ministry is working with provincial authorities and tourism stakeholders along the route of the railway to ensure that all tourism attractions meet the highest international standards,” she said.

“They have installed multi-lingual signage along the transit region. Clear road signs in Lao, English and Chinese point the way to major attractions,” she added.

With Laos announcing a free visa policy for Chinese visitors in early July, the number of Chinese arrivals is expected to jump. According to Darany, the policy is mainly focused on travellers who are accompanied by guides on packaged group tours.

She said the policy may also be applied to other international visitors from the region, and may include multiple entry visas, as well as the possibility of extending a stay from 30 to 60 days.

A tour guide identified as Mana told The Post that the number of visitors had definitely increased, especially to Laung Prabang, thanks to the railway. He explained that before the LCR was launched there were far fewer visitors to the northern city, as travel from Vientiane took up to eight hours.

Thanks to the train, the distance can now be covered in just two hours.

The latest visitors to the former capital are not just coming from China, but from within Laos itself. Large crowds could be seen at the Royal Palace Museum and other cultural attractions in Luang Prabang.

China’s Yunnan province has also seen a spike in guests to its many cultural villages and parks. The surge consists of large numbers of tourists from within China, as well as the neighbouring countries of Laos and Myanmar.

According to sources at some of the cultural villages, the number of arrivals sees a particular jump during public holidays such as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year.

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