Chiang Khong is set on the far northern Thai border, straight across the swirling waters of the Mekong River from the Lao town of Huay Xai. Chiang Khong is primarily known for being one of the more popular border crossings for backpackers and independent travellers travelling to and/or from Laos.
Long and thin, Chiang Khong runs in an east-west direction along the southern bank of the Mekong River. The river’s bank is lined with a bunch of guesthouses and small restaurants. Guesthouses and backpacker cafes aside, Chiang Khong is a typical small Thai town – wander away from the riverfront and you could be pretty much anywhere in Thailand.
While many view the town as nothing more than an overnight stop to or from Laos, Chiang Khong has a few outlying attractions in its own right, including waterfalls and rapids – both of which can be visited on short trips organised at your guesthouse, or independently if you have your own transport. If you have the time, or by chance are not going to Laos, you could easily spend a couple of days here – some spend a lot longer because they love this nice quiet little town.
Nowadays Chiang Khong is a fast growing town, the upcoming 4th Thai-Lao friendship bridge between Chiang Khong and Houay Xay will form the remaining crucial link of the Asian Highway 3, connecting Bangkok to Kunming, a project highly anticipated in the Greater Mekong Subregion’s (GMS) development. Unlike the previous bridges between Thailand and Laos, this bridge not only serves two towns but incorporates three countries, with China coming into the picture by funding half the cost of the bridge.
The bridge is expected to be completed somewhere in late 2013. The bridge represents a mixture of globalisation and regionalisation occurring together, promising capital gains for investors and increased economic opportunities for the border towns of Chiang Khong and Houay Xay.
In addition, Chiang Khong is marketed as the ‘Gateway to Indochina’ by the Thai government, leveraging on the proposed bridge to elevate its status as a crucial border town in GMS. With this reason land and property is rocketing in value,the value of land near the bridge is close to a million baht (some are overprice already) and is still rising,lots of trucks , more convenience store/big super market ,more industrial estates.
There are several concerns from Chiang Khong and Houay Xay that suggest the bridge will not benefit the people living in the two border towns much. Thai people interviewed expressed that most of the surrounding land near the bridge have been bought by Bangkok-based people and Chinese investors via their Thai partners,villagers also indicated insufficient compensation on their farmland sales. Many people also commented that future developments taking place such as a planned casino and a golf resort will be too expensive for locals to experience.
The Chinese factor is another worrying factor. Thai traders stress the fact that Chinese goods will arrive in Thailand faster after the bridge’s completion, thus flooding the local markets, and may provide further unfair competition to local products. Laotians, on the other hand, perceive that Houay Xay could turn into the next Boten, a border town at the Lao-Chinese border, where Chinese traders and workers outnumber locals.
The views gathered on the ground may not be wholly representative, but it suggests that perhaps the Thai and Lao governments should look into how to integrate small businesses of the people at the borderlands together with the bigger projects. Taking heed of the ‘voices’ from the borders may be beneficial in the long run to reduce uneven development as GMS projects tend to connect major cities with economic growth bridges/corridors with little consideration of the places that those infrastructures are built on.
Can you imagine Chiang Khong’s future?………..
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