Laos: The Road That Opens Up New Development Paths
The Global Women Media news agency regularly publishes partner materials by its Peace 50 community friends from all over the world. Experts from around the globe share information about their regions and landmark projects, thus contributing to maintaining horizontal communication and replicating useful experiences. Pick Keobandith, PhD in Art History, is one of the permanent media partners of our website. As a journalist, she interviews politicians and cultural figures from around the world.
Minister of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
PhD in Art History, expert in art and cultural diplomacy, founder and director of Inspiring Culture
Since the end of 2021, Laos has had its first ever high-speed train named Lane Xang (translated as Million Elephants). Many years ago, the country itself used to be known as the Lane Xang Kingdom. The train’s exterior comprises the following colours: red, blue, and white. They represent the national flag of Laos adopted in 1975. The train has literally become a symbol of the country’s accelerated development. A new railway line connected Vientiane (the Lao capital) and Boten (a city on the China–Laos border).
This summer, with the support of H.E Mr Phoukhong Sisoulath, Ambassador of Laos in Belgium, and his team at the Lao Embassy in Brussels, Pick Keobandith had the opportunity to communicate with H.E. Mr Viengsavath Siphandone, Minister of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, in an online mode and discuss that innovation with him.
As an expert in art and cultural diplomacy, Pick Keobandith was primarily interested in learning about how the new railway affects the development of Laos and the promotion of its cultural and historical identity.
– To what extent will the new railway link between Vientiane and Boten change the level of exchange between Laos and China?
– Due to the situation of COVID-19, the transportation of people between Laos and China is not yet possible by rail and the transportation of goods is still limited. However, I believe that after China if fully reopened, the railway will be used much more actively and the traffic between our two countries will increase. This will make international interaction more comfortable and efficient. The last destinations of the route will be Kunming in China and Vientiane in Laos.
This will much contribute to the rapid socio-economic development of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR). The road will help to realise the potential for the connectivity in the region and the word at large.
In essence, Laos will become a land link that connects the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with China and Europe.
Of course, the development of road connectivity will help us improve our logistics system and reduce transport costs. This will have a favourable impact on information exchange and capital movement and will also open up new opportunities for economic growth.
– This railway will also facilitate communication within Laos as it connects Vientiane to Vang Vieng and Luang Phabang. What will it change for the citizens and businesses of Laos?
– I observe that, after the opening of the railway, tourism within Laos has increased substantially with a large number of Lao people using the railway. Every day, more and more residents are using the train to move around the country. Travelling from Vientiane capital to the northern provinces of Laos used to take a whole day. In the rainy season, it even took longer because of the road conditions.
After the opening of the railway, the mobility between the provinces along the railway has increased and the number of tourists has also increased, contributing to the fast development of the private sector.
Today, the LPDR has almost completely restored railway services and reduced restrictive measures related to entry into the country. This has allowed an increasing number of tourists from abroad to visit our country. And, of course, Laos visitors from different countries willingly use the train for visiting different provinces as it is convenient and fast.
– Investing in that area is part of the much larger and ambitious pan-Asian railway plan. What is the timeline for the completion of this project?
– We plan to build more rail networks between countries in the region to facilitate transportation and develop connectivity in it.
For more than a decade, Vientiane and Bangkok have been connected by a railway line running across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge I used for the transportation of goods and passengers. However, it uses a one meter wide track. In addition, there are certain speed limits on the track under current conditions.
The LPDR and Thailand are now considering options for developing a special railway bridge that could meet the ever-increasing needs of passengers and keep up with the development of transport connectivity.
– You have said that this railway project will accelerate development and is likely to contribute to the modernization of the country. Is the Lao government planning specific measures to preserve Laos’s authenticity and cultural heritage?
– The construction of the railway is only part of the ongoing efforts to modernize the country. However, nothing threatens Laos’s authenticity.
The design of the railway stations reflects Lao identity and highlights the uniqueness of the country’s culture and national legacy.
Today, the government is promoting the tourist sites along the railway in a variety of ways. In addition, Laos is developing tourist products and tourist markets. Infrastructure is being improved and more signposts are appearing to make travelling for visitors more convenient.
In addition to the improvement of tourist sector, the government also carries out huge work to preserve the cultural identity of the region and Laos' national historical heritage and to ensure environmental protection and the safety of nature.
Interview by Pick Keobandith
Preparation of the text for publication in Russian by Nikolay Gavrilov and Viktoria Gusakova
Photos are taken from Ministry Transport Laos, Target Global, Vincent Garnier
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov