TRAVEL & TOURISM
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

On board the MS Mekong Sun to China

GMS border tourism needs clear transportation policy

TAT to arrange tourism festival “Thiew Thai Thua Thid 2006”

On board the MS Mekong Sun to China

Will it become a regular trip in 2006?

Reinhard Hohler

Cruising on the wild Mekong River is not everyone’s cup of tea, but when I received the invitation from Hans Engberding, General Manager of “Lernidee Erlebnisreisen” in Berlin/Germany, to join the maiden voyage of his newly built cruise ship “Mekong Sun’’ I did not hesitate for a second.

A new Golden Buddha dominates the Thai side of the Golden Triangle.

Joining the cruise ship in the port of Chiang Saen on December 3 was a kind of premiere. The boat was built in Luang Prabang/Laos between May-November 2005, as a catamaran, resting on two steel hulls, has two floors and a sun deck made from mahogany and teakwood. The whole ship weighs 84 tons and is 40m long. Its draught is only 0.9m.

Two diesel engines with 385PS each and two additional ones with 180PS move the ship forward, while three generators supply the electric power. A crew of 16, most of them Laotians, cater for the maximum 30 passengers housed in 15 cabins.

With its source some 4,200 km from the sea in Qinghai Province in China at more than 5,000m elevation on the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River has many different names, according to the different tribes and peoples, who all make a living along the banks of its narrow valley. Half the river’s length runs through China, where the winding river is called “Lancangjiang”. It is in Yunnan Province where the Chinese plan to build a row of eight hydro-electric dams.

The new port of Chiang Saen is busy with Chinese travelers

After passing Jinghong, the capital of Sipsong Banna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, the Mekong River enters Laos at the “Green Triangle” where the borders of China, Myanmar and Laos meet. It is from here that the Mekong River takes its course through Laos for more than 1,900km – and is regarded here as the “middle” Mekong.

On its way to Thailand, the Mekong River reaches Xieng Kok in Laos, which is a new international border crossing to Myanmar and from where there is a dirt road up to Muang Sing in Luang Nam Tha Province. Reaching the ancient town of Chiang Saen in Thailand, the Mekong River is then the heart of the Golden Triangle, a wild and forested borderland, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.

It was from here that the “Mekong Sun” left for China. After having invited the Immigration Department of Chiang Saen Port to dine on board, the departure was smooth in the afternoon of December 4. As the boat ran very slowly against the current, we reached the port of Chiang Kok the next day in the afternoon and Hua Kong the next day in the evening. Early next morning, we continued into the port of Guan Lei just within the borders of China. The Chinese Health and Customs Departments demanded we offload our meat and vegetable supplies. An important document was also missing, so the ship could not leave for Jinghong, where a group of 18 passengers were waiting for the down river trip. By the time the problems were solved, the current was too strong to go ahead.

The newly built ‘Mekong Sun’ arrives in Chiang Kok in Northern Laos

The maiden trip included Chiang Saen, where passengers were shown around the Golden Triangle with the impressive Hall of Opium Museum and the Flower Gardens of Doi Tung.

Despite minor problems with the hot water supply and the regulation of the air-conditioners, which gave the German cruise director, Wolfram Goetz, had a constant headache, the guests saw it differently. For them, it was an adventurous maiden voyage, especially during the days sailing down to Luang Prabang in Laos. Hopefully the “Mekong Sun” will be a regular sight along the Mekong in 2006.


GMS border tourism needs clear transportation policy

eTTR

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) governments need to establish a clear-cut policy on cross-border transportation including checkpoint regulations if they want to enhance tourism.

Currently, GMS caravan tours experience obstacles when crossing between countries due strict rules on vehicle documentation. “Our caravan tour of 58 vehicles from Malaysia was stuck at the Thailand-Cambodia Poipet border for one day which delayed our programme,” said First Travel Cambodia’s managing director, Tui Rutten. “We found out that some cars were still being financed and many documents were needed of which we had never been informed before.”

According to Ms Rutten, the GMS still needs a lot of improvements to make it easier for cross-border tours especially to Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. Each country’s national tourism organization needs to announce clear procedures, regulations, papers needed and fees to tour operators so that they can organize tours correctly.

“We need to be informed if we can apply for the permission at the checkpoint or if it is possible to apply in advance,” added Ms Rutten.

“We were lucky because this caravan tour was in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and national tourism organizations so the procedure was a lot easier than other tour operators experienced. It will be very difficult for those who do not have process assistants,” said Ms Rutten.

Currently, she is organizing an 11-day caravan tour on the Ho Chi Minh-Phnom Penh-Bangkok-Siem Reap-Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh route. The caravan is in cooperation with national tourism organizations.


TAT to arrange tourism festival “Thiew Thai Thua Thid 2006”

TAT Northern Region 1 PR.

Juthaporn Reungron-asa, deputy governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) revealed marketing plans for 2006 including a sales promotion called “Thiew Thai Thua Thid 2006” (to visit all over Thailand) that will commence in March to boost traveling during summer vacations.

It is to be held on March 2-5, 2006 at Sirikit Convention Hall and there will be products from all regions on display as a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the King ascending the throne.

765 booths are promised, covering aviation, ship tours, hotels, tour agents, diving, Thai massage and spa, local food and entertainment activities including international rock climbing competitions, drum competitions and products from the Royal Project will be also displayed.

More information is available from TAT or by calling 0 2250 5500 # 1311-1323 or by faxing 0 2250 5696.


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