Border crossings surge at Saravan entry point
Great changes are in evidence since the Lalay border crossing was upgraded to an international checkpoint between Saravan province in Laos and Quang Tri province in Vietnam in June 2014.
Director of the Saravan provincial Department of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Somchay Ounchit, told Vientiane Times on Tuesday that the number of tourists crossing the border had increased eight-fold since 2014.
“Prior to the opening of the Lalay international checkpoint, only 5,000 tourists crossed this border annually, but the number jumped to over 40,000 in 2016,” he said.
Since becoming an international checkpoint, more facilities are available at Lalay including visas on arrival, while more big trucks loaded with goods are allowed to cross.
About 30 percent of tourists crossing the border are Caucasian and the rest are Vietnamese.
Caucasian visitors mostly first fly to Vietnam before entering Laos at the Lalay international checkpoint to visit Saravan province and then go on to the Vat Phou UNESCO World Heritage Site in Champassak province, before exploring the waterfalls and then travelling to Thailand.
In addition, an increasing number of large trucks loaded with consumer goods, fuel and construction equipment cross the border daily.
Laos mainly exports agricultural products including cassava and forest products to Vietnam while importing consumer goods.
Previously Saravan province had a trade surplus with Vietnam due to the fact that the province sold timber products to Vietnam.
But the Prime Minister's Order No. 15 issued in May last year bans the export of all types of unfinished wood products, including timber and logs.
This led to a halt in wood exports and officials say Saravan province might lose its trade surplus with Vietnam in the future.
Lalay is the eighth international checkpoint between Laos and Vietnam out of the 47 traditional, national and international checkpoints that exist along the north-south borderline.
The Lalay border crossing is part of the paved Road No. 15A, which is strategically important as it links the 147km road from Saravan provincial capital to the Vietnamese border, while also linking the 75km Road No. 15B from Saravan's capital to Road No. 13 South in the Naphong area.
The upgrade of the Lalay border crossing greatly facilitates communication and transport between the two countries' peoples and increases trade and tourism in the two neighbouring provinces.
Facilities have been installed (although not using very modern equipment) to create conditions for the development of both provinces and further extend them to create a stronger regional link.
The border crossing will also connect the East-West Economic Corridor to the neighbouring countries of Cambodia and Thailand, providing another strong Asean link.
By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update March 29, 2017)