CHIANG RAI, 10 January 2018: Far north Thailand and its neighbours, Myanmar and Laos, should join hands with China to promote travel routes to the “five Chiang cities” of the region.
That was the conclusion of a brainstorming workshop in Chiang Rai, earlier this week, that focused on the findings of tourism studies by three universities in far north Thailand.
Studies by Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang and Rajabhat universities and the University of Phayao in Phayao province identified the five cities of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Kengtung Myanmar, Jinghong in China and Luang Prabang in Laos as anchor destinations to promote trans-border travel in the four countries.
They all share historical links having been royal cities of what was once the Lanna Kingdom and all sometime in their history shared the name “Chiang”.
Speaking to more than 200 tourism representatives from tourism’s private and public sectors from Chiang Rai, Myanmar, Laos and Yunnan province in China, tourism experts from the three universities presented detailed content and marketing strategies that outlined the potential of the region to attract more tourists.
Opening the event, Chiang Rai’s governor, Narongsak Osotthanakorn, encouraged private and public sectors linked to tourism to work closely together to build tourism.
“Tourism is a core economic activity in Chiang Rai province that makes a massive 15% contribution to the province’s GDP,” he said pointing out that over the peak season months, December to January, the province’s hotels and resorts were packed with tourists.
“Tourism powers economic growth, creates huge sums of money for Chiang Rai and China is our biggest market… and due to domestic travel demand we do not have enough hotel rooms during the peak season.”
Presentations pointed to tour themes that could be promoted to link city pairs that in the past shared the name “Chiang,” and today reflect the essence of Lanna heritage and culture.
Ecotourism (natural beauty of land and water) four days, three nights;
Agro-tourism, four days, three nights;
Ethnic tourism five traditions of Lanna Civilisation) covering five days, six nights;
Heritage (four days, three nights);
Buddhism tourism three days;
Health and wellness (Lanna wisdom and health therapy) three days and two nights.
Chiang Rai was identified as the gateway destination for holiday travel to neighbouring Myanmar and the historical city of Keng Tung (Chiang Tung) around 161 km north of the towns of Mae Sai and Tachileik on the that stand on the Thai-Myanmar border. The Asian Highway route known as R3B links the two cities to China’s Yunnan province, but also there are opportunities to explore Myanmar on a road trip to Mandalay the former royal capital now that overland travel has reopened in Shan State.
Heading for China, using either boat cruises on the Mekong River, or road transport on Asian highway R3A, travellers could explore Jinghong (Chiang Rung) in Yunnan province, China and exit the tour in Kunming. Or travellers can journey south from Chiang Rai by river or by road, via Luang Namtha, to Luang Prabang (Chiang Thong), a popular World Heritage destination in Lao PDR.
Chiang Rai is positioned by the studies as the gateway for both road and river travel, based on its location on the North-South Corridor identified in Asian Development Bank studies. From the border with Myanmar, at Mae Sai town, travellers can connect with the Asian Highway R3B that will ultimately be a popular route for travel to China’s Jing Hong and Kunming when Myanmar and China reopen the border.
But a route that is already open to travellers begins at Chiang Rai’s border Friendship Bridge at Chiang Khong and connects with the R3A Asian Highway route northbound to Luang Namtha in Laos (168 km) and Mong La the Chinese border town, just 50 km further north. Jinghong is located 130 km from the China-Laos border and Kunming is 700 km to the north.
The seminar sessions also focused on obstacles and challenges, but as Chiang Rai’s tourism association head, Kitti Tissakul, pointed out on the sidelines of the event, “we are talking about software not hardware obstacles.”
He claimed the tourism hardware was in place with a buoyant hotel supply, an airport that can serve regional traffic and a solid line-up of cultural and nature attractions.
“The issue is always how we brand, market and make the visa rules easy to facilitate travel across borders to our neighbours and China,” he said.
Chiang Rai is already served by direct airline services from Hong Kong a strategic development for the destination that encouraged flights from other Chinese cities during the 2017 peak season.
But the success of attracting an airline from Hong Kong, one of the busiest aviation gateways in Asia, needs to be replicated with flights from Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
Chiang Rai is perceived as a profitable destination for domestic airlines based in Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports, but future tourism prosperity will depend on developing balanced traffic that draws passengers from aviation gateways in ASEAN such as Singapore.
Ideally, Chiang Rai should be slotted into a route that features Luang Prabang in Laos with services operating Singapore-Chiang Rai-Luang Prabang-Singapore. If allocated full traffic rights that allowed passengers to hop off and on at each destination and airlines enjoyed full rights to sell fares on each sector, the route would be welcomed by visitors who are keen to explore the Mekong Region, while saving flight times and travel expenses.