On the Thai-Lao trade track

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The Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, the easternmost border post in the Kingdom
The Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, the easternmost border post in the Kingdom © Arno Maierbrugger

The easternmost border crossing in Thailand, and at the same time the only point where people can enter Laos by land without having to cross the Mekong river by means of a bridge or a boat, is also one of the busiest: Chong Mek.

Located alongside one of the major trade tracks across Thailand that runs from Dawei in Myanmar across central Thailand north of Bangkok and through Chong Mek into southern Laos and from there to Da Nang at Vietnam’s central sea coast, the border crossing handles all kinds of trade, from gasoline and trucks to living cows and tapioca to illegal drugs and trafficked people. It is one of ASEAN’s lifelines and at the same time also showing the darker side or the Mekong region.

In 2014, the customs house at the border post registered a trade balance of over $440 million, of which close to $400 million where Thai exports and the rest imports from Laos. However, there were also people trying to cross the border with illegal substances. In 2014, more than 7.700 methamphetamine tablets wer seized from smugglers, and, at least, 1,3 kilogrammes of marihuana, says Pol. Lt. Col. Pongsak Watanaharuetai. There were also a number of cases of attempted human trafficking, he added.

“Here at the border police station, we are not only in charge of the border post, but have to protect 361 kilometers of border to Laos and 67 kilometers of border to Cambodia,” Pongsak says.

“Of course it is not easy to protect such a border especially in the forests and along the Mekong river, and illegal immigrants are making their way in,” he admits.

Thailand's exports to Laos have a ten-fold higher value than imports from its neighbour
Thailand’s exports to Laos have a ten-fold higher value than imports from its neighbour © Arno Maierbrugger

But as of late, and due to more widely issued work permits for foreign workers, illegal immigration and the number of “illegal alien workers” flowing into Thailand is going back, Pongsak says, adding that this fact and new electronic “filtering” systems implemented in anticipation of the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) might further reduce illegal immigration and probably improve Thailand’s poor ranking on the latest US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report where the country received a “Tier 3” rating, the lowest possible.

Being connected to Thailand’s “Personal ldentification and Blacklist Immigration Control System”, ore PIBICS, the country’s main electronic immigration system which runs in a virtual private network, things should eventually improve, Pongsak believes.

He emphasises that immigration checks will persist in the AEC even though the community technically advocates the free movement of labour – which, however, in the first stage will be confined to only certain highly-skilled professionals.

What comes in from Laos in terms of goods through Chong Mek is almost completely agricultural produce. Some 36 per cent of import value is made up by tapioca, starch extracted from cassava root grown in Laos and sold to Thailand. Second and third largest import products are potatoes (13 per cent) and tamarind (12 per cent), followed by cabbage, coffee, green bananas and processed wood.

In turn, Thailand exports much more heavy-duty goods to Laos, most of all diesel (19 per cent of export value) and gasoline (11 per cent), followed by trucks and cars (9 per cent), living cows, a variety of consumer products, tractors, lube oil and butane gas.

Chong Mek Lao-Thai border3_Arno Maierbrugger
Pedestrians cross the border through a tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger

Chong Mek was also among the first land borders to conduct rigorous health checks to prevent the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Thailand. Thermal scanners have been implemented at various points of entry to detect infected passengers.

The easternmost border station is also a popular crossing point for travelers on Southeast Asian round trips, as it has good facilities and is well connected to nearby cities.

From Bangkok, one can take a plane (Thai Smile, Nok Air or AirAsia) or a bus to Ubon Ratchathani. From the main bus station in town, there are international buses running to Pakse, the first main town on the Lao side, twice a day, crossing Chong Mek. Nok Air even offers a fly-and-ride service to Pakse, so one has not to bother about bus connections. Travelers can also take a bus only to Chong Mek, there are taxis and vans available at Vang Tao, the small settlement on Laos’ side of the border, to take them to Pakse.

The Chong Mek border lies along a major trade route from Dawei in Myanmar to Da Nang in Vietnam
The Chong Mek border lies alongside a major trade route that stretches from Dawei in Myanmar to Da Nang in Vietnam © Arno Maierbrugger
The Thai-Lao border tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger
The Thai-Lao border tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger
Chong Mek Lao-Thai border6_Arno Maierbrugger
Human trafficking is an issue at the border, officials admit © Arno Maierbrugger
Chong Mek Lao-Thai border7_Arno Maierbrugger
First glimpse of Thailand in Chong Mek after crossing over from Laos © Arno Maierbrugger

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, the easternmost border post in the Kingdom © Arno Maierbrugger

The easternmost border crossing in Thailand, and at the same time the only point where people can enter Laos by land without having to cross the Mekong river by means of a bridge or a boat, is also one of the busiest: Chong Mek.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, the easternmost border post in the Kingdom
The Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, the easternmost border post in the Kingdom © Arno Maierbrugger

The easternmost border crossing in Thailand, and at the same time the only point where people can enter Laos by land without having to cross the Mekong river by means of a bridge or a boat, is also one of the busiest: Chong Mek.

Located alongside one of the major trade tracks across Thailand that runs from Dawei in Myanmar across central Thailand north of Bangkok and through Chong Mek into southern Laos and from there to Da Nang at Vietnam’s central sea coast, the border crossing handles all kinds of trade, from gasoline and trucks to living cows and tapioca to illegal drugs and trafficked people. It is one of ASEAN’s lifelines and at the same time also showing the darker side or the Mekong region.

In 2014, the customs house at the border post registered a trade balance of over $440 million, of which close to $400 million where Thai exports and the rest imports from Laos. However, there were also people trying to cross the border with illegal substances. In 2014, more than 7.700 methamphetamine tablets wer seized from smugglers, and, at least, 1,3 kilogrammes of marihuana, says Pol. Lt. Col. Pongsak Watanaharuetai. There were also a number of cases of attempted human trafficking, he added.

“Here at the border police station, we are not only in charge of the border post, but have to protect 361 kilometers of border to Laos and 67 kilometers of border to Cambodia,” Pongsak says.

“Of course it is not easy to protect such a border especially in the forests and along the Mekong river, and illegal immigrants are making their way in,” he admits.

Thailand's exports to Laos have a ten-fold higher value than imports from its neighbour
Thailand’s exports to Laos have a ten-fold higher value than imports from its neighbour © Arno Maierbrugger

But as of late, and due to more widely issued work permits for foreign workers, illegal immigration and the number of “illegal alien workers” flowing into Thailand is going back, Pongsak says, adding that this fact and new electronic “filtering” systems implemented in anticipation of the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) might further reduce illegal immigration and probably improve Thailand’s poor ranking on the latest US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report where the country received a “Tier 3” rating, the lowest possible.

Being connected to Thailand’s “Personal ldentification and Blacklist Immigration Control System”, ore PIBICS, the country’s main electronic immigration system which runs in a virtual private network, things should eventually improve, Pongsak believes.

He emphasises that immigration checks will persist in the AEC even though the community technically advocates the free movement of labour – which, however, in the first stage will be confined to only certain highly-skilled professionals.

What comes in from Laos in terms of goods through Chong Mek is almost completely agricultural produce. Some 36 per cent of import value is made up by tapioca, starch extracted from cassava root grown in Laos and sold to Thailand. Second and third largest import products are potatoes (13 per cent) and tamarind (12 per cent), followed by cabbage, coffee, green bananas and processed wood.

In turn, Thailand exports much more heavy-duty goods to Laos, most of all diesel (19 per cent of export value) and gasoline (11 per cent), followed by trucks and cars (9 per cent), living cows, a variety of consumer products, tractors, lube oil and butane gas.

Chong Mek Lao-Thai border3_Arno Maierbrugger
Pedestrians cross the border through a tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger

Chong Mek was also among the first land borders to conduct rigorous health checks to prevent the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Thailand. Thermal scanners have been implemented at various points of entry to detect infected passengers.

The easternmost border station is also a popular crossing point for travelers on Southeast Asian round trips, as it has good facilities and is well connected to nearby cities.

From Bangkok, one can take a plane (Thai Smile, Nok Air or AirAsia) or a bus to Ubon Ratchathani. From the main bus station in town, there are international buses running to Pakse, the first main town on the Lao side, twice a day, crossing Chong Mek. Nok Air even offers a fly-and-ride service to Pakse, so one has not to bother about bus connections. Travelers can also take a bus only to Chong Mek, there are taxis and vans available at Vang Tao, the small settlement on Laos’ side of the border, to take them to Pakse.

The Chong Mek border lies along a major trade route from Dawei in Myanmar to Da Nang in Vietnam
The Chong Mek border lies alongside a major trade route that stretches from Dawei in Myanmar to Da Nang in Vietnam © Arno Maierbrugger
The Thai-Lao border tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger
The Thai-Lao border tunnel © Arno Maierbrugger
Chong Mek Lao-Thai border6_Arno Maierbrugger
Human trafficking is an issue at the border, officials admit © Arno Maierbrugger
Chong Mek Lao-Thai border7_Arno Maierbrugger
First glimpse of Thailand in Chong Mek after crossing over from Laos © Arno Maierbrugger

 

 

 

 

 

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