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Best price guarantee Best price guarantee
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Best price guarantee

We want you to pay the lowest possible rate for your room. If you have reserved a hotel room through Agoda, and then show us that you could book the same room, for the same dates, at a lower rate, that is viewable and bookable on another website, agoda will either match that rate or beat it.

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Mekong River Links Laos, Myanmar… and China 07 Mar 2013 Deal | 2 comments

Laos is landlocked, which is to say the only way out on the ground is through other countries... it is in the middle, in other words.


Photo credit: Prince Roy / Foter.com / CC BY

Throughout its history, the surrounding Southeast Asian countries more often found their way in… uninvited. A 16th-century army from Burma was one of many such intruders. Today, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) find themselves in a familiar position: in the middle.

However, this time a burgeoning regional economy is bubbling around—and increasingly, within—them, and global powers are currying favor with them for strategic reasons. For the two countries, it is a great time to be alive and independent.

From invaded to invited

Laos is sandwiched between China and Myanmar (Burma) on the north, Vietnam on the east, Cambodia on the south and Thailand on the west. It is trying to move from being invaded by its neighbors to being invited as a partner into economic development projects.

A physical example of this new linkage is a “Friendship Bridge” to be built over the Mekong River to Myanmar (Burma), which shares a 235-kilometer stretch of the Mekong as a natural border. The USD18 million, 690-meter-long bridge that enters Myanmar in Shan State holds promise of encouraging commercial and tourist traffic between the two countries. Ground was broken for the project in February 2013 with completion to occur in 2015.


Photo credit: preetamrai / Foter.com / CC BY

Big Regional Player

The big neighbor to the north, China, is regional player number 1, of course. Beijing is trying its best to insinuate itself into the Laotian economy and policymaking councils through massive financial support. In 2010, China became the top foreign investor in Laos, investing some USD345 million for mining, hydropower and agriculture projects. That same year, bilateral trade topped the USD 1 billion mark.

Look at some of the projects along the Mekong in Laos that China decided were in its vital interest:

  • Dredging the Mekong River between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos to extend the navigable waterway that starts in China. It cost the Chinese some USD40 million.
  • Building a 300-kilometer road in the Laos along the same river area to enhance Laotian security in the unstable Golden Triangle region that spans a chunk of Southeast Asia.
  • Jointly patrolling (with Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand) the Mekong to combat pirates that harass shipping, including Chinese shipping.
  • Building hydropower dams in the lower stretches of the Mekong River, as many as nine of them. The construction of the hydropower structures by Chinese contractors is criticized by downstream Mekong users including Cambodia and Vietnam. Consequently, the most controversial dam is on hold and the United States has intervened to help Laos study the dam’s environmental impact.

U.S. intervening

In this and other ways, the U.S. is trying to offset some of the Chinese influence in Laos. It has resisted offering wholesale foreign aid because of concerns about the Laotian government’s treatment of the indigenous Hmong ethnic group, most of whom were allied with America during the Vietnam conflict. But that is apt to change.

In regards to the Mekong region in particular, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan have pledged to support a Friends of the Lower Mekong network of countries in Southeast Asia, which includes Myanmar (Burma). A USD50 million initiative to bolster Mekong development was announced in 2012.

Though Laos and Myanmar (Burma) have received lots of money from China, the interest shown by the U.S. seems welcomed as a counterbalance to China. Both countries are leery of domination by the Chinese and, in the case of Laos, by the Vietnamese. Laos and Myanmar (Burma) are still in the middle but, this time, they want to control their own destinies.


For more insight into the workings of the Burmese economy and political climate - be sure to check out our section on Business in Myanmar (Burma).

What do the travelers say?

Bluesky, United States
March 07, 2013
China must be there. Mekong River starts in China, then flows thru Myanmar/Laos and lawless Golden Triangle. China just executed a Myanmar drug lord and his gang, whom in 2011 attacked 2 Chinese ships & killed 13 Chinese. Deadliest modern day attack on Chinese people - mekong is a problem for China
JWalters, United States
March 08, 2013
Myanmar has also increased its status in the Mekong River Commission to a permanent member, so will be interesting to see how it affects the dynamic of the Commission. Traveling on the Mekong in Laos can be a complicated venture, so the bridge may be really helpful for travelers.

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