After two years of stagnant progress for the travel industry, the news that the Laos China Railway is complete is very exciting. The 620-mile railway connects the Laotian capital Vientiane to China’s Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.
It is actually a smaller part of a larger project which aims to link Singapore with China, passing through Malaysia, Thailand and Laos on the way. Although the entire line (sometimes referred to as the Pan Asia railway network) is still a work in progress, intrepid travellers are already eyeing up the Laos China Railway for their next big adventure.
If you can’t wait to jump aboard, allow us to relay all that we know so far about this exciting project, including when the Laos China Railway will begin to allow cross-border travel!
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Laos China Railway: A Guide For Travellers
Although much of the logistical information regarding the Laos China Railway is yet to be released, we do know a few things already.
Laos China Railway Map
When Did The Laos China Railway Open?
The official opening of the Laos China Railway took place on December 3rd 2021. It has been suggested that this date was chosen to allow Laotians to celebrate their National Day on 2nd December.
The project has been underway for the last five years and has cost a whopping $6 billion to complete, 70% of which has been stumped up by China. Passenger trains are expected to travel around 160km per hour (around 100mph) and will pass through Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang and Vientiane, to name a few.
When the Laos China railway officially opened, it initially only carried cargo. Passenger travel was introduced a few days later. As of the beginning of January 2022, Chinese state media says that the line has carried 670,000 passengers and 170,000 tonnes of cargo since opening. This number is quite impressive when you consider that cross-border travel is currently still banned under ongoing coronavirus restrictions!
It is hoped that the China Laos Railway will see an influx of passengers during the Lunar New Year which begins on February 1st 2022. Chinese state media has said that it expects 1 million journeys to be undertaken using the railway during the Lunar period, despite travel restrictions. This should also relieve the pressure on some other forms of public transport during the holiday.
Why Has The Laos China Railway Been Built?
The Laos China Railway has been largely funded by China and they hope that the planned high-speed network will cement their position as a global superpower. From a Chinese point of view, it will better connect them to their smaller neighbour, aiding trade and transport.
In theory, travel will be more convenient for locals from either country, enabling them to travel more easily and cheaply. Using the new railway, it will take just 10 hours to travel from Kunming to Vientiane.
The introduction of a high-speed railway also makes logistical sense when transporting products across the border. Compared with air freight, transporting goods via the railway will dramatically reduce costs on either side. As of 3rd January 2022, the Laos China Railway has transported around 50,000 tonnes of freight. Transported products include vegetables, textiles, flowers, rubber and electronics, to name a few.
The Laotian government is hoping that this international high-speed rail link will put landlocked Laos on the map, making it a more accessible and desirable destination for international travellers and especially the Chinese, who accounted for nearly 155 million overseas visits across the globe in 2019.
Previously, Laos had a primitive railway system that was unable to meet the demands of the economy. It is hoped that the China Laos Railway will help to create more local jobs, improve transportation and boost Laos’ tourism industry.
Laos China Railway FAQs
How much will a ticket on the Laos China Railway cost?
The Laotian Times has announced that fares for the Laos China Railway have now been finalised. At present, ticket fares will range from 38,000 kip to 529,000 kip, depending on journey length. Bear in mind it is not possible to travel across the border until COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased in both countries.
According to Discover Laos, the price for a ticket from Vientiane to the Laotian border town of Boten is estimated to cost around 140,000 kip (around $15USD).
Will it be easy for travellers to use the railway?
There is no doubt that the Laos China Railway will be an attractive prospect to travellers in the region. It traverses some of the most popular hotspots within the country but should also open up more off the beaten track locations to passengers.
When recently interviewed on the South East Asia Travel Show, Jason Rolan, Senior Partner of RDK Group based in Vientiane, stated that many of the stations along the Laos China Railway are outside of the centre, which has raised concerns about journey duration. Although the actual train journey will save travellers time, getting to the out of city stations will present other challenges, especially during busy periods.
Tickets for the Laos China Railway can be booked no earlier than three days in advance. When you go to the ticket office to book your ticket, you must show your ID and provide proof that you are fully vaccinated. At present, there has been no official announcement that you must be fully vaccinated to travel on the railway (that we are aware of), although process seems to indicate that this is a requirement.
When will cross-border travel be allowed?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Essentially, it depends on both countries reopening their borders. As of January 2022, Laos has begun to reopen to international travellers from 17 countries, including China. However, for now at least, China’s borders remain tightly closed to international travellers. They don’t expect international air travel to recover until at least 2023.
When will the Pan Asia Railway be completed?
At present, it will be some years before the Pan Asia Railway project is completed. The second section which will connect the Laotian border with Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand is not planned to go into service until 2028. Currently, the railway section from Bangkok to the Malaysian border is on hold. It is also unknown how the high-speed railway project will be impacted by the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Information about the Laos China Railway is still being released. We will update this article when we have any news. Watch this space!
Will you be jumping on the Laos China Railway if you get the chance? Let us know in the comments!