Thursday, February 4, 2016

The new Lao - Myanmar bridge near Chiang Kok.

1896: « France 1 - England 0 »; although soccer already existed in the 19th century, this score actually crowns a political battle, a fight over spheres of influences between two big colonial powers, in order to control the “Upper Mekong”. While the British favored a buffer state made out of the Chiang Khaeng principality, Pavie the Commissioner General of Lao, insisted to divide the region, keeping Muang Sing under a French protectorate and attaching the Mekong’s right rim to Her Majesty’s Burma colony (Courcel – Salisbury agreement).

Pavie bronze statue - French Embassy Vientiane

Faced with a British firm stand to pay allegiance, the Xieng Kaeng ruler, Oum Kam, in 1894, fled his kingdom, seeking French protection; the ensuing agreement, between the European powers, was only half a blessing as the Tai Lue Principality was split, leaving only half of the territory attached to the Muang Sing capital.

Xieng Kaeng ruler, Oum Kam

A hundred twenty years later, a new bridge physically unites again the populations split by this division; physically only, as, in the meantime the regional geopolitics have been turbulent, and, nowadays, the span links the “Lao People's Democratic Republic” to the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar”. Ethnologically, and along the two shores, a large part of the inhabitants are, however, still Tai Lue.

Tai Lue family along Route 7

As stated on a panel, the “Lao – Myanmar Friendship Bridge is a Token of Friendship and Cooperation Between the Lao People’s Democratic Republic And The Republic of the Union of Myanmar “. It is meant to develop commercial and touristic traffic in the region and to be an important span in the “Greater Mekong Subregion”, part of a corridor between Haiphong Seaport, in Vietnam, and Myanmar’s Kyauk Phyu Seaport, through Laos.

A bridge as a token of friendship

For the time being, however, only the construction work is completed ; to become an international border link, juristic acts have still to be completed beteen the two countries. Office paperwork is trailing behind a speedy construction process completed in less than two years. 

Nowadays, Muang Sing remains a remote border town, squeezed between China and Myanmar, without international openings and with only a shaky road to Luang Namtha, the province’s capital.

To the West, Route 17 B, an eighty-two kilometers, mostly dirt road, leads to the new bridge, a bumpy travel adventure, muddy or dusty, depending on the season.

Road panel in Muang Sing

Stone, gravel or dirt road

The itinerary follows the Nam Ma valley, a green plain where banana trees are grown as far as the eye can see. This intensive cultivation, usually in Chinese hands, has ecologic drawbacks, while the lorry traffic to transport the crops to the Yunnan markets carves muddy furrows and spreads a steady cloud of dust.

Nam Ma river

Banana orchards to the horizon

Plastic wraps to increase bunch sizes 

The journey crosses many different ethnicities’ hamlets, the main population belonging, however, to the Akha group.

On the way to school

Playful kids

Long city”, nowadays a district capital, is a sleepy dwelling with a small morning market market.

Long city market

Akha woman in Long market

Finally, the Mekong is reached in Chiang Kok, a non descript village featuring a muddy landing place, hardly deserving a “harbor” appellation. In a steady line, Akha women are busy transboarding goods from the boats.

The Mekong in Chiang Kok
Chiang Kok rocky landing place
"Ant like" boat's up and downloading

Twelve kilometers of an already paved trail, link Chiang Kok to the new bridge. It was inaugurated – but not yet opened – on May 9th 2015. Administrative work has still to be completed before the border becomes international and much Mekong water will flow through ist arches before group and individual tourist can use this new span.

The Laos-Myanmar bridge from afar
A traditional immigration building
Perspective of the Laos-Myanmar Friendship bridge

Walking on the new Laos-Myanmar bridge

While keeping one’s heart in Asia, it is already possible to have a foot in Laos and another in Myanmar.

In the middle of the new Laos-Myanmar bridge


For a detailed trip report about this itinerary see : 

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