Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit cut the ribbon to open the Vientiane-Vang Vieng Expressway on 20 December, unleashing hordes of domestic tourists on the 110-km speedway to the holiday retreat. Drivers heavy on the pedal report travel times of an hour, a far cry from the half-day scenic tour on Route 13.
The local tourism trade needed a shot in the arm, but no one was getting rich. A couple of weeks of high season will bring back some staff, and pay down on the bills and mortgages. However, reality appeared to temper elation, according to hoteliers interviewed by the Vientiane Times.
The president finally dropped the green flag on the US$1.2 billion shortcut after mixed signals from the Laos-China Joint Expressway Development Company Limited. The investors wrote most of the cheque for a 50-year concession. Laos has a 5% stake in the deal.
The original launch date was 2 December, Lao National Day, but time-sensitive tourists ready for a long holiday weekend ran into an unexpected detour to Route 13’s off-road trail. No warning…no reason.
On 8 December, the Laotian Times reported that the developer pushed the opening to 31 December. The contractor blamed “the finalization of certain points along the expressway, including on-ramps and off-ramps, lighting, and final cleaning works.”
Hearts sank in the capital and Vang Vieng. The Lao government remained stone-faced. They then told the media on 11 December that the expressway would indeed open on the 20th. And it did.
Credit the Vientiane Times for these details:
“The 23-metre wide road has four lanes and there are 45 bridges and a tunnel on the route.
The expressway has eight payment gates in Vientiane, Naxone, Banbua, Sakar, Phonhong, Hinheup, Ang Namngum and Vang Vieng.
The expressway also has three service points at Vientiane, Phonhong and Vang Vieng, two break points where people can stop for a break, two control points for the road and tunnel, and emergency repair points at Vientiane and Vang Vieng.
The Vientiane-Vang Vieng expressway is the first section of a longer project, and the investment company from Yunnan province will build three more sections linking Vientiane to Boten on the Laos-China border.
The speed limit for the expressway is 100km an hour in the flat terrain between Sikeuth village and Phonhong district in Vientiane Province, and 80 km an hour in the mountainous section between Phonhong and Vang Vieng districts.
Posts on social media have expressed concern about the toll for using the expressway. The toll for using the expressway is currently unclear, a staffer for the expressway told the media. (A fee of LAK 60,000 has been reported by many driving a car on the expressway.)
Construction of the expressway began at the end of 2018 and it was initially scheduled to be completed in 2021, but the project was finished this year.
The government recently approved the construction of the second section between Vangvieng and Luang Prabang.”