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Vietnam lags behind as Thailand exploits regional road tourism

A road tour between Vietnam, Laos and Thailand has been attracting more tourists to the countries since a bridge was launched across the Mekong River in December 2006. But the country that has exploited its potentials most, unsurprisingly, is Thailand, which has for long been a favored tourism destination in the region.

 Thai tourism agencies have initiated several campaigns to attract and serve tourists on the East West Economic Corridor (EWEC), but uncooperative management from their Vietnamese counterparts has limited their effectiveness, the Lao Dong said in a report Thursday.Thailand has even turned what could be a tourism dampener to its advantage. Instead of fearing the potentially negative impacts of sex-tourism, it has found a way to promote that, even.

The coastal town of Pattaya, a self-governing city, is one of the famous sex-tourism sites in the kingdom, about 165km east of Bangkok.“Good men go to heaven, bad men come to Pattaya” is a slogan seen everywhere in the town.

Tourists have to book a place at least a month in advance if they want to visit Pattaya in the summer. And surprisingly, it is said that half of the visitors at Pattaya are women from different countries. Tran Huu Phuoc, director of a tourism agency at Vietnam’s Quang Tri Commercial Company, said, “Enticing customers by calling them 'bad men' shows how professional Thai tourism is.”

The company is the one that initiated the EWEC tour called “One day in three countries”.

“Thai people do tourism excellently. They charge a lot but people just keep coming,” Phuoc said.

Ticket sales for gay men shows or the Noong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden 15 kilometers south of Pattaya is higher than that of nearly ten destinations around the DMZ tourism zone combined in Quang Tri Province, he said. Besides its red light districts, Pattaya also promotes Thai culture effectively. It presents art shows, traditional martial arts and other performances on big stages that attract tens of thousands of tourists every day, the Lao Dong report said.

More red tape

As a lot of Vietnamese people have been attracted by Thai tourism services, Vietnamese tourism agencies were also hoping to have Thai tourists flock to Vietnam to enjoy the coastal scenery and fresh and cheap seafood along the country's central region.

But Bu Tia, a fruit vendor in Thailand, said that many Thai tourists coming back from Vietnam via the EWEC, or No.9 Road, have complained about long procedures and unnecessary checks.

Many of them said that “they like to come back to Vietnam” but are discouraged by the bureaucratic management, Tia said.

Police at Muklahan border gate in Thailand work throughout the day and check tourists’ passports very quickly, but those at Lao Bao border gate in Vietnam work from nine to five and at Savanakhet in Laos until 4 p.m.

Tourists not coming to the borders during the “office hours” will be asked for one dollar for “extra time service.” Vo Thi Mai Huong, a final-year tourism student at Udon Thani University, Thailand, said that if Vietnamese and Lao border gates offer the same service as the Thai border gate, the number of tourists coming to Vietnam would be higher. Huong has worked as a tour guide bringing Thai people to Vietnam for several years.

Le Huu Thang, who worked with EWEC projects when he was still deputy chairman of Quang Tri People’s Committee, said that during his tenure, he had many times proposed to authorities that working hours at Vietnam’s border gate are changed, but “unfortunately, nothing has changed until now.”

While Thailand’s tourism spots offer free toilets clean enough for someone to take a nap in, many tourists coming to Vietnam have to pay between VND3,000 to VND5,000 every time they need to use facilities that are usually stinky and dirty, the report said.

“There are too many differences on EWEC and that wastes a lot of potential the corridor offers,” Thang said.

Vietnam’s ban on Thailand’s left-hand-side drivers is also sabotaging Vietnam’s chances of profiting from the tour. Thang said that although Vietnam’s government in early 2009 ordered that left-hand-side drivers are allowed into Vietnam, the Ministry of Public Security never issued documents for implementing the order.

As Vietnam has closed its doors to Thai drivers, Vietnamese drivers who want to carry visitors to Thailand have to use cars registered in Laos, which costs Vietnam valuable tax dollars. Bun Vieng, director of a Lao tourism agency, said that the drivers’ prohibition and the border gate working hours can be fixed some day, but they have already had consequences.
 
They have made foreigners uncomfortable about going on a tour in Vietnam, Vieng said.