The First Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge
The Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge, the first major bridge across the lower Mekong, links the town of Nong Khai in Thailand with the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vientiane. Australia, through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), provided $42 million Australian dollars for the feasibility studies, design and construction of the bridge between 1991 and 1994.
Since its opening, the Friendship Bridge has brought about benefits to the two neighbouring countries in terms of their economies, trade, tourism, investment, cultural exchanges, transportation and logistics. The bridge not only connects the two nations physically; it also brings together the Thai and Lao people, enhancing people-to-people links. The first Friendship Bridge therefore has become an enduring symbol of friendship and cooperation between Australia, Thailand and Laos.
History of the Bridge
- 1956 – The idea of building the bridge across the Mekong River to connect Thailand with Laos began.
- 1988 - General Chartchai Chunhavan, the then Prime Minister of Thailand, visited Laos. A joint leaders’ communiqué was released which agreed in principle to construct a bridge over the Mekong River linking Nong Khai province with Vientiane.
- 1989 – HE Bob Hawke, the then Australian Prime Minister, visited Thailand and announced that the Australian Government would offer funding for the construction of the bridge through cooperation between representatives from Thailand and Laos.
- January 1990 - Memorandum of Understanding was signed at Government House in Thailand. Feasibility studies were carried out by Australian engineering firms Maunsell and Partners and Sinclair Knight and Partners.
- October 1991- The Australian Government selected John Holland Construction Pty Ltd and Kin Sun (Thai) to construct the bridge.
- November 1991- Foundation stone laying ceremony took place. The construction took approximately two and a half years to complete.
- 8 April 1994 - His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand presided over the opening ceremony of the bridge, together with HE Nuhak Phumsawan, the then President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and HE Paul Keating, Australian Prime Minister at that time.
- 23 April 1994 - The first Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge opened for use.
- 5 March 2009 - A Lao-Thai railway link was opened on the bridge, further enhancing accessibility between Thailand and Laos.
- 29 April 2009 – Australia joined Laos and Thailand to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Lao -Thai Friendship Bridge.
With a length of 1170 metres, the bridge has two 3.5 metre wide road lanes, two 1.5 metre wide footpaths and a single metre gauge railway line running down the centre. The bridge is supported by six foundations in the river bed, each 105 metres apart. Two additional foundations support the bridge at either end. Fifteen columns provide support along the edge of both sides of the bridge, eight on the Thai side and seven on the Lao side.
The first Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge is significant in fostering the economic development of and strengthening good relations between the two countries. It facilitates the transport of commodities which previously depended on a ferry system and provides access to a deep sea port for Laos in Thailand. The bridge remains a focal point for trade and a symbol of Australian commitment to the development in the region.
Before the opening of the bridge, total value of imports and exports (fiscal year 1993) through Nong Khai Customs House, was 3.6 billion baht. A year later, the value had increased by 34 per cent to 4.8 billion baht and to 5.3 billion baht in the following year. The latest statistics for fiscal year 2011 show the value of the imports and exports at 43 billion baht.
In terms of transport, there were 13,518 vehicles arriving and 13455 departing via Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge Boundary Post in fiscal year 1994. The number increased dramatically in 1995 after the bridge was opened with 47,293 vehicles arriving and 48,658 vehicles departing. In fiscal year 2011, 419,659 vehicles arrived and 424,841 vehicles departed via the boundary post.
In relation to people, in the fiscal year 1994, there were 55,085 people crossing the border through Nong Khai Boundary Post into Thailand and 50,100 crossing out. In 1995, the number rose to 293,126 arrivals and 292,462 departures. In 2011, there were 2,713,495 arrivals and 2,657,100 departures.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; The Australian Embassy in Laos; The first Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge report by Thai Embassy in Vientiane; Ministry of Commerce, Thailand; Nong Khai Customs House