KIEN GIANG (VNS)— Plans to create a tourist circuit encompassing coastal areas of Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Thailand could be delayed as infrastructure is not yet in place and authorities cannot find investors.
The sea route from the Mekong River Delta province of Kien Giang to Sihanoukville in Cambodia and Trat Province in Thailand, which was expected to be introduced to tour operators and opened to tourists at the end of this year had been delayed, Vietnamese and Thai authorities said at a meeting last week.
Mai Van Huynh, deputy chairman of Kien Giang, told the meeting that a port and procedures to start the tour had been completed but his province had only one ship of international standard for operating on the route.
The province would need to solicit investment in more vessels, he said.
The eastern Thai provinces of Trat and Chanthaburi do not have ships either and cannot find investors.
According to Pongrat Phiromrat, the deputy governor of Chanthaburi, the province has built a US$1 million seaport that can receive international tourists.
But the government has been unable to find a company to manage the port despite thrice inviting bids, he said.
Huynh did not respond to a request by the Thai officials to use the Kien Giang-owned vessel for the tour, suggesting instead that priority should be given to a land route that is under construction while waiting for investors.
The sea tour could start when all facilities are in place, he said.
Kien Giang has called on local and international tour operators to operate tourist vessels on the route.
"All paperwork and agreements to start a sea tour of Ha Tien, Rach Gia, and Phu Quoc Island in Viet Nam, Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and Trat and Chanthaburi in Thailand have been finished," Huynh told Viet Nam News.
"The only thing left is to wait for investors."
By sea, it takes about two-and-a-half hours to go from Phu Quoc to Sihanoukville and two more hours to reach Trat.
By land from mainland Viet Nam it is around 350km.
Umarat Nilaphan, general manager of Viet Nam Star Travel, which regularly organises overland tours of the three countries, said many clients have been asking about the new tour after reading about it in the media.
Kien Giang has several ports like An Thoi, Rach Gia, Hon Chong and Tac Cau.
It is now building the Vinh Dam international seaport in Phu Quoc to meet the tourism needs, according to the People's Committee.
The sea tour was first mooted in 2006, but has been progressing at a snail's pace.
Chutathip Chareonlarp, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's HCM City office, told the meeting that a project of this magnitude could not be completed in a short time.
Tourism exchanges between the two countries are reasonably good, with tourism operators from Trat, Chanthaburi, and Rayong visiting HCM City to explore co-operation opportunities, she said.
Thailand and Vietnam have joined forces to develop the 900-kilometre R10 route, or Southern Economic Corridor, to support growing opportunities in trade, investments and tourism, link southern Viet Nam to Dawei in Myanmar, and facilitate distribution of goods among Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.
With loans from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Thai government, the renovated R10 economic corridor is expected to be ready by 2015.
Panpimon Suwannapongse, the Thai consul-general to HCM City, who recently met with high-ranking executives from southern Viet Nam and Thailand's east-coast provinces, said the R10 route would link those two areas and Cambodia. The 13 provinces of southern Viet Nam, within theRiver Delta, make up an abundant agricultural-goods and fishing region, a major source of revenue for Viet Nam and the site of future infrastructure projects, including the country's next major deep-sea port.
Charoen Pokphand Foods has set up a successful shrimp farm in Ca Mau Province. Such projects help foster relations and serve as a platform for future business opportunities.
The R10 route will help link Thailand seafood producers with the abundant raw materials in Viet Nam, as well as transport of goods throughout that region, according to an executive of Surint Omya Chemicals (Viet Nam) who has more than 20 years of business experience in Viet Nam.
Pham Thanh Tuoi, chairman of a residents' committee in Ca Mau said with loans from the ADB, Viet Nam planned to complete the renovation and expansion of the R10 route to facilitate tourism, social and cultural exchanges among Viet Nam, Thailand and Cambodia by 2015.
Furthermore, Kien Giang Province would like Thailand and Vietnamese state tourism agencies to help publicise tourist attractions along the R10 route through cooperation in tourism related activities and businesses, exchange of information and personnel.
According to Chutathip Chareonlarp, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's office in HCM City, Thailand and Viet Nam have an agreement to promote and expand tourism between the two countries every year, with the aim to achieve two-way volume of 1 million visitors by 2015. The R10 route will help facilitate growth of tourism business and related activities through the cooperation of three nations (Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand) and joint public relations campaigns to promote tourism on the R10 route on a continuing basis.
Customs processing is another area the three countries of the R10 economic corridor must improve to boost trade, distribution of goods, and tourism.
The joint development efforts of the Southern Economic Corridor are a major area of interest ahead of the Asean Economic Community's implementation in 2015, as they will boost the expansion of major cities along or near the route as well as supporting infrastructure and cooperation between the public and private sector on a long-term basis. — VNS/The Nation