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China-Laos railway now connecting cities of Kunming and Vientiane

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Photo: Pan Longzhu/Xinhua
Photo: Pan Longzhu/Xinhua

The China-Laos Railway connecting Kunming and Vientiane has officially opened yesterday. This opening coincided with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Laos. Chairman of The People's Republic of China, Jinping Xi, witnessed the inauguration with Lao's chairman, Thongloun Sisoulith, who also attended online by video.

This newly opened 414-kilometer railway connects the Lao capital Vientiane with the Yunnan border, and consecutively with Kunming. Due to dominantly mountainous terrain 167 bridges and 75 tunnels have been built, covering respectively 62 and 198 kilometers of the total distance. The geological landscape along the line is complex, making it an extremely challenging construction project.

The $6 billion track was built by the Laos-China Railway Company, a joint venture between Chinese and Lao state-owned enterprises. The Lao side is responsible for 30% of its share, with roughly $1.5 billion being provided as loans from the China EXIM Bank, and $250 million being directly injected by the Lao government.

Photo: Hu Chao / Xinhua
Photo: Hu Chao / Xinhua

The new railway connection has the potential to strengthen ties between the two countries and boost the economy for a landlocked Laos by facilitating cross-border trade. Rail freight transport will travel at 120 km/h. Post-COVID, we may also an influx of tourism between the two countries. Yunnan has traditionally been one of China's most popular provinces for both international as well as domestic tourism. Passenger trains will travel at a speed of 160 km/h and will in the future be able to complete a trip between Kunming and Vientiane in only 10 hours.

Popular destinations in southern Yunnan, including Xishuangbanna and Pu'er, are now also connected by railway, and trips take 2.5 hours and 3 hours respectively from the Kunming South Railway Station. The Laos section includes stations in the UNESCO heritage city of Luang Prabang and the party town of Vang Vieng.

Image: ThinkChina
Image: ThinkChina

The China-Laos Railway is part of a bigger plan to ultimately connect Kunming all the way with Singapore, dubbed the Pan-Asia Railway or Kunming–Singapore Railway. The original vision was to realize three different routes starting in Kunming and traveling to respectively Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to ultimately meet in Bangkok and extend to Malaysia and Singapore. With the western and eastern routes currently on hold, the connection with Vientiane is key in achieving the larger goal and may one day make countries as far as Singapore accessible to China by train.

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This is awesome, will be great to be able to go to Luang Prabang and Vientiane via rail! Even if the route to Bangkok isn't finished, it's a small distance between Vientiane and Nong Khai in Thailand, so onward travel isn't too much of a problem.

The new passage, and the barriers.

In the past two years, 458km of fencing/wall has been newly erected or fortified along the borders, dubbed "The Southern Great Wall."

A WJS article on Yunnan and its local neighbors published yesterday:


Is it possible to enter China on this train? I am a resident here and need to go to Europe and the US. Can I reenter on this train and the Quarantine in Yunnan

At the moment there is only a cargo train and no passenger train so no.

To update, passenger high speed rail trains connecting from Kunming into Laos have begun since earlier this year... and runs further into Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang (an UNESCO World Heritage-listed town), and Vientiane provinces.

A good post on places to visit along the way:


Recent talks with Thailand-Laos rail network cross-border connections from Vientiane:


Good news. Starting next Wednesday on March 15, passengers can book tickets for the Laos-China Railway on their mobile devices (via the "LCR Ticket" app, available on Play store or Apple).

Currently, reserving train seats for the Laos' rail portion have been hectic as local scalpers have dominated the station queues, reselling train seats to Luang Prabang at double or triple rates.


Beginning sometime next month in April, the Laos China Railway trains will seamlessly cross borders without the hassles of disembarking for border checkpoints.

Like this railway, Beerlao lager is also a joint venture (Carlsberg Group with the Lao government) and one of the most prominent brands in Laos. A national treasure worth protecting ;)

The brewery company's 10% shrinkage during summer wet seasons may be attributed to the poor road conditions scattered throughout most of Laos. One of the infrastructural problems that needs to be addressed at the ministerial level.

The "three hours" bottlenecks for passengers in Moding is a wrinkle to be ironed out... granted the two extra shared vehicle trips (jacked up fares on the Lao side) between Boting, the border checkpoints, and Moding could now be bypassed.

The Lao government needs to stop turning a blind-eye to their custom officials, not to mention the consulate staff in Kunming, from threatening passengers and pocketing extra fees for themselves.

According to the China Daily article, the 10 & 1/2 hour trip includes 3 hours for border visa formalities, so the actual travel time is 7 & 1/2 hours.. Damned impressive !

The Wall Street Journal currently features the China-Laos Railway on its front page in a special video report:


This WJS report reveals China's BRI plan to connect SE Asia via this railway. Journalists Nikki Walker and Todd Holmes obviously didn't travel to the border SEZ themselves. This area has been a ghost town with stalled development projects for several years, but may slowly pickup in the future if one is cautiously optimistic.

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