Mae Sot: Gateway to ASEAN
Today we are going to take a look at how one provincial city in Thailand plans to transform itself into a gateway to ASEAN. Mae Sot, in Tak Province, North Western Thailand with a population of just over 50,000 has big plans to position itself as an important trade and tourism hub, taking advantage of a number of factors in its favour.
These include include the start of the ASEAN Economic Community (or AEC) at the end of this year, important ongoing changes in neighbouring Myanmar and new visa regulations that look set to make border crossings a whole lot easier. The AEC is basically a big trading block covering most of the countries of South East Asia. Once implemented its combined economy will rival that of Brazil or Russia and it is expected to provide a major boost in trade for its members.
Officials in Mae Sot hope that a great deal of this trade will pass through their city, which lies strategically on the East-West economic corridor. Improvements to infrastructure in Myanmar make this route increasingly appealing to traders, and help to cut journey times for both goods and people.
The same officials also want to promote Mae Sot as a convenient destination of choice for the people of Myanmar, particularly those living in nearby Karen and Mon States. They hope to encourage them to shop in Mae Sot’s ever growing number of shopping centres and even to visit one of the local hospitals for check ups and treatments as part of drive to boost medical tourism in the area.
Finally it is hoped that the introduction of new multiple entry tourist visas, part of government efforts to facilitate the AEC, will provide a welcome boost to the tourism sector, encouraging people to choose to cross borders by land rather than fly.
This new visa, which was made available on 13 November and costs 5,000 Thai Baht, grants travellers unlimited border crossings for up to sixty days.
With Myanmar enjoying explosive growth in tourist numbers, from 2 million in 2013 to an expected 5 million this year and a targeted 20 million by 2020, Mae Sot is eager to make the most of this bonanza, and hopes to entice many of these tourists to Mae Sot, not just to use the border crossing but to stay and enjoy the many delights that the region has to offer before heading off on their way.
With so many important changes on the horizon the future is looking bright for Mae Sot and it will be exciting to watch and see how this sleepy provincial border city transforms itself into a gateway to ASEAN.
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