The new Air Asia flights from the airline’s growing domestic and international hub at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok to Sihanoukville will take off four times a week while later this year, an old rail link between Aranyaprathet in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province and Poipet in Cambodia will reopen for business for the first time since 1973. The railway link could be important since Thailand’s trade with Cambodia rose by 36% last year and 62% of all cross border trade between the two countries was between these points.

This week saw two positive moves to strengthen trade and transport links between Thailand and Cambodia. The two kingdoms, both Asean members, are anxious to strengthen trade and business opportunities between the countries in what is a challenging year economically. The week saw Air Asia announce a four weekly flight service between Bangkok and the charming resort city of Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia while the two prime ministers of the countries inaugurated the relaunch of a railway connection sundered during the Cambodian civil war and which previously linked Sa Kaeo province in Thailand and the city of Poipet in Cambodia between 1942 and 1973.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen depart from Aranyaprathet in Thailand on a 1.3 km rail journey to Poipet in Cambodia as they announced the reopening of an old rail link between the two kingdoms closed in 1973 during the Cambodian civil war. Both leaders expect the new rail link, which becomes operational later this year, to help boost tourism and trade between the two countries. The Aranyaprathet to Poipet crossing point alone accounted for 62% of cross border trade between Thailand and Cambodia last year. Meanwhile, Air Asia has announced that from July, it will be operating flights from Bangkok to Cambodia’s balmy resort town of Sihanoukville four times a week. This move will offer Thai travelers and those using Thailand as a tourist hub more choice and options.

Thailand, this week, moved to shore up its position as regional tourist hub when it opened up two new transport links to Cambodia. It comes at a time when Thailand is determined to keep developing its lucrative tourist industry which has greatly benefited in the last five years from more transport connections to and  from the country.

Four flights a week from Bangkok to balmy Sihanoukville in Cambodia offers Thai and foreign travelers more options

The latest connection is a new direct flight link from Bangkok to Cambodia’s southern coastal resort of Sihanoukville. The service, which is being launched by Air Asia, will see four flights weekly to the balmy coastal resort commencing on July 1st next. The flights will be operated from what is a raidly expanding Air Asia hub at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok which now sees a growing number of international flights to and from Thailand linking the kingdom with countries throughout Asia including Australia. The CEO of Air Asia, Santisuk Klongchaiya, says the new service will strengthen Thailand’s position as a tourist hub while offering passengers from Thailand and those travelling through the kingdom a chance to experience  a new destination renowned for its beautiful beaches and atmosphere while still being competitively priced. Air Asia also offers regular flights to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the resort town in Cambodia’s north west adjacent to the famed Angkor region which increasingly draws western tourists.

Charming Cambodian city of Sihanoukville is changing however with growth of the casinos

The new service comes at a time when Sihanoukville itself is rapidly changing. The reason for this is massive Chinese inward investment into the city. This has seen a new motorway being developed between the city and the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh but the biggest change has been the flourishing casino trade which has sprung up across the city. Some reports suggest that the city is set to become the new Macau. It has already become a magnet for a huge influx of Chinese visitors, many of whom are drawn by the gambling tables.

Mixed blessing for many Cambodians in  Sihanoukville

To some in Sihanoukville, this is all a mixed blessing. Many native Cambodian business people are being driven out of business in the city by skyrocketing rents driven by Chinese business people drawn to the flourishing Chinese tourist boom. Some reports suggest that rents have increased by up to 5 times while the city has seen a decline in western visitors. Sihanoukville has been a popular location for western backpackers attracted by its unspolit, laid back elegance and low prices. This has now changed although the beaches are still beautiful. The hotels, however, are now far more expensive driven by Chinese demand.

Thai PM and Cambodian counterpart open new railway link between the kingdoms

This week, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was at the Thai Cambodian border to inaugurate a new rail link between the two countries. It was a historic move. The Sa Kaeo and Poipet line has been cut off since 1973 when Cambodia became engulfed in revolution and the turmoil of civil war. The new service will run from Klong Luek railway station in Sa Kaeo to Poipet station just across the border in Cambodia. The 1.3 km rail link on Monday saw the Thai Prime Minister joined by his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, boarding the train for the short ride. The Cambodian strongman said the new link between the countries was of historic and strategic importance: ‘The restoration of the rail link brings a new opportunity for railway services that will help contribute to the economic development of the two countries and also contribute to Asean integration and the development of Greater Mekong sub-region.’

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha said the restoration of the rail link cut by Cambodia’s civil war 46 years ago, would be a boost to tourism, trade and business opportunities between the the two countries.

Rail link a new sign of  ‘partnership for peace and prosperity’ on the Thai Cambodian border

The Thai PM said the the newly established rail link was also a sign of a new ‘partnership for peace and prosperity’ on the Thai Cambodian border. The two leaders then took the train ride in the four carriage train traveling from Thailand across into Poipet Cambodia. Poipet is another Cambodian town being boosted by the casino industry. It is a favorite for Thai travelers including many gambling tourists taking flight for Thailand’s crackdown on the industry since the military regime came to power in 2014.

Rail connection cut off in 1973 during intense fighting in Cambodia’s bloody civil war

The opening on Monday is the culmination of large project within Cambodia to renovate and redevelop the country’s old 1 metre gauge rail network which in 1942 saw a 386 km route from Phnom Penh to Thailand become operational. This was cut off by fighting in 1973. The project is being supported by the Asian Development Bank. The two countries have also signed an agreement on the operation of international rail services. Thailand has handed over rolling stuck to assist with the new service. These included the four carriages used for Monday’s ceremony.

New Rail service to commence this year

It is now expected that regular services will begin sometime later in the year. The two government leaders, on Monday, also launched a bridge between Ban Nong Ian in the Aranyaprathet area of Sa Kaeo and Stung Bot on the other side of the border in Cambodia.    

Trade between Thailand and Cambodia is up with 62% of Thai Cambodian cross border trade recorded at the point of the new railway link

Trade between Thailand and Cambodia is on the way up. This comes as Thailand’s economic leadership is determined to boost the country’s trade links and room for export growth in 2019. Trade  between the two countries was up 36% last year to ฿245 billion ($7.7 billion) according to figures and data released by the Bank of Thailand. Thailand’s Foreign Trade Department meanwhile estimates that cross border trade between the two kingdoms was ฿145 billion for 2018. Strikingly, a colossal 62% of this trade came through the link between Aranyaprathet in Thailand and Poipet in Cambodia.