by Chanthaphaphone Mixayboua, Zhang Jianhua, Lin Hao
VIENTIANE, April 12 (Xinhua) -- The Lao people are eager to welcome the first group of Chinese travelers arriving on a cross-border passenger train to be launched on the China-Laos Railway Thursday, with excitement and hope.
"I am so excited to welcome the first passengers traveling on the cross-border passenger train. Because the launch of the service is a milestone for Laos that really makes me feel like I'm a part of history," a food vendor at a market in the Lao capital Vientiane, who gave her name only as Manilanh, said a day ahead of the big event.
Manilanh told Xinhua that she looked forward to greeting Chinese tourists, saying their arrival will boost the recovery of Laos' tourism.
The first cross-border passenger service between the Lao capital Vientiane and Kunming, the capital city of southwest China's Yunnan province, will be operational on Thursday ahead of the Lao New Year holiday, which falls on April 14-16.
More than 200 Chinese tourists are expected to arrive in Laos on the first cross-border passenger train from China.
"The first cross-border passenger train will come during the Lao New Year festival, and many provinces in Laos will stage a range of activities to celebrate the festival this year. I hope that Chinese visitors will enjoy the vibe of the celebrations," a Vientiane vendor calling herself Khamchai told Xinhua.
"As the tourism industry is a main source of foreign currency, I believe that Chinese tourists will give a big boost to economic recovery in Laos," she added.
Tourism has been viewed as a key sector to bolster the Lao economy, Thipphakone Chanthavongsa, deputy head of the Prime Minister's Office, said at the government's monthly meeting on March 29.
As the China-Laos Railway becomes a crucial infrastructure in facilitating travel, Lao tourism authorities estimate that around 368,000 Chinese travelers will visit Laos this year, up 21 percent from 2022.
Experts believe that millions of Chinese tourists will visit ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries, with many of them to travel on the China-Laos Railway.
The Laotians have shown their appreciation towards the launch of cross-border passenger service, expressing readiness to welcome the arrival of Chinese tourists on the internet.
"Traveling to China will be more convenient now. China will be my next destination," said a Lao netizen. "We are ready to welcome our Chinese friends. I wish you have a great experience during the Lao New Year holiday."
"Thank you for coming to Laos. Many new attractions and experiences await you here!" said another netizen.
"China is very important for the recovery of tourism sector. I hope the charm of Laos being simply beautiful can impress Chinese tourists."
Since the China-Laos Railway came into operation in December 2021, it has seen an increasing demand for its services. From January to February this year, the railway of the Lao section transported 417,400 passengers, up 256.2 percent compared to the same period last year.
The planned launch of the cross-border passenger service comes just in time for the traditional Lao New Year, which is expected to boost the rail passenger traffic during a long holiday.
The railway operator has set out plans to improve services related to both passenger travel and freight transport, including resolving existing problems, so that tourists, especially from China, can well enjoy their trips.
Meanwhile, the Lao government was taking steps to prepare for the start of the cross-border passenger service on the China-Laos Railway to ensure a safe and smooth trip for all passengers.