The Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand (Siam) could be linked by a "Land Bridge" across Thai territory, a region portrayed in this 1967 "declassified" map by the "U.S. Air Force Operations" for their instruction booklet, "Counterinsurgency in Thailand".
Photo copyright Richard S. Ehrlich archive

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Bangkok hopes Beijing will help build a $2.8 billion, east-west highway and railway "Land Bridge" across Thailand, linking the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand as a short-cut for oil and other international cargo currently sailing further south via Singapore and the Malacca Strait.

Inland southern China could then also use existing north-south roads and rails to enable Chinese overland access, for the first time, to southern Thailand's two planned deep-sea ports on the Andaman and Gulf coasts, opening westward to the Indian Ocean and east to the Pacific.

Thailand describes the Land Bridge plan as a faster, shorter, cheaper route for international shipping compared to the narrow, congested, southern Strait of Malacca wedged between Singapore and Indonesia.

The Land Bridge could also become an alternative route if hostilities erupt in the region and the Malacca Strait is blockaded.

Many of the international ships passing Singapore carry Middle Eastern oil and other products to China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Pacific.

The Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) "really like our policy, particularly the Land Bridge project, which I am confident they will take part in," Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said after meeting the AIIB president in February.

"I will have official talk to them," Mr. Srettha said, the Bangkok Post reported on February 4.

Bangkok plans to send "a Land Bridge megaproject roadshow" headed by Thailand's transportation ministry to China in March, to attract Chinese government and private investment to the 160-mile-long [100-km-long] project which includes gas and oil pipelines, warehouses, and other infrastructure.

Thailand's transport ministry was expected to give a detailed report about the Land Bridge to the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok later in February to prepare for the roadshow, the Bangkok Post reported.

If built, the Land Bridge would be open to worldwide shipping, officials said.

"Today, the world collaborates, not just competes," said Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently visited Thailand and expressed interest in the project, Mr. Srettha said.

Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Thai prime minister described the plan to U.S., Japanese, and other potential investors including Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, CEO of Dubai Port (DP) World, a logistics company based in the United Arab Emirates.

As a result, Transportation Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit will go to Dubai soon to meet DP officials, Mr. Srettha said.

"The key factor that makes the investors interested in the project is the 10 percent internal rate of return they will receive from the project," Mr. Suriya said.

Among foreign shippers, China could increase its international market prowess by using the Land Bridge because most of its exports to Europe currently sail the longer route through the Malacca Strait.

The Land Bridge would connect Ranong port, on southwest Thailand's Andaman Sea, with Chumphon port on the southeast coast along the Gulf of Thailand.

Railway stations and coast-to-coast train facilities would be built while construction crews lay a sleek highway across rocky hills and jungles to service the two seaports.

On each coast, cargo ships would end their journey, dock, and unload their goods onto waiting trains and trucks.

The cargo would cross Thailand to the opposite coast, where the goods would be loaded onto ships that start their journey in that port.

The Land Bridge's east coast port, Chumphon, is close to Thailand's international investor-friendly Eastern Economic Cooridor (EEC), designed to attract high-tech industries.

U-Tapao International Airport and Thailand's busiest deep-sea port at Laem Chabang, in Chon Buri province, are also near Chumphon's seaport on the Gulf of Thailand.

Dubai Ports is reportedly a shareholder in a joint container terminal venture at Laem Chabang International Terminal.

"The government conducted this megaproject with the current geopolitical scene in mind, as the country has no conflicts with other nations," Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told Parliament on Jan. 4.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks" are available at