6 June 2024

While there are plans to develop and invest in the Thai province of Trat, alongside the Eastern Economic Corridor project, the province itself has never really felt a serious push.

“Trat special economic zone has high potential,” said Dr. Suthilux Kumkrongrux of the Federation of Thai Industry committee. He said that, originally, Trat saw that the location is about warehousing, a rest stop for goods from Bangkok or other provinces that are to be exported to Cambodia. “When there are more goods at this spot, the export value will rise automatically”.

That was the original plan, when then Thai government announced years ago that Trat will be a special economic zone. The infrastructure had been built, including power grids, waterworks and logistics. The dynamic changed, however, when the government changed its mind and created the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Change of concept

The grand plan sounded and looked promising. Investors and locals were excited, but the transport corridors did not include Trat.

Dr. Suthilux said that there was a stumble in the government’s thinking.

The then government saw that Thailand had nothing new. So, the Eastern Economic Corridor was established to boost development.

Life in Trat goes on, with or without a government push. The province trades with Cambodia actively, with electrical wire being the highest-value export, followed by soft drinks and granulated sugar.

The R10 route

Then the announcement of the R10 route got Thai people’s hopes up again.

R10 is the name of the 924-kilometer-long route connecting cities in three countries, from Bangkok in Thailand, through Koh Kong in Cambodia to Ca Mau in Vietnam.

A decade has passed. The R10 section in Trat province looks neat, while the section in Cambodia is under construction. The government announced an upgrade to the road a year ago.

Many Cambodians along the route are not aware of R10. They know highway number 48, in front of their houses, is being upgraded and it will look beautiful in the next two years. They don’t know that it carries so much potential and expectation.

Highway 48 in Koh Kong province, Cambodia on March 22nd, 2023. (Photo by Tulip Naksompop Blauw)

Unaware locals

A deputy chief of a sub-district in Koh Kong province told Thai PBS World that he has been living there since 1991. The road in front of his house, which is officially part of the R10 route, is being upgraded. The construction contract is 39 months long and work started a year ago. He said, however, that the R10 route is in Phnom Penh, not in Koh Kong.

Another local, a 25-year-old shopkeeper who has been working in Koh Kong for a year, said they have seen the construction going on in front of the shop ever since she moved here, and she knows nothing about R10.

A Cambodian Tuk driver, who has been working in the border area for about 10 years, also told the reporter that he knows nothing about R10, not even highway number 48.

Deputy chief of a sub-district in Koh Kong province with Thai PBS World. (Photo by Kitipat Chuensukjit)

Hopeful anyway

Though local people might not be aware of the initiatives, it was reported in Cambodian media that the Cambodian government hopes that R10 will boost the tourism industry and transportation and help facilitate the flow of goods in the region.

It’s not just the Cambodian government, the Thai business operators are also placing hope on the routes.

The vice president of Trat Chamber of Commerce, Anggoon Ruchakanit, said that the route will help boost tourism in the region, because it can connect tourism from Trat to Sihanoukville and Vietnam.

“This route is very important for tourism, including the transportation of goods through three countries. It will be very convenient. When it opens, together with the sea route, tourism will be robust and lively,” said Anggoon.

In his opinion, being able to engage in trade or anything must begin with tourism and getting to know each other. “When tourism is good, the relationship is good, trade will follow automatically. When trade comes, other aspects of the development will also happen”.

For now, however, the R10 remains a grand plan, the special economic zone is barely getting any investment and Trat is still a satellite economic city.

By Tulip Naksompop Blauw