The future train to Lake Toba

[News: 24 May 2023] Fix Penang Island instead of making new islands, Jakarta-Bandung high-speed test run, and a proposed sustainability center in an iconic building in HCMC

Hello from Hua Hin! This is my last Hua Hin hello for now, as I will go to Bangkok next week to attend Asia Pacific Rail 2023. Let me know if you are going!

I don’t usually announce my travel plans as they tend to change. I have hinted that I want to go to Jakarta to ride the high-speed rail, but I have been reluctant to book anything as these projects are usually delayed. Things are looking better after a test run was completed this week (see link in the news).

Ultimately I would like to go to Sumatra (if I can work out the internal flights) and see the fragmented railway that will form put of the railway to Lake Toba (this week’s main article). To top it off I would then go to Sulawesi to see the new railway there.

For paid subscribers I have my thoughts on the Penang South Islands project.

Dispatches from Southeast Asia

The supposed green utopia of the Penang South Islands project will do nothing to fix the current urban problems of the island of Penang.

Latest posts at Future Southeast Asia

Lake Toba is one of the 10 New Balis (for want of a better slogan), and a railway would go a long way in making this amazing place more accessible. Qatar Airways are planning to fly to medan from next year as well, so maybe more tourists will start a trip in Sumatra instead of just staying in Bali.


🇰🇭 Cambodia

“Kavich Neang’s lush feature tells a largely autobiographical tale of growing up in a building whose often painful history is a microcosm of his country’s.”

🇮🇩 Indonesia

• There is a never-ending stream of articles about Nusantara, and I am filing the most important articles on the Nusantara page. One headline I see often is the “Jakarta is moving” narrative, as if the entire city is moving.

🇱🇦 Laos

🇲🇾 Malaysia

"Phase 1 of Kuching Urban Transportation System (KUTS) project, which involves the design, construction and commissioning of the three Autonomous Rapid Transit (ART) lines, was 8.25 per cent completed as of the first quarter of this year".

My first visit to KL was after the Petronas Twin Towers were built, so I never saw that area when it was once a race track.

🇵🇭 Philippines

“Historic landmark Manila Central Post Office is on fire this Monday morning.” Video.

🇸🇬 Singapore

“From business to city life, Singapore comes out on top.”

🇹🇭 Thailand

“Bangkok administration hopes the new government will step in to resolve the ever-growing debt it owes over the BTS Green Line extension.”

“As the sector recovers, advocates for disabled people say the government and industry operators need to make the country more accessible.”• Article 6 and electric buses in Thailand: how carbon markets speed up the net zero transition

🇻🇳 Vietnam

ViCo is calling for funding for Vietnam's first national center for sustainability in Ho Chi Minh City. This project caught my attention as they are trying to acquire the historic railway administration building in Disrtict 1. This building has been threatened with demolition in the past, so I am heartened to see it potentially put to good use.

From their brochure:

“We believe in the power of adaptive reuse and the potential to create a sustainable future by revitalizing existing buildings. Our mission is to showcase the value of sustainable renovation and heritage preservation in Vietnam, setting a powerful example for responsible redevelopment. “


“This architectural gem offers ample space to accommodate over 300 sustainability professionals from approximately 30 organizations, fostering collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation.”

Note: This is not an advertisement and I’m affiliated with this, but if Future Southeast Asia becomes as big a publication as, say,, then it would be a dream to have a Future Southeast Asia office in this building.

Can Gio is a district of HCMC that is best known for its Mangrove Biosphere Reserve. I will write an article about this once I get the swear words out of my system.

“Gojek – an on-demand, multiservice mobile platform – and Dat Bike – one of the fastest growing electric vehicle startups in Southeast Asia – announced on May 18 that they will partner to pilot the use of electric motorbikes in Gojek's transportation, logistics, and food delivery network in Vietnam.”

It’s been a non-stop barrage of bad news about the new HCMC airport, so VnExpress offers up this more hopeful article of what to expect if/when the airport opens.

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