A tale of two new cities

Laos to test train line to China in August, the Patong Tunnel in Phuket, electric cars in Vietnam, and more construction and transport news in Southeast Asia.

This week’s articles feature two planned new cities in unlikely places.

Bokor City is a planned new city being built within a national park in Cambodia. In a classic case of doublespeak, a city of 30,000 hectares for eco-tourism will be built on land cleared in what was supposed to be a protected park.

Bokor is the abandoned hill station near the lovely town of Kampot. I couldn’t find what the estimated population would be, but imagine a city relying on visitors and supplies from this road:

[The road from Kampot to Bokor. Guess where it starts getting hilly.]

The second city is the Four Thousand Islands New Area, also known as the Sithandone SEZ, in Southern Laos. The 4000 islands refer to where the Mekong River becomes an archipelago of unnavigable waterways (as the French discovered when they first sent a boat up the Mekong). It’s also home to the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia.

It’s been a backpacker haven for years, with backpackers being the only subset of travellers to endure the long travel times and lack of amenities.

[A bungalow by the Mekong in the 4000 Islands.]

The plan is to turn this area into a special economic zone, with 30 5-star hotels, casinos, and a racecourse. Given that a typical race meeting involves about 80 horses on the day, I’m not sure where they are getting to get so many horses. That though appears to be the least of their worries in this new city plan.

There is already an SEZ new city casino haven in Boten, on the Laos-China border. That has the advantage of being next to the border with a railway system connected to China. To sustain a new city this size in Sithandone would require a round-the-clock airlift.

One of my dreams is to plan or build a new city in Southeast Asia. I have no formal qualification to do so (governments prefer people with degrees), but I have enough real-world travel experience to know what works and what doesn’t. I also have an ounce of common sense, which may not be much, but it appears to be an ounce more than the planners of these new cities. What I also don’t have is a billion dollars and government connections.

I’ve written an article before about building better new cities in Southeast Asia. Things not to do include letting a single developer have control of the whole city, no irregular street layouts, and no more casinos.

If you want to build a great new town/city, just copy what already works. Kampot and Battambang in Cambodia already works. Find available land near a river, grid out streets in a rectangle 10 x 4, and developers are only allowed one block each. Make sure there is a variety of architecturally interesting buildings, and all the streets must be lined with trees. Then just let the town grow organically. If it fails, at least you haven’t committed to building a large city from nothing, and if it succeeds, you can always expand it or replicate it somewhere else.

Once we can start travelling again I will make trips to these new cities around Southeast Asia and report back.

Latest Posts At Future Southeast Asia

Bokor City – A new city in Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Bokor City is a proposed new city in Bokor National Park, Kampot province, Cambodia. The new city was announced in August 2019 under the “Master Plan for Bokor City Development Project until 2035”. The new city will occupy about 9,000 hectares of land in the park.

Four Thousand Islands New Area – The Sithandone SEZ in Southern Laos

Four Thousand Islands New Area is a proposed new urban development in Khong district, Champasak province, Laos. This nearest city is Pakse, 140km away.

Updated Posts


Accelerating the $6.07b Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project


Laos to test train line to China in August

“The test on the 420-kilometre track was set for August before the service launch in December”.

Construction progress of China-Laos Railway on schedule despite pandemic


Mekong River region economic zones draw illegal actors — Report

“…the Chinese-backed U.S. $15 billion real estate mega-project along the Thaungyin River in southeastern Kayin state has gained notoriety in recent months as a bastion of illegal activity, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), an independent research outfit that studies transnational organized crime networks.”

This article about the ills of SEZs also relates to Bokor and Sithandone.


Mindanao railway remains a dream after 85 years

“President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly promised to give Mindanao a railway system when he campaigned for the presidency in 2016, and during the early days of his administration. Now in his last full year in Malacanang, Mindanaoans have yet to see the government putting in place a single track.”


SRT 'clears out' illegal occupants along new airport route

“The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) says it has cleared out all people who were illegally occupying land along the planned high-speed train route from Suvarnabhumi airport to U-tapao airport, and that it is almost ready to hand over the entire construction site of this route to contractors.”

Other News


Southeast Asia and COVID-19 vaccines explained

Some of the news links this week related to construction sites closing or being delayed due to COVID-19. This article gives an overview on why vaccination is slow and where vaccines will come from.


Cambodia to build Kratie-Kampong Thom bridge under China’s loan


Indonesia and US to build maritime center at mouth of Malacca

“Indonesia and the United States have broken ground on a new $3.5 million maritime training center in the strategic area of Batam, in the Riau Islands, Indonesia's maritime security agency said.”

Indonesia to speed up Borobudur highland tourism area construction

New Zealand orders 262 freight trains from Indonesia


Laos to join meetings on rail link

“Thailand and China have agreed to seek to hold a monthly tripartite meeting with Laos to review updates on the progress on their plan to connect the Thai-Chinese high-speed rail system in Thailand with Vientiane.”

Chinese casino and resort in Laos resumes work on controversial airport

“The crime-linked Chinese owner of a large casino and resort in northwestern Laos’ Bokeo province has resumed construction on an airport—a project shelved in 2017 due to local opposition—in a bid to bring more tourists into his large resort and special economic zone, sources say.”


Construction industry supply chain affected by lockdown, says Builders Association

A post shared by @harimaolee


Ayala Land develops waterside district in Cebu

“Ayala Land, Inc. is developing a 26-hectare sustainable waterside district in Cebu called South Coast City with SM Prime Holdings, Inc. and Cebu Holdings, Inc.”


Second stage of Thomson-East Coast Line to begin operations on Aug 28

Temporary relief measures for property developers extended again due to Covid-19 disruptions


Thailand to shut construction sites, seal off camps to contain virus

Patong Tunnel, at 3.98km long, to cost B14.4bn, work slated to start in 2023

“…the current plan is to construct a road with elevated sections and a four-lane tunnel through the hills separating Patong from Kathu.”

Two long-time residents talk the past, present, and future of Ari-Saphan Kwai


Ride-hailing firm Grab to launch electric cars in Vietnam

More hotels up for sale in Nha Trang, and 1,000 hotels closed in Da Lat shut as Covid keeps away tourists.