January 28, 2016

Laos' sleepy capital awakens to a construction boom

By:  Simon Roughneen, Nikkei Asian Review, January 21 2016

VIENTIANE   The capital of Laos is a low-rise, low-key city, especially when compared with the hulking high-rises and bustling streets of better-known Southeast Asian cities such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Photo Credit:  Simon Roughneed, via Nikkei Asian Review.

But this once-sleepy city is fast shedding its sedate reputation due to a building boom ahead of international summits that will bring U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and a host of other world leaders to visit in 2016.

Construction cranes tower over the city's two- and three-story shophouses and hotels -- the din of diggers and drills drowning out the capital's increasingly dense traffic.

"So many shopping malls now -- around 20 going up all around the city," said Pouthong Sengchanh while standing over a model of the Vientiane New World project, a mix of shops, restaurants and offices newly stretching along the city's Mekong riverfront. Inevitably, perhaps, Vientiane New World will include a mall of its own as the final stage in the project, scheduled to be completed by 2018.

Sengchanh, a property consultant with Vientiane New World, is not worried about the type of mall overkill that has undermined the character of other Southeast Asian cities. But Vanthana Nolintha, a researcher at the government-linked National Economic Research Institute, said some of the new projects might not prove viable.

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