1994: Reflecting on the Early Days of Khiri Travel
In this blog, Willem Niemeijer, CEO and co-founder of Khiri Travel looks back on the early days of Khiri Travel and the events that heralded an era of growth and development for the Greater Mekong Region, at that time better known as Indochina.
In 1994 Khiri Travel was in its early days after we founded the company and as a tourist destination the region was at its infancy stage and brimming with opportunity. Our base of operations was a room on the second floor of the Viengtai Hotel in the popular backpacker area of Banglumphu in Bangkok.
At the time we handled the Thailand and Laos tours of Baobab Reizen out of The Netherlands. Each arriving group, naturally staying at the Viengtai Hotel, was treated to a small welcome party at our humble office. We served our guests Thai snacks such as Khao Tang Na Tang washed down with Mekong rice whisky. This set the mood for the adventure ahead.
And an adventure it was. In 1994 28 days was the norm for a Thailand round trip (yes 28!) which would include distant provinces like Nakhon Phanom, Loei, overnights in national parks and a four-day hill tribe trek in the North. I am proud that Khiri Travel today is still handling the tours for Baobab Reizen, a true pioneer in the Dutch travel industry.
This was also the time for pivotal changes that would alter the fortune for the region. Until then the region was still hurting in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1980s and 90s there were complicated relations between the Mekong countries and America, China and the Soviet Union. Tensions eased after the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989.China and Vietnam (with its ‘doi moi’ policies) started to embrace free market practices. Thailand Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan (1988-1990) sensing an opportunity, called for “battlefields to be turned into market places” across the Mekong region.
On February 3, 1994, President Clinton lifted the US-Vietnam trade embargo, which had been in force since the end of the Vietnam War. Almost 20 years later we can see the frenetic economic boom Vietnam has gone through since.
1994 was also the first anniversary of the elections in Cambodia, administered in July 1993 by the United Nations. Although Cambodia would have to go through more years of turmoil, it was a defining moment for the Khmer people that spoke of a better future.
On April 8, 1994 the first Lao – Thai bridge (the Friendship Bridge) opened, connecting Nong Khai in Thailand with the Vientiane province. Although the charming boats would continue to ferry pedestrians between between the Indochina Market in Nong Khai and Tha Deua on the Lao side, it was another step in the opening of what was until then a very insecure and secretive country.
In 1994, Thailand , by contrast, had just welcomed almost welcomed six million tourists. Thailand was growing tourism revenues at twice the worlds average – a legacy of the pioneering and successful “Visit Thailand Year” of 1987. Thailand was a prime mover behind the first Mekong Tourism Forum, which took place in 1992.
I look back fondly on those early days of Khiri Travel. I am amazed at the changes in the region since then. Just imagine where we will be in the next 20 years!
1994 at a glance
Don Muang was Bangkok’s only airport. Suvarnabhumi was just a dream
It would be five more years to the opening of the BTS “Skytrain” in Bangkok
Air Asia – founded in 1993 wasn’t flying yet
Chuan Leekpai, a lawyer from Trang, was Thai prime minister
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa
Eurostar rail service carrying passengers between London, Paris and Brussels is launched
Brazil Wins 1994 World Cup in United States
The Winter Olympic Games are held in Lillehammer, Norway
Cost of a gallon of petrol in USA is US$1.09
Northridge Earthquake, magnitude 6.7, hits the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles
The Lion King
Clear and Present Danger