THE first bridge to span the lower reaches of the Mekong River, linking Nong Khai in north-east Thailand with Laos's capital Vientiane has opened. Joshua Eliot, editor of the Thailand, Indochina and Burma Handbook, recently returned from the region, says the bridge has been a long time in coming. 'It was first mooted in the Fifties, but war in Indo-China and hostility between Laos and Thailand scuppered plans until the late Eighties.'

The 1.2km Friendship Bridge offers travellers a direct route from Thailand to Laos. A visa is still necessary to enter Laos, best obtained in Bangkok.