Communication in Southeast Asia

By | August 13, 2020

East Timor

During the Indonesian era (1975-99) roads, ports and airports were built in eastern Timor and the area then received relatively good transport conditions. All villages could then be reached at least via a gravel road and the largest cities were connected by hard roads. Most of this infrastructure was destroyed in 1999. In the years that followed, reconstruction was given top priority, but lack of money and new violent unrest in 2006 meant that the ambitious plans could only be slowly realized.


The largest towns now connect with large buses on mostly hard roads, while smaller buses transport the gravel roads to smaller communities. However, many roads are not navigable during the rainy season, and 70 percent of the road network in 2010 was estimated to be in need of repair. Public transport is congested, inconvenient and lack of security. Dili has the largest port and the international airport for passenger traffic. In Baucau there is an airport used for military purposes and for freight transport. Regular flight connections are available to Singapore, Bali and Darwin in Australia. A ferry connection is the safest connection between the East Timorian exclave of Oecusse in western Timor and the capital Dili.


The rapid economic development has put great pressure on the infrastructure; in the mid-00’s, passenger and freight traffic increased by 10 percent per year. Both production and foreign trade suffer from bottlenecks in the freight transport networks, and in the very densely populated metropolitan areas, traffic jams and traffic accidents are an increasing problem. In addition, the long-distance links between the country’s two core areas must be improved; the distance between Hanoi in the north and Hô Chi Minh City in the south is just over 170 km.

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With growing wealth, car ownership is increasing, but motorcycles and scooters are still the most common motor vehicles. They are used for example. at 70 percent of trips in Hô Chi Minh City. The average speed in traffic is 10 km / h. Public transport has so far played a small role in the cities, where bicycles and bicycle taxis are the most suitable means of transport. Buses are responsible for public transport, but the capacity of the bus networks cannot handle the traffic peaks and trams and metros are lacking in the country. In 2009, however, a metro network was started in Hô Chi Minh City.

The largest ports are in Haiphong, -a-Năng and Hô Chi Minh City. The number of vessels and the total cargo capacity has increased significantly during the 00’s, especially with regard to domestic freight traffic. Riverboats account for much more of the freight transport than the railways do. Despite modernization and expansion of the largest ports, it is difficult to make them work effectively for the rapidly growing foreign trade. The largest airport is Tân Son Nhât International in Hô Chi Minh City. International airports are also located in Hanoi and -a-Năng. Some old French military airports have been upgraded for modern air traffic, and even smaller airstrips have been expanded for domestic traffic. The state-owned airline Vietnam Airlines is responsible for most of the air traffic.


The rapid economic growth in the country since the 1980’s has meant that the expansion of traffic routes and other infrastructure has not occurred at the rate needed. This led to serious crises for the various transport systems in the Bangkok region, especially in the early 00’s. Air pollution from an almost stagnant car traffic contributed to Bangkok being one of the world’s most polluted habitats. New major port, new major airport and city highways have during the latter part of the 00’s alleviated the traffic problems. For the cars, a number of environmental requirements have been introduced. The transport networks in the central part of the country have high standards and from Bangkok roads and railways go to all parts of the country.

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At the end of 2010, there were just over 17 million motorcycles, 4.5 million passenger cars and about the same number of pickup trucks registered in Thailand. Mini buses are important for public transport in all parts of the country, and very common in city traffic is also bicycle taxi and the three-wheeled, motor-driven open taxi tuk-tuk. Thailand has left traffic. The state railways cover nearly 4,500 km. In addition, there are both subway and highway (BTS Skytrain) in central Bangkok. The rivers and canals play an important role in freight transport within the country. The most important port was formerly in Bangkok, but as it is located in the interior of a river delta, it has become unsuitable for ocean-going vessels that require greater depth. The largest port is now Laem Chabang, located on the Gulf of Siam Bay 100 km southeast of Bangkok.

The largest international airport is Suvarnabhumi International Airport southeast of Bangkok. It opened in 2007 and replaced Don Muang, who is now a domestic airport. International airports are also located in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Phuket and Udon Thani as well as in U-Tapao at Pattaya. The state-owned company Thai Airways flies to more than 50 countries and also operates domestic flights. There are also several smaller airlines.


Singapore grew in the 19th century as a center for international trade and shipping. This role has been further strengthened in recent years.

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Singapore is the world’s largest transhipment port and has the second largest container handling in Shanghai, which takes place mainly in centrally located container terminals. To the west, adjacent to Singapore’s largest industrial area, lies the port area of Jurong Island, with a diverse focus on handling primarily food, oil, bulk cargo and other bulky inputs for operations in Singapore. On the island there are also shipyards and facilities for marine service. Singapore has become the world’s most important bunkering facility.

Similarly, Singapore has become a hub for international air traffic. More than 55 million passengers passed through Changi Airport in 2015. It was thus Southeast Asia’s second busiest airport and ranked 17th in the world. For a number of years, it has also been named the world’s best airport in terms of comfort and efficiency. Changi is hired by some 80 airlines, home to Singapore Airlines and six other smaller domestic airlines.

The large port terminals and the airport are very demanding, and new areas, often previously the seabed, are gradually being used.

The land shortage in Singapore also affects land transport. Since the 1970’s, the state has in various ways strived to curb the growth of motorists, mainly with financial means. Car ownership and use are more expensive in Singapore than in almost all other countries. Ten-year permits to own a car are now required; a limited number is issued each month and the price is determined by demand. Registration fees and car taxes are high as well as entry fees for imported cars.

Already in 1975, car duties were introduced for entry into the center of Singapore, and since 1998 there is an electronic toll system for all major motorways. The passage fee varies with time of day and is automatically adjusted according to the current amount of traffic.

Singapore’s public transport is well developed. The subway comprises five lines and more are being built. They are supplemented outside in high-rise peripheral areas with fully automatic feed lines. About 2.8 million travelers use such rail links daily. Bus travelers are even more numerous, and in total, public transport accounts for around 6.7 million trips per day. In addition, several private, smaller bus companies. There is a rail connection from central Singapore north through the railway bank across the Johor St and further through Malaysia.


The transport systems in Western Malaysia are better developed than any other countries in Southeast Asia, according to Countryaah. Railways, major ports and connecting roads were already built in the 19th century by the colonial power to facilitate raw material exports from the Malacca Peninsula. By contrast, East Malaysia still has a sparse road network and only a short railway. The state-owned railway network is narrow-gauge, and on most routes the trains are diesel-powered. The most important connection goes inside the west coast from Singapore in the south to the border in the north where it connects to the Thai railway network. In the northeast there is a similar railway from Thailand which continues south through the highlands. The middle part of the west coast line has been electrified and expanded to double tracks, and similar upgrades are underway on other stretches. In the early 1990’s, fast-growing car traffic led to increasing congestion in the big cities. In Kuala Lumpur, a partially integrated public transport system has been developed since then, with an elevated monorail, commuter train, tramway and expressway to the international airport. Other major cities have also expanded rail traffic.

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Motor vehicle density is very high in Malaysia. In 2007, there were 273 passenger cars per 1,000 residents and in addition there were approximately the same number of motorcycles and similar vehicles as well as a variety of trucks. Western Malaysia has a high quality dense road network and by the end of the 1990’s, more than 80% of the roads had hard paving. The most important route is the toll highway along the west coast. Parallel to it is a national road, as well as along the east coast. Toll highways have been constructed in the Kuala Lumpur region and from there there is also a highway to the east coast and to Port Klang on the west coast. The whole of Western Malaysia also has a network of regional and express bus connections. In East Malaysia, there are the best roads along the coast, while vast areas of the inland only have connections by riverboats or flights.

Western Malaysia is located on one of the world’s busiest routes and in the ports, cargo handling increased sharply every year in the 1990’s and 00’s. The major ports have been further expanded and a new major port, Tanjung Pelepas, has been built furthest to the south, with a bridge connection to Singapore. Malaysia’s largest port is Port Klang off Kulala Lumpur, which in 2009 was in 14th place among the world’s container ports. By then Tanjung Pelepas had already reached 16th place. Other major ports are in Penang and Kuantan in Western Malaysia, in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and in Kuching in Sarawak.

Malaysia has six international airports (2010). By far the largest is Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 27 million passengers in 2007 and thus the largest Singapore in Southeast Asia. State Airlines Airlines has extensive traffic, especially abroad, while Air Asia flies domestically and to neighboring countries.


A comprehensive transport network is lacking in Laos. Several mountain villages cannot yet be reached by vehicle, and in addition many smaller roads are impassable after heavy rain. In the mid-1990’s, more than a fifth of the country’s population lacked road or road connections. Growing foreign trade and mineral extraction have been accompanied by very large road and bridge projects over the past fifteen years, financed by richer trading partners. By the end of the 1990’s, transport relations with neighboring countries should be better than they are within the country.

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The Mekong River is the most important transport route in the north-south direction. Waterfalls at the border with Cambodia in the south make international boat traffic impossible. Transport of export goods is therefore by truck, mostly through Thailand, to some extent through Vietnam. Several smaller waterfalls and even uneven water flow make boat traffic more difficult north of Vientiane. In between, river traffic is lively with barges and smaller vessels.

The best international road connections are with Thailand. In 1994 the Friendship Bridge, the first bridge over the Mekong, was opened. It was funded by Australia and links the Vientiane region with Thailand. In 2000, a bridge over the Mekong was opened at the city of Pakse in the south and in 2006 the second Friendship Bridge in the Savannakhet region in central Laos. Both of these bridges were mainly funded by Japan. Especially the latter is important for stimulating economic development in a corridor from Vietnam via Laos to Thailand and possibly also Burma. At the end of the 1990’s, a fourth bridge began to be built across the Mekong, located in northwestern Laos and co-financed by China and Thailand. Laos lacks railways, except for a few kilometers of trails that connect to the Thai railway across the Friendship Bridge near Vientiane.

The main airport is Wattay International Airport in Vientiane. In addition, there are a couple of smaller, international, and a number of small national airports. These improved during the 1990’s, which helped to increase tourism. Domestic aviation has significance as a complement to the so far poor long-distance road connections within the country. Lao Airlines is the state airline and it also flies internationally in Southeast Asia.


Most of the transport and communication systems were damaged or destroyed during the 1970’s and the reconstruction was slow. During the 1990’s, there were two narrow-gauge railways in the country, one from Phnom Penh to the port city of Sihanoukville and one from Phnom Penh to Sisophon quite close to the Thai border. Both lanes and trains were completely worn out, traffic was extremely slow and daily connections were lacking. All passenger traffic ceased in 2009. An Australian transport company is now reconstructing the entire network and is also expanding its connection to the Thai border.

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The roads are mostly bad. In 2001, the road networks in western and eastern Cambodia were linked together when the country’s first bridge over the Mekong was opened. In 2004, only 6 percent of the roads had hard paving and 30 percent were dirt roads. Since 2006, the road network has been refurbished, especially around the capital and the two tourist destinations Angkor Wat and Sihanoukville. Buses of varying size and quality are responsible for public transport. In northeastern and northern Cambodia, there are still communities that lack road connections. The waterways, mainly the Mekong and the river Tônl谷 Sap and the lake Tônl谷 Sap, are important for both passenger and freight traffic. The two major ports are Sihanoukville, which receives ocean-going traffic and Phnom Penh where vessels of no more than 4,000 tonnes can arrive during the dry season and 8,000 tonnes during the rainy season. The largest international airport is located in Phnom Penh, but since 2006 Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap is the busiest. In 2009, the international airline Cambodia Angkor Air, a joint venture owned by the state and Vietnam Airlines, was established. A few other airlines are located in the country.


Economic development in Indonesia places great demands on functioning transport networks, as there are large distances between some islands and the terrain is difficult to access in many places. Ever since the 1960’s, the state has made major investments in the transport networks. The financial crisis in the late 1990’s meant that the expansion was halted for a few years. The maintenance of the facilities was neglected, which caused increased transport problems. During the latter part of the 1990’s, the state made great efforts to find domestic and foreign capital for extensive and necessary traffic projects.

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Highways and other wide, paved roads are found mainly in Java, Bali and parts of Sumatra. Around 60 per cent of the road network in 2010 was covered with a hard surface. Among the motor vehicles then registered were around 10 million passenger cars, just over 5 million trucks and about 50 million motorcycles and mopeds. Railways link most cities in Java, while on Sumatra there are separate rail networks in the north, west and south. Proposals for commuter rail networks in Jakarta’s metropolitan area and metro in inner Jakarta have existed since the mid-1990’s, but so far have not been realized for financial reasons.

Several ports can receive ocean-going vessels, but almost all containerized exports go over Tanjung Priok near Jakarta and Tanjung Perak near Surabaya. Most of the agricultural products are exported to Belawan in northern Sumatra and Makassar in southern Sulawesi. Many local boat connections exist between the islands and the maximum number of passengers is often exceeded. In Kalimantan, riverboats account for a large proportion of transport and passenger traffic.

The air links are relatively well developed and there are more than 60 major airports. Civil aviation was deregulated in 2002 and many private airlines then emerged for domestic traffic. Since 2004, private Lion Air has been the country’s second largest airline, while the state-run Garuda Indonesia is the largest. Most airlines have not yet been able to meet central security requirements, and for two years Garuda Indonesia was not allowed to land within the EU. The company flies within Asia and to Australia and since 2010 also to Amsterdam. The most important airport is Sukarno Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, which in 2010 passed Singapore as Southeast Asia’s largest airport.


Shortcomings in the transport network are a serious constraint for economic growth in the country. Transport investments have mainly gone to the fast-growing metropolitan area, and funds have been lacking to safely link the country’s thousands of inhabited islands with each other and with the country’s central parts.

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The road network takes care of 60 per cent of freight transport and 80 per cent of passenger transport. A main route from northern Luzon to southwestern Mindanao consists of roads and connecting ferry connections. At the beginning of the 1990’s, only a fifth of the roads had hard, paved surfaces and most of the roads were in poor condition. Less than half of the road network can be used in all weather conditions. The best conditions are at Luzon, especially in the Manila region, where private investments cost city highways. In 2007, there were 5.5 million motor vehicles in the Philippines. Of this, just over half were motorcycles and mopeds and just under 15% passenger cars. Buses are the most common means of transport in the countryside and everywhere minibuses, so-called jeepneys, also play an important role. Outside the metropolitan area, there are about 80 private bus companies and in the Manila region almost as many.

Previously, there was a state railway network with normal tracks for passenger and freight traffic on Luzon and narrow-gauge, private railways on the sugar plantations on several of the islands. In recent decades, tropical storms with storms and floods and volcanic eruptions have repeatedly destroyed bridges and railroad tracks, and in the mid-00’s, no railways operated outside the Manila area. Now repairs and new construction are underway again, and in 2017 the functioning railway network covered just over 80 km. Manila’s metropolitan area has commuter trains and city rail on the highway. The first link was opened in 1984 and the network has expanded considerably since the late 1990’s.

Ship traffic between the islands takes care of about 40 percent of freight traffic and 10 percent of passenger traffic. The vessel fleet is mostly old and poorly equipped and, in addition, the safety regulations are inadequate. The country’s two main ports for international traffic are located in Manila and Cebu City. The largest international airport is Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, and the other major islands also have international airports. Philippine Airlines, largely privately owned, operates both international and domestic air traffic. Aviation has been deregulated in recent years and new companies have been added.


All passenger and freight traffic in Burma is limited by the fact that the transport networks have too little capacity and that maintenance and upgrading have major shortcomings. But Burma has an important location in Southeast Asia, and very large infrastructure projects are in progress or are planned to be started as soon as possible, fully or partially financed by the neighboring states for strategic and commercial economic reasons.

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In the Irrawaddy Valley between Rangoon and Mandalay, connections have been improved and also expanded to the new capital Naypyidaw. But the vast majority of roads are narrow, have risky bridges and lack paving, which makes them difficult to erode by the rain. Motorcycle is by far the most common motor vehicle. For several decades, rail connections also deteriorated as a result of lack of maintenance of runways and bridges, but during the 00’s the regime invested a lot in improvements and the track length then increased by 1/3. The railways are narrow-gauge and dual lanes only exist between Rangoon and Mandalay, located in central Burma and the country’s most important railway junction. Railway links are still missing with all neighboring countries.

In Rangoon, it is still by far the largest deep sea port. Over it went into virtually all imports and 90% of book exports in the mid-00’s. China, India and even Thailand have great interest in having access to export ports in Burma, and the west coast of the state of Rakhine has good natural ports. There, the Chinese are now building a large deep-sea port in Kyaukphy and building railways and improved roads from there, as well as gas and oil pipelines north to southwestern China. The waterways in Burma are of great importance for both freight and passenger traffic. Transportation is slow but much less stressful than traveling by road. The main route is Irrawaddy, which is navigable 145 miles inland. For local traffic, the countless tributaries in the delta and lowlands around Lower Irrawaddy are safer transport routes than the roads,

State Myanmar Airways International (MAI) has flights to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and several subsidiaries are responsible for domestic traffic. International airports are located in Rangoon and Mandalay.