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Around 100 workers -- mostly young women -- sew uniforms at this Japanese-owned factory in Vientiane in October. The company, Tominaga, also runs two facilities in China. It set up shop in Laos as part of a “China plus one” strategy, a trend among companies to diversify production away from the so-called factory of the world. Kazuhiro Tominaga, the garment maker’s CEO, praised Laotian workers and said electricity in the country is “stable and reasonably priced.”
Morning traffic flows toward the Patuxai, or Arc de Triomphe, in Vientiane. Vehicle ownership is surging, reflecting a rising standard of living but also leading to road congestion.
Men carry boxes off a ferry in Savannakhet, Laos’ second-largest city. Boats like this one, which carry goods as well as people, make 10 round trips per day between Savannakhet and the Thai city of Mukdahan. The wharfs on both sides of the Mekong are close to the city centers, allowing locals to make quick trips for shopping or hospital visits. The cities are also connected by the 1.6 km-long Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. Savannakhet is home to a special economic zone that has attracted companies such as Nikon.
This square near the Mekong in Vientiane becomes a giant open-air aerobics studio on a nightly basis, complete with blasting music. For those disinclined to work up a sweat, a nearby nighttime market sells T-shirts, accessories and folk art.
Workers at Aeroworks (Laos) make parts for aircraft manufacturers, including U.S. leader Boeing. The plant is in the special economic zone in Savannakhet, known as Savan Park. The parts are transported to Bangkok via the East-West Economic Corridor -- an international trunk road that stretches west from Savannakhet and links Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Then they are flown to the U.S. Tee Chee Seng, Savan Park's general manager, said the zone area is making great progress. "Infrastructure, such as water, electricity and communications, has been developed," he said. "This area is just waiting for more companies to move in."
The Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, built in November 2011, spans the Mekong to connect Thailand's Nakhon Phanom Province with Thakhek, Khammouane in Laos. One complication: In Thailand, people drive on the left side of the road, while in Laos they drive on the right. On the bridge, the rule is to keep left; the changeover is made on the Laos side.
From its headwaters in the Tibetan mountains, the Mekong River runs through all the countries of mainland Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is too shallow for large ships, so ferries are the main complement to bridges. Here, a monk disembarks from one of those ferries.
A truck turns onto the East-West Economic Corridor in Savannakhet. This cross-border road is a vital part of the region's transportation network.
The VITA Park Special Economic Zone, the first industrial park in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, opened in the summer of 2012. Workers are now constructing a power substation and laying water pipes at a rapid pace. There is also a plan to build a college that would provide vocational training and engage in some production as well. VITA Park is about 20 minutes by car from the city center; the Thai border is 20 minutes away as well. Over 20 companies from Japan, Thailand, Denmark and China have decided to set up shop there.
Employees of Savannakhet company Thong Laha Sinh make place mats, reusable shopping bags and pillow covers for Japan’s Muji brand. At present, 50 workers sew about 3,200 shopping bags a day. Half of them were once migrants in Thailand; now they take home a monthly salary of $240, about the same as what they earned in Thailand.
Employees work on the production line of KP Beau Lao, a company established by Japanese cosmetics makers in the special economic zone in Savannakhet. The company is now training workers in preparation for full-scale production of bath salt cubes with toys inside. “The workers here perform very high-quality work," said Hiroyuki Hoshi, the operation's managing director. "We hope to get them to work faster for the next stage.” On Sa, a 21-year-old who paints the toys, said: “This is my first time working in a factory. My income has become stable and I enjoy working with the people here.”
Farmers harvest rice along the national road connecting Vientiane and Savannakhet. It is a tradition for villagers to harvest together, with students and factory workers called in to help out.
YUMI KOTANI, Nikkei staff photographer The world's most successful apparel brands, including H&M, Uniqlo and Zara, all produce clothing in Bangladesh. And production in Bangladesh continues to grow, making it the second-largest garment exporter after China.
KEN KOBAYASHI, Nikkei Staff Photographer Southeast Asia's economic bloc is quickly motorizing. Indonesia, where 2013 car sales reached 1.2 million, is dominated by Japanese automakers. In Malaysia, the only member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with its own car brands, the indigenous Proton and Perodua have a combined market share of 60%. It helps that Malaysia has protective auto trade policies in place. (This is the first of a two-part photo essay)
KAZUMI SAITO, Nikkei staff photographer
All sorts of companies want to dip into Vietnamese wallets these days. It is easy to see why: Last year, the nation's population topped 90 million, while per-capita gross domestic product was just shy of $1,900, up from about $1,230 in 2009. With the economy continuing to expand -- it grew more than 5% in 2013, according to government data -- stores are opening left and right.
KEN KOBAYASHI, Nikkei staff photographer Japanese automakers reign supreme in Indonesia, controlling over 90% of the market. But of the entire pie, half is dominated by just two big names -- Toyota and Daihatsu. Other Japanese carmakers, notably Honda and Suzuki, are hoping to expand their presence by erecting more factories and releasing tantalizing new models. (This is the second of a two-part photo essay)
YUMI KOTANI, Nikkei staff photographer
India's wedding industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years. A number of businesses have emerged to cater to the newlyweds-to-be, including hall operators, clothing retailers, jewelry stores and TV programs that specialize in wedding matters. The market is estimated at around $30 billion. (Second in a two-part series)
YUMI KOTANI, Nikkei staff photographer
Weddings are big business in India. In November, Malvika Singh and Pranav Saboo, both 26, tied the knot in New Delhi. A Nikkei journalist was on hand for the festivities, which began with a traditional party at the bride's home and ended a couple of days later with the formal ceremony. All told, the families spent more than $100,000. (First in a two-part series)