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The Kra Isthmus


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The Kra Isthmus is the narrow landbridge which connects the Malay Peninsula with the mainland of Asia. The east part of the landbridge belongs to Thailand, the west part belongs to the Tanintharyi division of Myanmar. To the west of the Isthmus is the Andaman Sea, to the east is the Gulf of Thailand.


The narrowest part between the estuary of the Kra River and the bay of Sawi near the city Chumphon has a width of 44km, and has a maximum altitude of 75m above sea level. The Isthmus is named after the city Kra Buri, in the Ranong province of Thailand, which is located at the west side of the narrowest part.


The Isthmus of Kra marks the boundary between two parts of the central cordillera, the mountain chain which runs from Tibet through all of the Malay peninsula. The southern part is called the Phuket chain, the northern part is the Tenasserim chain, which continues for 400km until the Three Pagodas Pass.


Kra Canal


The Thai Canal (formerly known as Kra Canal or Kra Isthmus Canal) refers to a plan for a large canal that would cut through southern Thailand to enable improved transportation in the region, like the Panama Canal and Suez Canal.


As the Malay Peninsula enlarges the shipping routes around Asia significantly, a canal through the Kra Isthmus was suggested as early as 1677, when the Thai King Narai the Great asked the French engineer de Lamar to survey the possibility of building a waterway to connect Songkhla with Marid (now Myanmar). It turned out too impractical with the technology of that time. In 1793 the idea resurfaced when the younger brother of King Chakri (Rama I) suggested it to make it easier to protect the western coast with military ships. Also in the early 18th century the British East India Company became interested in a canal. After Burma became a British colony in 1863 with Victoria Point opposite the Kra estuary as its southernmost point, an exploration was undertaken, again with negative result. In 1882 the constructor of the Suez canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, visited the area, but wasn't allowed to investigate in detail by the Thai king. In 1897 Thailand and the British empire agreed not to build a canal there, to protect the regional dominance of the harbour of Singapore.


In the 20th century the idea resurfaced several times again, now changing the preferred route to somewhere in Southern Thailand, to connect the Bandon Bay near Surat Thani with Phangnga. A Japanese plan for a canal in 1985 would have used over twenty nuclear devices each roughly twice the explosive energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The latest proposed site is across Nakhon Si Thammarat and Trang provinces. If finished, it is believed that the canal would bring an economic boost to the nearby area and the whole country. The canal would compete directly with ports in the Strait of Malacca area, including Port Klang and Singapore.


The idea is still entertained by a few Thai politicians today, however the high costs as well as ecological problems make it unlikely to be realized in the near future. In 2005, however, an internal report prepared for U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was leaked to The Washington Times, spelling out China's strategy of underwriting construction of the canal across the Kra Isthmus complete with Chinese port facilities and refineries, as part of its "string of pearls" strategy of forward bases and energy security. The Chinese plan called for construction over ten years employing roughly 30,000 workers and costing between 20 and 25 billion American dollars.


As a substitute the construction of a land bridge was started in 1993, however as the location of the harbors wasn't fixed, highway 44 as the only finished part of the project now does not end at the sea yet. The two lanes were built 160m apart to leaves space for a railroad and eventually also a pipeline. Right now the project is stalled due to environmental concerns.


This is also a reason for recent interest in the canal. The Straits of Malacca, just under 1000 kilometers long, are narrow, less than 2.5 kilometers at the narrowest, and a depth of 25 meters at its shallowest. It is heavy used by oil tankers and bulk carriers. Some 80 percent of Japan's oil supplies pass through the Straits. Any planned canal in Thailand would mean that large ships could travel through the region from India and on to China and Japan without passing through the heavy pirate regions of the Straits of Malacca.


Extracted from Wikipedia: Kra Isthmus

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