Myanmar sin CityCity of Myanmar sins
That is more the case in Mong La, Myanmar's sin city, than anywhere else, but there are still no illegal activities to participate in when you are in the region. Burma's sin city, Burma's wild east, the Tijuana of China, Myanmar's lawless region, Burma's City of Light.
Sink of Myanmar: Mong La
I' m traveling from Kengtung in the east of Shan State to the infamous city of Mong La - a stretch of countryside on the Myanmar-China frontier. Myanmar's Wild East, a hotbed of conspiracy, gaming and general debaucheries, has recently attracted great interest internationally with a series of TIME, BBC and New York Times articles that paint a dirty image of an outlawed" Truck City" and Burmese Las Vegas".
Obviously stories about sexual intercourse, drug abuse and gaming can be sold by a bunch of newspapers, but I was sure there had to be more to Mong La, so I went to see for myself. Alien travellers must obtain a passport from the local authority in Kengtung - and must abandon their passport - before heading for the frontier.
Only a few visitors actually come to the frontier city from Myanmar and from those who do, most on daily outings. Mong La is about three and a half hour drive - although much of this trip is dedicated to getting in and out to pass each of the four army check points on the way and conduct the usual Chelsea Football Club chats with uniforms.
This is one of the most beautiful rides in Myanmar. Hauled out of the thick and verdant jungles, the meandering hilly highway winds its way through fog-clad towns and emerald paddy fields until the city rises out of nowhere like a gray, concreted Oz from the valleys. Sai Lin may be secluded and of doubtful importance, but he is still wealthy and powerful - just two month ago he had a heartfelt encounter with President U Thein Sein.
Myanmar is where Mong La is, but you don't know it. It' s running in Beijing 90 mins before Myanmar, and the lingua franca and Chinas renminbi is the only approved language. Apart from the hundred and a half million illegal motorcycle riders who travel through the jungles every weekend, Mong La's main tourist destinations are Thailand and China, who cannot spend their vacations elsewhere.
I was only the second westerner to show up at her agency last year, May said. There are a number of cheerless "attractions" in the city to please visitors. Following a stopover at the China Checkpoint, where you can have your photo taken with one leg in each of the countries, visitors can take a trip to the Burma-China Friendship Pagoda and take in the charming view over the city and the many ongoing building work.
Further attractions are the oppressive "Elephant Show", in which a miserably looking animal from Thailand amuses the visitor by striking a woodwind. But Mong La's major drawings are far less healthy. A few and a half minute after I checked into my room in the hotel I was given a business cards under the doors - the first of many - announcing an "exotic experience" with a 15-year-old Myanmar woman.
Mong La's 24-hour main street markets are not trying to conceal their commerce. In the sparkling center, full of low-cost imported China and counterfeit design brands, Sai Tip took me up to the top, where there are cheeky, upscale pubs and a theater. Next morning we go to the infamous Mong La City Centre, a well-known attraction for wild animal traders who respond to the medical and gastronomic wishes of their Chinaes.
Latest Mong La "exposed" say that most of these objects are now forged, but WWF Myanmar spoke Ye Min Thwin said the trafficking of wild animals at the boarder is serious. "The latest research suggests that the number of stores that sell wild animal product in Mong La has more than tripled in the last eight years.
I am told by Ye Min Thwin that wild game and wild boar bones are eaten by local people in Mong La, while many of the furs are sold as gifts to China. "We need better implementation in this area so that China tourism does not return illicit wild animal produce to China," he said.
Allegedly worried about the city' s outlawfulness, in January 2005 the China Mong La troops traversed the city, closed the gambling houses and closed the city. There are now more than 28 gambling establishments - many more are under development - and most players from China are crossing the borders directly into the "casino city" by tram.
Outdoor signage that reminds China visitors that they are not allowed to step on, does little to discourage them. As the deserted Mong La downtown gambling houses are crumbling, the glittering new gambling area is a truly unbelievable view - giant columnar stately homes with titles like Royal and Lisboa are bizarrely contrasting with the towns and paddy fields that surrounds them.
An army of young Western gambling casinos are outside, and inside they are spinning maps and spinning rings for the crowd of China's men and woman being squashed around the desks. What about my quest for a Mong La that's more than just vices and dissipation? Theoretically, Mong La could be an ideal starting point for hiking in the nearby towns, and I ask Sai Tip to take me to the Shan and Akhu towns in the outskirts of the city.
At one of the Shan towns we are visiting, each home has a 4x4. It seems that for many, Mong La is an opportunity to make their fortunes far away from urban Myanmar people. Two of the young men from Taunggyi came to the frontier to look for work.
and no one gets what we're saying. When I got back to Kengtung some folks said that there are only a few young folks remaining, because they all went to work in the Mong La canteens. It is a city where there is no need to spend your cash, and the temptation is everywhere, with slots, online lotteries and cash desks in almost all hotels, bars and malls.
Like in Vegas, it seems the Mong La win. Getting my pass back to Kengtung was not as simple as I had been hoping. Fly Yangon Airways and Air Bagan from Yangon to Kengtung. It is not allowed to take the Taunggyi to Kengtung by coach. Visits to Mong La of Kengtung ($158 incl. English language tour guides and car) can be reserved at the Princess Hotel in Kengtung ([email protected]).
Kengtung gets a pick-up to Mong La every day when it's full. Get to the cabstand early in the mornings and let the driver know where you are going (or take someone who can talk to Myanmar) and they will come to your room to meet you if they have enough to fill a tank.
In Mong La Shwe Lin Star Travel can help you find a place to stay and organize a tour leader - but it will be hard if you don't know Chinese or Myanmar. In spite of everything the authors of Lonely Planet might tell you, there are many convenient accommodations in Mong La. Of course, the trouble is that all the tags are in Chinese, so it' s a bigger job to find them.
We at Shwe Lin Star Travel can help you. New Kengtung Hotel provides somewhat sleepy but comfortable rooms for about $50-60 per room per day and has a swimming pool.