Although I didn’t travel here myself, -good luck getting a travel pass if you are western!- this place is somewhere you want to read about!
A city of gambling, prostitution, drug lords and all sorts of immorality, and not in a good way! This town on the Myanmar/China border turned from a little rural rice paddy village to the dirty Vegas of Myanmar due to a ‘disagreement’ between the army and a war lord named Sai Leun who had built MongLa with Opium money. Long story short, the army didn’t win and Mongla became somewhat of an independent entity from the rest of Myanmar, with the power to do whatever it wanted, and it does!
image credit: www.nationalgeographic.com
Now a popular tourist destination for Chinese tourists who cross the border without even the need for a passport. They don’t even need to change their watches as Mong-la is the same time zone as Beijing, and no worries about currency exchange either, with the Kyat being shunned in favour of the Chinese Yuan here. You can go to the casinos, do some crystal meth, even buy yourself a hand gun here without anyone so much as blinking an eyelid.
Gambling is not allowed in China, so they come here instead, following a stint in the casino with a meal of illegal Black Bear or Burmese Python. Illegal activity is the name of the game, and you can pick up anything you need and cross right back over the border. This trade works both ways and may be a reason why the Chinese authorities have not yet closed the city down (they tried to close the casinos once and failed*).
There is virtually no law enforcement in the city, meaning activities which are illegal in both Myanmar and China go unpunished. And, as more-and-more money is pumped into the economy through the Chinese tourists, the more the markets grow, prostitution thrives and many endangered animals suffer.
No one here voted in the 2015 elections, not even a smidgen of democracy hasn’t reached these parts yet. Everything is privately owned by rich Chinese tycoons, and the town is expanding. With more construction and building and tourists increasing. Time will tell if the bubble will burst for Mong La with talk already about the army coming in again and China getting a bit pissed off with all the stolen money being spent on gambling over there.
Regular westerners (except journalists etc) will likely never see Mongla in real life, I am unsure I would want to see it, just hearing a place like this exists in Myanmar shocked me, but just shows this country is full of surprises!
Check out what happened when an undercover BBC journalist went to Mong-la:
*Chinese soldiers came and tried to shut down all the casinos. However, Sai Leun simply constructed more casinos 10 miles away from the boarder.