|In the late sixties and early seventies, the Golden Triangle -- where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar join -- was the hot spot of illegal drug activity. Although the area is still closely connected to its past, the dominant center of opium growth is now in Myanmar with 157,000 acres devoted to growing poppy though Laos still has a hand in this horrible business with 14,000 acres under cultivation. Together the opium production of the two countries yields in excess of 70 metric tons of heroin annually or 25% of the world production. In fact, Myanmar is only second to Afghanistan in heroin production. The jumping-off location to the heroin capital of Myanmar in the Shan States is the sleepy border town of Tachilek which sits in the mountains across from the Thai town of Mae Sai.
We periodically visit both border towns to source hill tribe fabric for The Elephant Story. However, the scenic beauty belies the danger that can become visible from time to time. A further drug scourge out of Myanmar is the massive manufacture of amphetamines, or as the Thai's call them, "yaa baa" or crazy medicine. Annual production estimates range up to 20 tons of "yaa ice" or crystal meth and 500 million "yaa baa" pills. When driving south from the Mae Sai border town in Thailand, there are frequent police roadblocks and seldom does a day pass without a significant drug haul being covered in the Bangkok Post.
The Safe Mekong Joint Operation was created in 2011 to make the Mekong river safer for travel following an incident in which 13 Chinese sailors were killed in a robbery by a drug trafficking gang in the Golden Triangle.
Recently, the Safe Mekong Coordination Center was opened in Kengtung in the Shan State of Myanmar. Accordingly, crackdowns have been launched to focus on drug transportation routes out of Myanmar to China and Thailand. Should anyone care to visit the Safe Mekong center in Kengtung, it is a four-hour, bone crushing drive through the mountains from the border town of Tachilek. The Elephant Story is considering an offer of guided tours for the more adventuresome folks. Otherwise, below is an image of their conference room.
You will note from the flags in the image above that the participants are Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. We can wish them well in their efforts though, as we have observed in the past, the financial incentives for drug creation and smuggling are so immense that they can easily fuel the corruption of authorities who generally reside in some of the more corrupt countries anywhere. Therefore, the focus must be on demand to make any substantial progress. In the meantime, please let us know if there is any interest in an adventure tour to Kengtang to pay a personal visit to the Safe Mekong Coordination Center. Major General Aung Soe, the director, would be happy to welcome you much like he is shown below with drug investigators from Vietnam on his left.