Boten is a small town of abandoned casinos situated in Laos near the border with China. A decade ago it was filled with gamblers. But growing numbers debtors that couldn’t pay what they owed were being locked up in the casino basements. In the wake of the ensuing scandal the Laotian government changed the laws and the casinos closed down.
At that point the gambling activities moved a few hundred kilometres along the Chinese border to Mong La in the Eastern Shan State Special Administrative Region of Myanmar. Boten has limped along as something of a ghost town ever since. Few travelers even alight from the coaches passing through except to have their passports stamped at the border.
In the old town centre a few small restaurants and KTV bars cater to the trickle of Chinese visitors. The businesses prefer to take payment from customers in Yuan rather than Laotian kip.
A new wave of investment from China is transforming and expanding the town on a huge scale. The haunting sense of decay has been swept away by the buzz of new construction and land clearance.
A raised track is also being constructed for the high speed Pan Asian rail link from Kunming to Singapore. The economy of Boten will be reinvigorated if this section to Vientiane opens as expected in 2020.
With no bus station, hitch-hiking and expensive taxis are the only way out of town on the Laotian side. The taxi driver described the history of the town, “Ten years ago it was wild. Customers were killing each other. It was crazy!” Those times may soon return as Boten again becomes a premium destination for international gamblers.