When I visitied Boten several times in 1994 it was a dusty and rather decrepit border crossing between northern Laos and China. Its key features were a row of rustic shop houses, a border checkpoint and, a kilometre or so to the south, the old salt works for which the village has long been regionally famous. I was travelling with Lao traders and spent a good many days passing the time waiting for customs and immigration formalities to be completed.
From recent accounts, many features of this remote border crossing are now much the same – the bamboo shop houses, the trucks laden with cargo waiting to cross the border and the inevitable border-crossing paperwork. The standard of trucking has improved but the border bottleneck seems much the same as ever.
But there is one dramatic new development at Boten.
Des Ball from the ANU recently travelled there and reports that a massive casino-hotel is under construction. He has kindly provided this photo taken by his sister (in fact, given the size of the building, it is two photos stitched together). There is also a scanned report from the Vientiane Times about this borderline monstrosity (apologies for the quality):
This is clearly a major development for sleepy Boten. No doubt it will create significant employment and may boost some forms of tourism and cross border commerce. But the social impacts of this isolated pleasure dome are likely to be significant, especially in an area of persistent poverty and marginalisation.
Has the casino openned yet? Have any New Mandala readers graced the roulette tables or soaked in the spas? Please send us your Boten borderline accounts.