3 days' visit to Mogoke - Muse - Kutkai

While I am writing this story, I sit in a domestic flight with Myanmar Airways 630 - back home to Yangon. Yes! Right you are - if you ever get to read these lines: We survived the trip! I must admit, I feel quite a bit shaky (so does the plane) and Susan next to me is doing her Chinese chanting (please don't stop...).

Three days earlier: The UB 653 (J) did a good job when she brought us - 42 altogether - softly to Mandalay. There we boarded the MI-17 Choppers and thus were elegantly gliding to Mogoke.

Susan not chanting, but singing!
Susan not chanting, but singing!
Since a couple of years Mogoke has been a bit "cut off" our exciting travel destinations and now slowly opens up again for tourism. People here say you better don't look up - just look down, as you never know what you might find. It's true - there is a special atmosphere in Mogoke, thousands of people living a lifelong dream of hitting one day the "jackpot", and of course this place is full of stories... like the one of the owner of the Butterfly Hotel (the best available hotel in town - bungalows with a spectacular view), once having been a mine worker who found a ruby worth one million US$ Dollar.

Ruby mine in mogoke, myanmar
Mine in Mogoke

But alas, as some human species are, they always want more and more and to make the story short, the Butterfly Hotel owner ended up behind bars. I was lucky to sit in the same bus with one of my travel companions, a well respected Myanma business man, owing a mine near "down town" Mogoke, who became our tour guide!

He explained us that the average income of a worker is about 50 cents a day - or, when finding stones, some miners give a share up to 20% of the stones' value. It once happened that one miner got too greedy and did not want to give the promised share - she got killed by the workers!

Being in this business is a kind of gambling: There are two ways miners are selling precious stones: Either they sell the raw stone - not knowing how valuable exactly the stone is or they just cut and polish the stones and find it out by themselves!

It seems that "this kind of gambling" is the only sin in Mogoke, as except of getting rid of betrayers there is not much crime in this area. Here you find the richest people of Myanmar - but you won't find any glamorous mansions, splendid shopping centers and modern buildings. Missing the saloon bars they had 150 years ago during the gold rush in Northern California, we were told that in Mogoke it is strongly believed NOT to drink alcohol, no prostitution, not eating chicken, chicken- and duck eggs, white and red carrots and worst of all (for me), NO peanuts!

More important than saloon bars however is the famous gem market in Mogoke, mainly ruled by beautiful ladies wearing big straw hats. Here we learned another lesson and were told that all stones offered to us foreigners will have an actual value of 10% of the total amount - and he was absolutely right! But our main shopping fun was at a little shop recommended by our friend Win Oo.

Gem market in mogoke, the 'ruby land' of myanmar
Mogoke Gem Market

The shop owner U Tun Oo does not only have an interesting display of precious and half precious stones, jewelries and stone paintings (thousands of tiny precious stones forming a mosaic painting) but he is also an author of numerous books. The topic of course are authentic stories of Ruby Land.

Chinese/burmese border near muse
Chinese border patrouille...

Next morning we continued our journey to the Chinese border. Purpose of this visit was to get more insight in the opium eradication projects and anti-narcotic activities. Myanmar is the second largest source (after Afghanistan) of illicit opium and heroin and in 1999 accounted for appr. 80% of the total opium production South East Asia's!

The Burmese authorities said opium production in the country would be halved to about 412 tonnes in the 2002 - 2003 crops.

In Kokang Special Region (1) we visited the Drug Elimination Museum, and the commander of this area held a quite desperate speech and pledged the foreign business community to help his area. Thousands of acres of poppy fields in the Kokang region were destroyed by the local people and the army. Substitue crops, such as rubber, maize, benas and pulses (etc) are grown in this region, but however the opium business was by far more lucrative and thus the farmers do not earn enough for their living.

Even the US State Department, which is one of the fiercest critics of Myanmar has admitted that Myanmar has made great efforts in the opium eradication projects...

From the almost deserted city of Laukkai we finally arrived at Muse, a border town - surrounded by mountains and rivers and located about 477 km northeast of Mandalay.

A booming trading town full of life, border traffic, casinos and markets. 13 years ago I was at the other side of Muse, in Shweli, Yunnan Province, the People's Republic of China.

Just "peeping to the other side", I could easily see what kind of tremendous changes Shweli had undergone! What had not changed was the unfriendliness of the border partrouille! They angrily tried to make us stop photographing the "Chinese view" from our side...

Elephant dancing in muse, myanmar
Elephant dancing in Muse
The night market however was fun, most of the ladies back to their shopping mood, and not only the ladies; the counterparts were heavily involved in the Golf Shop opposite of our hotel - don't ask me how they managed to load numerous golf sets, lots of parcels and boxes into the two choppers...

Due to the weather condition we had a late departure on our last day of our trip. We tried to "kill our time" by attending an elephant show and do some other shopping till we finally were heading towards Kutkai (Kaung-kah Myothit, region no. 5 of Northern Shan State).
Kodak-alvin in front of burmese botticelli, muse, myanmar
Kodak-Alvin in front of Burmese Boticelli in Muse

Flying over this region I saw flush green mixed forests, emerald green lakes, paddy fields, highland terrace farms and all in between small settlements, where Shan, Palaung, Kachin and Chinese live peacefully. Here again as at the other places we visited to observe the crop substitution projects: International help was needed as well.

The little cash donation we gave them was just a drop into the ocean... Even bringing tourism into the area of Northern Shan State - it won't be enough.

Last not least it's always the same issue: Sanctions... They might be serving as a clear signal of disapproval, and are of course easy to impose on a country without oil reserves or nuclear weapon!

The ones with low income and who are unskilled (the majority!) will suffer without employment opportunities.

Mrs. myriam grest in front of chopper, muse, myanmar
Lucky me in front of a chopper

Maybe some countries as well as some NLDP leaders should set aside self-glorification and start showing what democracy also means: Fairness to the majority!
Travel stories - TravelwithustoAsia (Myanmar Travel Ltd.)

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EU's Hollow Lectures on Human Rights (IHT; Myanmar) June 2004
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Travel Report from International Travel News (ITN; Myanmar) June 2003
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