Chinese worker, Boten, Laos

Boten: the “Resurrection” of the Ghost Town

2002. Laos’ border town in the North next to China named Boten was once a remote town with casino magnet attracting tourists and gamblers from China to come stay, and since it seemed to have never fallen into sleep.

That was until 2011, when the Chinese government kickstarted a series of suppression against crimes, including gambling across the border, affecting Chinese gamblers who loved to cross the border to Boten for luck.

Boten had been vacated since, becoming a ghost town with no lights or neons. Shops and buildings were vacated and abandoned. People left the town, leaving it in the dark days.

But a few years ago, the town was resurrected following the arrival of the China-Laos Railway, part of China’s global scaled Belt and Road Initiative, a series of mostly Chinese-financed infrastructure projects around the world receiving direct investment and loans.

The new high-speed railway was kicked off in late 2016 and was set for completion at the end of 2021.

The Laos government hopes the passenger and freight railway will boost tourism and trade and bring prosperity to its seven million citizens. Given the country’s mountainous geography, the railway is a mighty engineering challenge: only 38% of it will run along the ground, with the rest crossing 170 bridges and passing through 72 tunnels.

By then a 414-kilometre section of track will snake from Boten, on the China border, all the way down to Vientiane, on the Thai border. (Read: The China built railway cutting through Laos)

And with the investment worth around US$1.5 billion, once the ghost town Boten was awaken as the railway’s first station of Laos, boosting hopes among its rare residents and Laotians that the town would return to its vibrant atmosphere, with shops, hotels, golf courses, and several other infrastructure sprung up under the Boten Special Economic Zone, becoming a center of tourism and a financial hub on the border again.

The Boten Special Economic Zone is set to be complete in 2021, almost the same time of the railway’s operation. At present, investors from various countries have come to invest in Boten with the hope that Boten would return to its glory days.

The only question is; during the resurrection, whether the locals would gain any benefits, apart from witnessing their town becoming alive again.

As heavy machines roar here and there in construction sites all over the town and the dust is sent to the sky, perhaps the answer is already there.

Boten, Laos-China border
High rise buildings are hastily sprung up in the once- ghost town Boten. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Boten international Immigration Checkpoint, Laos
A large number of vehicles and trucks from souther China now pass through Boten international check point, prompting Boten to become a prospective Chinese goods distribution hub of the Lower Mekong. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Boten, Laos
Dust spilled all over the valley due to haste construction of new buildings and infrastructure. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Boten, Laos
Some duty free shops are already opened to welcome the resurrection of the town. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Night life, Boten, Laos
From the dark nights, lights and neons are turned on again as entertainment venues are also reopened to welcome visitors. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Boten, Laos
Big advertisement signs are posted in front of the Special Economic Zone in the town. The Laos government has placed hopes that this new economic zones would also help lift up the local economy. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
China-Laos high speed train tunnel at Boten, Laos
First touch. This is the mouth of the tunnel which cuts through a rocky mountain that separates Laos and southern China. It’s the spot where the train will run through and enter Laos’s territory before stopping at Laos’s first railway station, Boten. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
China-Laos high speed train bridge at Boten, Laos
The railway is being built hastily with around 170 bridges and 72 tunnels on its 414-kilometers. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Chinese worker, Boten, Laos
This is one of the residential areas of Chinese construction workers. Chinese workers have flooded the town. They are far outnumbering Laotians, reflecting how benefits are returned to Chinese investors in the first place, not the locals. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Street food, Boten, Laos
Yuan and Chinese letters are every where in the town, demonstrating how they are in more demand than locals’ (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
Boten, Laos
Chinese language is dominated the town. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)
New construction, Boten, Laos
Nightlife sweeps across the valley of Boten town, waking it up at night and knows not to fall into a sleep again. (Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)