Oct 13 2011
Dates seem to vary slightly according to the source — one of which is here– but our usually reliable man on the ground in Yunnan reports that two Chinese cargo vessels travelling on the Mekong between Jinghong, Yunnan and Chiang Saen, Thailand were hijacked at around midday on October 10. The particularly brutal hijacking took place some 20km north of Chiang Saen, close to Sob Ruak and between Burma and Laos. Thirteen crew members were blindfolded and shot. All passenger and cargo boats (and cargo vessels regularly carry paying passengers anyway) on this route have now been halted for an indefinite period.
Reports are still slightly confused but it appears the hostages may have been executed during a gun battle with a Thai border patrol unit, which then boarded the boats after hijackers were either killed or fled. Since a substantial quantity of drugs was found on the boats along with its regular cargo of apples and garlic, the thinking is that the hijackers, rumoured to be a gang run by Burmese Shan smuggler Nor Kham, had taken the boats to use in a drug transportation operation. Chinese boat companies have had frequent problems with such bandits who’ve not hesitated in the past to deal viciously with Chinese crews reluctant to cooperate in their activities.
The passenger boat service running from Jinghong to Chiang Saen town was a popular, and highly scenic, route for backpackers and tour groups travelling between China and Thailand, but for at least the immediate future the land route is the only option.
The land route from Jinghong to Chiang Saen is overland to Boten on the Lao/Chinese border, onwards to Luang Nam Tha from where there are a number of transport options to Huay Xai and Chiang Khong on the Lao/Thai border. Once in Chiang Khong you’re hooked into the main Thai overland bus system, including regular transport to Chiang Saen and nightly buses to Bangkok.
This tragedy serves as a warning that the Golden Triangle region is still not as tame as many would make it out to be — indeed you may count us among the guilty parties, as shown by our recent Golden Triangle post here or a pretty picture post of a still dangerous area here.)
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