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Tachilek: Gateway to Myanmar

Tachilek & The Shan States

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Situated on the north bank of the River Sai, Tachilek Township is the sister to Thailand’s Maesai on the south bank. The river also marks the southern border of the Shan States of Myanmar and is Thailand’s northernmost edge. From the 13th century this was part of the Kingdom of Lanna founded by King Mengrai, who also founded the cities of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Keng Tung, so uniting the area for the first time.


Tachilek in the River Sai Valley
Tachilek in the River Sai Valley

According to some, this is culturally the least Burmese of the Shan states because it is isolated from the rest of Myanmar by the Salween River and its tributaries running between serried north-south mountain ranges. Consequently it was easier to get to Chiang Mai than to Mandalay, a fact the astute chiefs of the past put to good use when preferring to pay tribute to a more distant and hence ineffective overlord, rather than one better positioned to interfere. Despite its allegiance to Mandalay, the area with its capital in Keng Tung has a strong cultural link with northern Thailand, though this is less obvious today than it has been in the past. The term Shan is used by the Burmese to describe Burmese of Thai ancestry, a group that spreads from Assam in India to Hainan Island.

Today, the situation in Myanmar is extremely complicated politically with many minority groups who had wanted autonomy after the establishment of the Burmese Union finding themselves persecuted and forced to flee to border areas and mountains. These include the Karens who have been living in camps and make-shift villages along the Thai border for years.The Shans now dominate the lowlands around Tachilek while Akha and Lahu minorities live in the hills.

There has been increased tension with another group, the Wa, coming in and settling areas abondoned by the Chinese Nationalists in 1961 and in other areas near the town. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) controls the township under an agreement with the junta in Rangoon and have been implicated in drug production and smuggling.



 

 
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