Mention 缅北 or Northern Myanmar and many Chinese people will freeze. That’s because these couple of years, horror stories about innocent people being tricked by human traffickers and forced to work for crime syndicates have gone viral on social media.
While there are obvious reasons why these nefarious operations seemed to enjoy “protection”, the governments on both sides finally cracked down on the syndicates, arresting 1207 suspects on 6 September 2023. They were believed to be involved in a massive online scam. Trafficked individuals were forced to work for the syndicate. Those who refused were beaten. Those who didn’t perform were beaten up and if they still didn’t perform, they were sold for organ harvesting. Any mention of 缅北 would send a chill through Chinese netizens who had been following the stories of those who escaped.
With unemployment in China setting new records, some intrepid and financially embarrassed individuals like “壮哥” decided that they have nothing to lose by embarking on risky venture to visit 缅北 and make vlogs to show off his guts – not literally. By walking straight into the lion’s den, he’s not just risking his capital which he claimed to have borrowed. He is merely risking his “worthless” life – or so it seemed to most people.
Folks like 壮哥 turned to YouTube, documenting travels to what many Chinese netizens regard to be “the most dangerous place on earth”. And it seems to be paying off. The sensationalization has already been done for them, so much so that they attract attention without having sensational videos. Some of 壮哥’s unspectacular, amateurish videos have generated more than a million views.
Am I surprised that he is still safe and sound, without any missing organs? Certainly not. The “recruiters” look for their victims inside China. Going there on their own, these Chinese tourists will never stumble on the criminals’ hideout. The recruiters don’t even know they are there. Myitkyina is just another normal city with schools, government offices and markets.
The thing is, most people have never travelled in a warzone and they may get the impression that bombs are exploding and bullets are flying everywhere all the time. This is certainly not the case as I’ve shared my visit to Sittwe and Mrauk U in the midst of the civil war. I didn’t have 壮哥’s luck because Rakhine State wasn’t reputed to be the “most dangerous place on earth”. https://www.knapsacktreks.com/trip-reports/magical-myanmar-2019/paya-ko-thaung
Check out his video if you have nothing better to too. I can tell you that it’s actually quite unremarkable yet these videos have helped these desperate folks earn some money in China’s current economic and political situation.
Having said all that, the real 缅北 is Putao and beyond. It’s a land of remote, exotic tribes, thick jungle, harsh landscape and snowy peaks. This is the northern Myanmar of my dreams and the insulting thing is, even if I do visit and capture all the valuable footage and pictures, my viewership will still fall way below that of folks like 壮哥.