The paradise they envisaged didn’t pan out. The tourism industry in the China-Laos border town of Boten collapsed after the casinos closed in 2011 following a number of anti-corruption stings and police raids.
Despite continued attempts from the Lao government to revitalize the area, and sizeable investment from Chinese companies, the once-bustling Boten is still waiting for throngs of tourists to reappear.
Fewer than 1,000 people remain in Boten, 90 percent of them Chinese. Yet migrants like Chao’s family are reluctant to return to China, believing their luck might finally change with a recent cross-border cooperative development project, and the high-speed railway soon to come to the area.