Border boomtown: A tale of winners and losers | Bangkok Post: news

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Border boomtown: A tale of winners and losers

Between Thailand and Myanmar, the town of Mae Sot is experiencing rapid economic growth. But the story of success is a double-edged sword, with migrant workers struggling to live, even as the town gets richer

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  • Newspaper section: Spectrum
  • Writer: Henry Zwartz & Saw Mort
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The border town of Mae Sot is undergoing an unprecedented boom, riding on Myanmar's rapid opening up and its strategic position as a regional transport hub. Not long ago, the main visitors to the remote city in Tak province were NGOs, aid donors, academics, diplomats, journalists and intelligence officers. But in the last two years, 20 new hotels have sprung up, mainly to cater to Thai investors, according to the Tak Chamber of Commerce (TCC). The signs of the boom are all around: concrete pillars are being laid for a Big C supermarket, cinemas showing the latest films are opening and department stores sell international brand names. 

Yet the story of Mae Sot's growth is a complex one, with migrant workers still struggling to survive, and locals expressing concerns about the downside of rapid expansion.

The Thai population is projected to increase from 130,000 to 220,000 within two years, a projection that excludes an anticipated growth in the number of migrant workers from Myanmar. ''I'm unsure as to whether the government can cope with the social problems as a result of the increased population,'' said TCC secretary-general Prasert Chungkitrungroj, ''not to mention the increased pollution. And the roads need to be improved as there are more cars. Potentially more crime is also a real concern.''

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