EIA at 40 – lifting the lid on Sin City, Laos’ notorious playground for illegal wildlife trade

In the countdown to EIA’s 40th anniversary later this year, we are featuring films and stories from our archive, highlighting our work exposing environmental crime and abuse around the world. 

Today, we’re sharing a flashback to a film we made in 2015 to accompany a major Wildlife team investigation and report into Laos’ notorious Sin City.

On the ground, we documented how the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ), in Bokeo Province, had effectively become a lawless playground.

The complex comprised a casino, hotel, shops, restaurants, a shooting range and massage parlours – and visitors were able to openly buy endangered species products including tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, pangolins, helmeted hornbills, snakes and bears, all smuggled in from Asia and Africa.

Undercover investigators from EIA and our partner Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) also documented restaurants with endangered species on their menus, from ”sauté tiger meat” and bear paws to reptiles and pangolins.

One business kept a live python and a bear cub in cages, both of which were available to eat on request.

Despite being situated in Laos, the GT SEZ, run by the Chinese company Kings Romans Group, functioned more as an extension of China – it ran on Beijing time, signs were in Mandarin, most workers were Chinese nationals and the Chinese yuan was the main currency.