Back in the 1980s this border town was a notorious haven for drug and gem smugglers, prostitution and various other iniquities. The government cleaned it up in the 1990s and today you’re more likely to stumble into a shopping mall than a den of thieves. Still, Ruìlì has an edge to it, thanks to a thriving gem market operated largely by Burmese and Pakistani traders. And with its palm tree-lined streets, bicycle rickshaws and steamy climate, Ruìlì has a distinctly laid-back, Southeast Asian feel.
The minority villages nearby are also good reason to come and it’s worth getting a bicycle and heading out to explore. Another draw for travellers is Myanmar, which lies only a few kilometres away. Though individual tourists are not allowed to cross freely, organising permits to take you through the sensitive border area is becoming easier.