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 late 1990s (on the surface anyway) 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 its proximity to a notoriously anarchic region of Myanmar and a thriving gem market operated largely by Burmese traders. And with its palm-tree-lined streets, bicycle rickshaws and steamy climate, it 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 is Myanmar, just 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.