Khun Sa RIP

The Golden Triangle has been a source of opium since the 1800s. Tribesmen in the mountains grew it for a cash crop as well as a source of comfort after a long day in the rice fields. The French controlled the overseas trade until the Commies took over in China. Mao had the opium dealers summarily executed along with their customers. In search of new markets, the French exported the refined drug as heroin to Europe and the USA ie the French Connection.


At the source one warlord made a name for himself as the ‘prince of wealth’.

Khun Sa.

The son of a Chinese father and Shan princess learned his trade from the remnants of 
the old Kuomintang armies from Yunnan who fled to northern Burma. Their remote  fiefdom was fueled by opium production and weapons drops from anti-Communist Americans. Once old enough to strike out on his own Khun Sa dominated the region with his Shan State Army.

His name was a legend amongst film makers and writers.

A warlord in the last terra incognita.

His headquarters was located in Ban Hin Teak, a Thai village.

The Thais ousted him from this stronghold in 1982.

I drove to the village in 1990.

The road was dirt. Armed men were posted in trees. The village was poor, but the opium was first quality. The locals thought I was DEA. Their stare warned not to stay the night. And this wasn’t even his real HQ anymore.

Khun Sa.

The name says opium.

He was wanted by the Thais, USA, French, Interpol.

“They say I have horns and fangs. Actually, I am a king without a crown.”

$2 million for an uncrowned king.

“$2 million for what? My people grow opium. And they are not doing it for fun. They do it because they need to buy rice to eat and clothes to wear. Not like in the drug-crazed West.”

At his height he had about 10,000 fighters under him.

Opium, orchids, and strawberries were his products, but also gems.

My business associate Shirley Sach went to visit him in Burma. He wanted her to finance a ruby mine. She was greeted by the population of his Burma bastion as if she was a grand personage and later described Ho Mung as a jungle Shangrilla. “He was a thug, but a gentle man.”

Shirley was later arrested in Boston for involvement in a theft of masterpieces from the Isabelle Gardner Museum. She knew thugs when she saw them.

A little after that visit Khun Sa went into retirement.

The Burma generals welcomed him into Yangoon and he lived in quiet spledour for the remainder of his life, sowtimes slipping in bangkok under the name ‘Johnny Cocoon’ according to my old Thai friend from Yala. “He is robber king. Like in movie. If friend very funny. If not friend, Not funny.”

His death was mourned by his family.

The DEA and Interpol closed their books on him.

No one collected the reward on Zhang Qifu.

That was his real name.

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