Myanmar: Drugs are bad. Here’s a museum about drugs.

Stimulant drugs - Stairway to insanity

OK so I’ve seen my share of the weird and strange and disturbing. I’m hard to impress. But wow, the Drug Elimination Museum in Yangon came through with the goods. If Goebbels was asked to combine the back catalogue of Cheech and Chong movies with Apocalypse Now and a hint of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, he might come close to this absurdity. Maaaaaybe.

The museum paints a glorious picture of the military victoriously eradicating foreign drugs. Down with imperialist influences! (Down with ethnic minorities.) No more opium! Well done team, good work.

Archaeologists could tell tales from the dust. It feels like we have broken into a secret that has been abandoned for decades: but it was constructed less than 20 years ago. Fungus nerds could dig a PhD out of the growths in the walls.


The size

Plopped down in a weedy paddock in the centre of down. Three floors, an atrium, soaring ceiling above, a dusty grim diorama the size of a tennis court below. Seriously, this place is huge.

The emptiness

We sign the guest book. We are the only visitors today. There wasn’t anyone yesterday. There may be no one tomorrow.

We quietly step around staff who are sleeping or having picnics on the floor.


The dioramas

Mezzanines with dioramas of questionable craftsmanship depict the progression of a night out:

  • warm-up under the influence of Caucasian 90s stoner rock
  • progresses to an ok looking cocktail party
  • which inevitably leads to opium smoking in rags in a dilapidated bamboo hut
  • and finally death under a tree. With an amputated leg. And maggots. Big weekend.
  • ** I deeply regret not photographing this beauty, I was too overcome.
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The deline to certain death

I’m impressed by the recurring harm reduction message: drugs equals death.

More dioramas. Press this button to see the opium burn. Ok then. Don’t mind if I do.

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You can destroy and set fire to narcotic drugs that endanger the lives of human being by pressing this button.

There is an unconvincing display about crop substitution, next to an impressive scaled-up replica of a veteran partygoer’s stash the afternoon before a four day bender.

Junior school children’s art sit uncomfortably next to dioramas of the military stopping opium production. James dryly comments that the military has always grown opium, and they will happily knock out the competition. Can’t fault that as a business model.

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Death: limbless, to be eaten by birds

The scaled up models

Replica ecstasy tablets the size of saucers in neat rows with colour and logo, and the street name neatly printed out below. To be frank, this isn’t the greatest hits of ecstasy: No Mitsubishis, no Golden Vs. Not sure who curated these displays, but you get points for trying.

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Amphetamines at the top, ecstacy below.

The real stuff

Anyone like a pill press? Legit manufacturing equipment? An American crop duster? They may not be in perfect working order, but I’ve got a mate who can probably sort that all out. This shit doesn’t pop up on Gumtree.

The American crop duster – the explanation provided (thanks to the USA for giving us crop dusters to poison opium crops) was at odds with James’ explanation (used to poison villages and food crops of people the military didn’t like). There was a lot of that sort of thing.

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Confiscated equipment

The blame game

Drugs: not our fault (imperialists, opium war, western countries. everyone else. Nothing to do with us)

Drugs: we (the military) are/have stopped it all (well, just the growing done by groups we don’t like. Everyone else: carry on, nothing to see here)

Drugs in Myanmar have been eradicated: but here is an exhibit showing fall-people next to large hauls of nose-beer. Ummm, if it’s been eradicated, (as the name Drug Elimination Museum suggests) then what’s all this then? Perhaps it’s best to stop asking questions.

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Budding flowers and blooming : Some flowers are pale, poisoned by Drugs.

Who doesn’t love a rigorous little fact check? Oh it’s one of my favourite things! So here we go… According to the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime, Myanmar is the second largest producer of opium. 86% comes from Afghanistan, and a solid 5% from Myanmar.

Shall we mention old mate methamphetamine? Oh, go on, just a little line to wake yourself up. Myanmar is one of the largest producers of meth. Globally.

Soooo, looks like the Drug Elimination Museum is right on the money. Well done.

Am desperately disappointed that there is no gift shop.


I’m not making this up:

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