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Myanmar's Shan state has a border with Yunnan in the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south.The region is often called the Golden Triangle and is associated with trade in opium, the raw material for heroin.

The forest is believed to be inhabited by animals that are considered ferocious human ghosts, such as were-tigers . They practice a religion based on compassion for all beings and the search for enlightenment within a reincarnation cycle of birth and death.

The Shans speak the Shan language, classified as Sino-Tai.

It is distantly related to Cantonese and other Chinese dialects, and closely related to Lao and Thai.

With time, the Sao-Phas became more educated and more willing to work together, and in the 1920s they formed the Federated Shan States.

After World War II (1939–45), the British granted independence to Burma, and Shan leaders participated in the Panglong Agreement with Burma's independence hero, General Aung San (1914–47), ensuring a great deal of autonomy for the Shan aristocrats.

The people were governed by hereditary princes called Sao-Phas who ruled in as many as forty different principalities.