the Golden Triangle
As its name suggests, the Golden Triangle is a magical place – an exotic destination where Thailand, Burma and Laos converge. In these misty mountains, with their surrealistic views and wandering clouds of mist, live some of Thailand’s oldest civilizations. Along with a spectacular and unspoiled landscape, the region also has a rich history.
The name “Golden Triangle” was, in fact, inspired by the copious amounts of opium grown in the area. For decades, this was the center of Thailand’s booming opium production and trade. The area covered over 958,296 square kilometers (370,000 square miles) and was home to several hill tribes whose members cultivated the crop, processed it into heroin, and smuggled it out. Boats laden with the drug would unload their cargo under cover of darkness, while in the nearby jungles and mountains, warlords fought bloody battles over the spoils. In 1902, the Thai government eradicated all opium production. Today, cascading tea plantations and fruit-laden orchards have replaced all the poppy fields that once covered the fertile mountainsides. And the old opium routes are now lined with luxury hotels, resorts and spas.
There are plenty of things to do in and around the area. One of the most memorable experiences is a ride on the long-tailed boat to the confluence of the Ruak River and the mighty Mekong. This natural boundary separates the three countries: Laos is to the east of the Mekong, Burma to the north of the Ruak, and Thailand to the west of the Mekong. China lies a three-day boat journey away.
The Hall of Opium
In the town of Sop Ruak, perched next to the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers, you will find the only two opium museums in the world. The history of opium production is brought to life especially well in the Hall of Opium, the larger and newer museum which is just outside the town.
With Thailand on one bank and Burma on the other, the Mekong river captures the fascinating nature of life at the border – its flowing water separates the two countries while simultaneously being a point of cultural confluence. You may also come within inches of some of the world’s most exotic wildlife, including elephants, who love to bathe in the river. A truly unique holiday experience!
The ancient riverside city of Chiang Saen is one of the smallest and oldest towns in Chiang Rai. It is home to the 800 year-old-temple, Wat Pa Sak. The Chiang Saen Museum exhibits a variety of local artwork, from handicrafts made by the surrounding hill tribes to ancient Lanna-style artifacts.
Doi Mae Salong
Known as Santi Khiri, this hilltop village offers a glimpse into a unique way of life. It is inhabited by Chinese communities, who settled down here after the Chinese Civil War. In this town, tea cultivation is the main occupation, Mandarin is still the primary language, and traditional Chinese customs live on. The area is also called “Little Switzerland,” owing to the stunning mountain scenery.
Houi Mak Liem National Park and Hot Springs
Sprawled across a diverse jungle terrain, the Houi Mak Liem National Park and Hot Springs is home to a variety of indigenous hill tribes as well as impressive waterfalls and natural hot springs, close to the banks of the Kok River. For those who enjoy active and exotic travel experiences, this park offers an excellent trekking trail.