Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai

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Golden Triangle, the intersection of three countries

The Golden Triangle (สามเหลี่ยมทองคำ Saam Liam Thong Kham) is in Chiang Rai Province, in the far north of Thailand. The English name comes from the meeting of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand here, but to the locals it’s Sop Ruak, since this is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River.

Historically the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for the growing of opium, and the name comes from a US State Department memo on the practice. These days, though, the place lives on the cultivation of tourists, and this is undoubtedly the largest tourist trap in northern Thailand.

The landscape is hilly, divided by the Ruak River that flows into the Mekong (Mae Khong) River. These rivers form a natural boundary between the three countries Laos (to the east of the Mekong), Myanmar (to the north of the Ruak), and Thailand (to the west of the Mae Khong).

How to get Golden Triangle

Most people seem to come here on guided bus tours. For independent travelers, blue songthaews run through the Golden Triangle from Mae Sai (45 min, 40 baht) to Chiang Saen (15 min, 20 baht) and back again every 20 minutes or so until around 15:00. If you miss the last songthaew, you will be at the mercy of the tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers that will charge around 70 baht for the 10km trip from the Golden Triangle to Chiang Saen.

Get around Golden Triangle

Boats can be hired to view scenery around the golden triangle from Sop Ruak along the Mekong River to Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong which takes around 40 minutes and one and a half hours respectively.

What to See at Golden Triangle

The center of the action is the Thai riverside near the point where the rivers meet, which — in the dry season, when the Mekong runs low — is even marked by a handy sandbar. This in itself is pretty anticlimactic, so a series of increasingly bizarre attractions have been erected by the riverside to make up for it: there’s a giant golden Buddha on a ship, elephant statues where you can clamber to pose atop a palanquin (in exchange for a donation, of course), elaborate shrines to the royal family, half a dozen signs stating that yes, this really is the Golden Triangle and, inevitably, river cruise touts, souvenir shops and Western-style cafes.

  • Phra That Doi Pu Khao (พระธาตุดอยปูเข้า) is located on the hill just before the Golden Triangle and believed to have been built by a king of Wiang Hirannakhon Ngoen Yang in mid-8th century. Remains of antiquities are in the Viharn with crumbled Chedis.
  • The valley of the Hall of Opium
    Hall of Opium, Golden Triangle Park (หอฝิ่นอุทยานสามเหลี่ยมทองคำ), Moo 1, Ban Sop Ruak, Tambon Wiang (around 2 km north of center, on the way to Mae Sai), ☎ +66-53784444-6. Tue-Sun 8:30 AM-4:30 PM. One of the best museums in all Thailand and almost certainly the most interesting place to visit in the Golden Triangle, the Hall of Opium exhibits the history of opium around the world and in the area, the process of production, the effects of opium smoking and campaigns to eradicate and substitute the crop. There’s even a tiny opium plantation inside! The Hall describes itself as “edutainment”, and indeed this is something of an opium theme park, with the latest in snazzy multimedia exhibits and lots of subtle hectoring about the evils of addiction. To their credit, though, they don’t whitewash Thailand’s own history at all and even the CIA’s exploits are covered in detail. Popular with tour groups and school children. Run by the royal Doi Tung Foundation, with profits going to charity. 200/150 baht foreigner/Thai.
  • House of Opium, 212 Moo.1, Ban Sop Ruak, Tambon Wiang. Open 7 AM-7 PM. A genuine privately run museum, unrelated to and much smaller and more serious in tone than the Hall. Lots of opium paraphernalia and information on the production process from beginning to end. 50 baht.
  • Map of Golden triangle, Thailand

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