There’s a place where history intertwines with culture, twisting up into the sky with a thin trail of smoke. That smoke comes out of the opium pipe – a product the region is famous for. What place is that? It’s Golden Triangle, a hilly area where the Ruak River and Mekong River form a natural boundary between three countries: Burma, Laos and Thailand. Not too far, just about few dozens kilometers away, there’s a Chinese province Yunnan.
The definition of the country isn’t that clear in Golden Triangle, the boundaries between cultures are blurred and no one really cares about the nationality in passport. Life goes on slowly, focusing on a leisurely functioning coexistence of the clans. Day by day, week by week, year by year. They have their own rites and beliefs, their own identity and culture.
The magic of Golden Triangle
Even though the times of growing opium on a large scale are gone (The Golden Triangle was the world's most important producer of the drug in the XIX century) its marks can be seen everywhere. Today, Afghanistan is the leader in the production of the drug, nonetheless you can still learn about the history of making opium and visit the famous museum - House of Opium. Thailand has tackled (at least officially) with shady business, while Laos and Myanmar are still an important part of the criminal market, occupying a significant position among drug exporters.
For some, this may be hypocritical, but the country is fighting with the production of opium and at the same time attracts tourists with it. House of Opium is visited by thousands guests each year. The exhibits include maps of regions where the opium was grown, antique tools for collecting the juice of unripe poppy capsules and other items used to make the drug. There’s no lack of tools to smoke opium, metal weights and old scales. Not only pipes can be souvenirs, but also the tickets which, at the same time, serve as post cards, on which you can stamp the words “I am here...”
Along the Mekong River
Golden Triangle isn’t just a poppy field, it’s also a wonderful and picturesque land. Especially beautiful panorama stretches out from the high bank of the Mekong River, a place of Banphin and Sop Ruak settlements, which are the heart of the region. Standing at the highest point, you can admire Burma in the northwest and Laos in the east. Unfortunately, the relations between the countries are not always good, but if you will hit that point, you won’t need a visa to be able to explore the two other countries.
The above mentioned settlement Sop Ruak offers many attractions, not only the opium museum. You can get there by bus with the help of a guide. Those, who organize the trips by themselves, can use the blue songthaews, which run approximately every 20 minutes between Mae Sai and Chiang Saen. After 3 PM tourists can rely only on tuk-tuks, or motorcycle taxis. Those, who aren’t assertive or familiar with the subject of bargaining and current prices may overpay dearly for the opportunity to leave the settlement. Sop Ruak welcomes guests who seek for the relaxation. Here you can find many spa resorts with qualified specialists. There’s also a number of modern fitness centers and restaurants with exquisite cuisine. In short, here you can feed both your body and soul. After visiting the House of Opium you can relax in the beautiful surroundings and forget about reality.
Tourists can get on a speedboat and tour along the banks of the Mekong River. This gives the possibility to explore the unknown and amazing corners of Thailand, which aren’t shown in the guides. Among other things, they will be able to see Burmese and Laotian women washing clothes in the river, men working in the fields or repairing some equipment. Here, you can indeed feel the past. The clock shifts very slowly and the pace of life is very hard to understand for busy Europeans.
Elephants in the Golden Triangle
Weary vacationers looking for an accommodation may want to consider the offer of Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa. It offers visitors not only one of the 77 rooms and suites, but also a number of activities, including a visit to Elephant Camp. Volunteers can bath the elephant in the river, and take a ride through the jungle on its back. The center functions with the help of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, it’s also subsidized by Anantara hotel chain.
Another place worth recommending is the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. Here you can also get to know the gentle giants fanning themselves with ears. There’s a possibility to participate in cooking classes and learn how to prepare local dishes, or observe the birds and explore the lush greenery of the jungles.
In a place where the borders of three countries meet, time slows down, and in the air you can feel the smell of the past. Trip to the Golden Triangle will soothe your mind, and bring you closer to nature. After such journey you’ll look differently at the noisy Bangkok and other bustling cities.