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Thailand’s Golden Triangle

Origin of Name:

The phrase “Golden Triangle” has a cloudy origin with no two sources agreeing how it came about.

Why is it Special?:

This is one of the two largest opium growing regions in Asia.

Area Covered:

The Golden Triangle refers to a mountainous area covering parts of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar which is approximately 135,000 square miles in area.

History:

The Golden Triangle has been one of the largest production centers of opium in the world since the 1950s.

Opium is taken on horseback to be refined into heroin at the Thai-Myanmar border. From there it is trafficked across the border through small northern villages and brought to Bangkok for international distribution. Thai and American couriers from Thailand travel by airline into the United States.

Economy:

Opium growers and refiners, couriers and the whole industry reap large profits. Myanmar is said to finance their army largely from their opium production efforts in the Golden Triangle to other countries. Thailand outlawed opium growing and Thailand’s King Bhumibol created a crop substitution program in 1959 that replaced opium as a crop. There are very severe penalties for those caught with the drug.

What is There to See and Do?:

  • Mai Sai town has a border crossing with Myanmar where there is a small shopping area with traditional souvenirs including clothing, toys and many unique items.
  • Village of Sop Ruak, where the Ruak and Mekong Rivers meet. There is a viewpoint where you can look over Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
  • Local Karen hill tribe members in traditional dress are available for photos.
  • Many old Buddhist temples across the region.
  • There is a gambling casino across the border in Myanmar at the Mai Sai border crossing.
  • Rowboat and longtail boat trips on the river bring you closer to Myanmar where the government is still at war with the Karen hill tribe. Trips downriver to Laos gives a peek into their simple nature, as children play in the water close to where adults throw fishing nets.
  • In addition to a number of budget hotels there is a 5-star hotel, Anantara Resort, overlooking the hills of Myanmar, Laos and the Mekong River below.
  • Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are two Thailand cities close to the border with many things to do. Hikers are encouraged to try the new Pang Soong Nature Trail. This is an amazing four-hour trek along dirt forest paths in Chiang Mai. Trekkers will see over 15 waterfalls and manage a 1,500 feet vertical climb as the path winds its way up the mountain.

Bottom Line:

A nice getaway from the crowds of Chiang Mai, Bangkok and other tourist areas of Thailand. Don’t make this the focus of your trip north, but a short visit while in a neighboring city, Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, would be ideal for most.

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