Aug 20 2011
The Thai government and Tourism Authority of Thailand have very successfully converted their part of this once wild region into a highly profitable tourism hot spot. It’s now firmly up there with floating markets, historic cities and Krabi beaches on visitors’ must-sees and where once opium flowed out of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to triads in Bangkok and Saigon, now it’s Doi Tung lattes and Doi Chang iced mochas for Thai yuppies in chic Lanna coffee shops are the main products emerging from them there hills.
The small riverbank town of Sob Ruak — at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet — has become officially identified as the Golden Triangle itself and is now a feature of most Chiang Rai tour itineraries.
In the photo above, that’s the mighty Mekong on the right and the channel of the Ruak on the left; the mountains are in Laos, the grassy tongue of land is Burma and the trees in the foreground are growing out of Thai soil. Such is the view from the top of the hill overlooking Sob Ruak, where there’s even a convenient sign for posing for Golden Triangle photos under.
Incidentally the said hill also houses the interesting remains of an eighth century temple — built by we’re not quite sure who — so Sob Ruak is clearly a very old settlement, and bear in mind that as the Thai (Tai) clans migrated south down the Mekong from their land of origin in southern China, this would have quite possibly been their first landfall in what is now Thailand.
The Sob Ruak waterfront, where once Kuomintang and Shan armies fought over opium convoys, is now a collection of souvenir stalls, tourist cafes, minor museums (such as the House of Opium), and gaudy Buddhist installations.
The latter perhaps have been installed to appease the consciences of local visitors, many of whom are actually on their way through to visit the enormous and even more gaudy casinos that have been constructed on the Lao and Burmese banks opposite. (Casinos are banned in Thailand.)
Anyway it’s an interesting enough and certainly historic site to visit, and the House of Opium is well worth a look. Don’t forget to get your photo taken on top of the hill!
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