Golden Triangle

Once lawless, now touristy

Photo of Golden Triangle , , Chiang Saen

The Opium Museum
Close to the Golden Triangle there is a relatively new 15 million dollar Opium Museum, made by China...

By marksoc

What we say: 3.5 stars

Although the catch phrase, "Golden Triangle", referred to a large area of northern Indochina comprising northeast Burma — the Wa and Shan states — northern Laos and northern parts of Thailand before most of the opium (at least in Thailand) was eradicated in the 1990s and 2000s, the "triangle" now specifically refers to the point where the Mekong and Ruak rivers and the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet.

Land from all of these countries can be captured in a single photo from a hill in the small riverbank town of Sob Ruak, which also has a conveniently placed "Golden Triangle" sign where you can take a picture to send to your pals back home.

Incidentally, the same hill is also home to the neglected stone remains of an eighth century temple, which place it among the oldest visible religious ruins in all of Thailand. The temple's builders remain a mystery, but Sob Ruak is clearly a very ancient settlement -- when 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.

In more recent history, the Sob Ruak riverfront saw Chinese Kuomintang (Republican) soldiers battle the Shan State Army of notorious warlord, Khun Sa, over opium convoys, but it's now occupied by an array of souvenir stalls, tourist cafes, minor museums (such as the House of Opium), and gaudy Buddhist installations.

Large and even more gaudy casinos are now found just over the borders in both Burma and Laos, and the Golden Triangle sees daily busloads of tourists from around the world. While it's true that the "official" Golden Triangle in Sob Ruak is today a novelty that's in no way a wild or intrepid experience, it does boast pleasant scenery to go with intriguing history.

Last updated: 24th November, 2012

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