The Golden Triangle is located in the northern part of Chiang Rai. This is where the borders of 3 countries meet – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma); it is known to locals as “Sop Ruak”, as this is also the meeting point of 2 rivers: the first, Ruak, separates Thailand from Myanmar (Burma) and pours into Mae Kong river.
A long time ago, the area was famous for its opium crops, the production and distribution by the villagers to western countries. However, due to the royal family and Thai government’s operations, this is all in the distant past. The only link to opium that remains is 2 museums.
Many tourists visit the Golden Triangle, particularly in organized day trips. Personally, I prefer other locations in Thailand – and specifically the north – that are more to my liking. However, I would describe the area as follows:
Some 15 minuets from a small town called Chiang Saen, there are few local attractions: a temple on the river, a nearby market and small park overlooking the area, 2 opium museums and a pier, from which you can take a longtail boat for a short river cruise and a visit to the market located on an island – which formally belongs to Laos.
Most tourists (many Chinese) visit the exact same places and I will elaborate on that:
Large Golden Buddha Statue – located on the riverbank, sitting on a boat, and next to it 2 giant elephant statues. The site features a small market, souvenir stalls, small coffee shops and food stands. Next to it there are piers, from which you sail across the river and of course, to the market in” Laos” that I will describe later on.
Opium Museums – the large, impressive museum is called Hall of Opium and the small one is called House of Opium”. Both museums provide a glimpse into the history of the local opium industry, display processing and smoking tools and offer information on the dangers of drug addiction and the suffering of addicts.
The “Laos” Market – In the Mae Mae Kong river, on a small island called “Don Sao”, there’s a small market which mostly offers knickknacks, cigarette packs and the local highlight – alcohol bottles with snakes and/or scorpions that you can taste if you’d like. While the island officially belongs to Laos, there’s no need of visa/passport to visit there.
Wat Phatat Sam Mum Muang – if you are already in the area, I highly recommend visiting the small temple that offers a lovely viewpoint of the Golden Triangle area, and the meeting point of Ruak and Mekong rivers.
Lodging: most tourists who arrive to this area belong to organized groups and are here on their day-tours from Chiang Rai. There are few hotels of various classes in the area, including humble lodgings and guesthouses in the nearby town of Chiang Saen, on the riverbank.
My Opinion: I’ve been to more interesting spots and impressive locations in the north and of course other parts of Thailand.
Conclusion: The Golden Triangle is an area in Chiang Rai where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Many years ago, the area was famous for the opium crops industry, but nowadays its only link to opium is thematic museums. There’s a market and some landscape – but I’ve seen better in the north – in this day-tour destination.
Please note: I’ve intentionally excluded the Golden Triangle area from our private luxury tour plans to northern Thailand, but if you’d like to visit there, I can easily combine it in Chiang Rai tour plans.