Golden Triangle (Thailand)

The Golden Triangle (สามเหลี่ยมทองคำ Saam Liam Thong Kham) is in Chiang Rai Province, in the far north of Thailand. The English name comes from the meeting of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand here, but to the locals it's Sop Ruak, since this is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River.


The confluence of the Mekong and the Ruak in the dry season: the foreground is Thailand, the sandbar is Myanmar and the opposite bank is Laos.

Historically the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for the growing of opium, and the name comes from a US State Department memo on the practice. These days, though, the place lives on the cultivation of tourists, and this is undoubtedly the largest tourist trap in northern Thailand.

The landscape is hilly, divided by the Ruak River that flows into the Mekong (Mae Khong) River. These rivers form a natural boundary between the three countries Laos (to the east of the Mekong), Myanmar (to the north of the Ruak), and Thailand (to the west of the Mae Khong).

Get in

Most people seem to come here on guided bus tours. For independent travellers, blue songthaews run through the Golden Triangle from Mae Sai (45 min, 40 baht) to Chiang Saen (15 min, 20 baht) and back again every 20 minutes or so until around 15:00. If you miss the last songthaew, you will be at the mercy of the tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers who will charge around 70 baht for the 10 km trip from the Golden Triangle to Chiang Saen.

Get around

Boats can be hired to view scenery around the golden triangle from Sop Ruak along the Mekong River to Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong which takes around 40 minutes and one and a half hours respectively.


Buddha statue next to the Mekong River
The treasure ship the Buddha is seated on

The main area is the Thai riverside near the point where the rivers meet, which, in the dry season, when the Mekong runs low, is even marked by a handy sandbar. This in itself is pretty anticlimactic, so a series of increasingly bizarre attractions have been erected by the riverside to make up for it: there's a giant golden Buddha on a ship, elephant statues where you can clamber to pose atop a palanquin (in exchange for a donation, of course), elaborate shrines to the royal family, half a dozen signs stating that yes, this really is the Golden Triangle and, inevitably, river cruise touts, souvenir shops and Western-style cafes.

The valley of the Hall of Opium



There are a number of scruffy bamboo-built cafes as you come in from the north, and then a chain of largely identical-looking cafes and restaurants along the riverside promenade.


A sprawl of guesthouses and hotels has popped up on the Thai side of the river. However, better accommodations can be found in Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong and Chiang Rai, and most visitors choose to visit as a day-trip.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.