To many people, the name ‘Golden Triangle’ conjures up images of opium fields, drug caravans and fighting warlords. The area where the three countries of Burma (Myanmar), Laos and Thailand meet has a notorious past. Fortunately, much has changed in recent decades and these days the Golden Triangle is safe to visit. With some glorious countryside, friendly locals and a laid-back atmosphere, it’s easy to see the appeal of this part of northern Thailand.
Visiting the Centre of the Golden Triangle at Sop Ruak
In Thailand, the small town of Sop Ruak approximately 70 km east of Chiang Rai city sits where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. This spot where the Mekong and the Ruak River merge has been designated by Thai authorities as the ‘centre of the Golden Triangle’. It all sounds very romantic, but the reality can leave some visitors disappointed. Parts of Sop Ruak are commercialised to cater to the large tour groups arriving on whistle-stop trips to snap photos and buy Golden Triangle souvenirs. The best way to avoid this is to visit Sop Ruak as part of a more leisurely trip or extended tour of the Golden Triangle region. This gives you the chance to see more of the lovely views and enjoy the peaceful areas around Sop Ruak. If your budget can afford it, you’ll also find two of the best hotels in Thailand here with the award winning Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and the Four Seasons Tented Camp nestled in the Thai countryside a short distance from Sop Ruak.
Hall of Opium
Regular border patrols and random security checkpoints dotted around the region show that the lucrative drug trade hasn’t completely gone away. Despite that, the Golden Triangle region is justifiably popular with visitors and the closest the average tourist is going to get to drugs is the excellent Hall of Opium museum at Sop Ruak. The informative museum helps to educate visitors and provides some valuable context about the complex history of the opium trade and the reasons that allowed it to flourish in the Golden Triangle.
Crossing the Mekong River into Laos
The two main cities in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have always been a good base to explore the Golden Triangle. But as the border regions have opened up to tourism, adventurous travellers are increasingly using small Thai towns like Chiang Khong to cross the Mekong River into Laos to continue their exploration of this scenic and fascinating part of South-east Asia.
Bicycle Tours of the Golden Triangle
Taking to two wheels and exploring the Golden Triangle region by bicycle is a great way to appreciate the scenery and the local way of life. Using Chiang Rai as a base, Golden Triangle cycle tours allow riders to experience the beauty of the northern Thai countryside and the hospitality of the local people. Visit hill-tribes, eat delicious local food, cycle along quiet roads and enjoy the slow pace of life along the mighty Mekong River. These tours usually begin and end in Chiang Rai, but can be extended to include journeys into Laos and historic cities such as Luang Prabang. Golden Triangle bike tours take in all of the main sights of the region including the viewpoint at Sop Ruak and the Hall of Opium.
TourChoice.com offer a number of cycling tours in Thailand including the Golden Triangle. The 3-day trip to the Golden Triangle is suitable for inexperienced riders and is a wonderful introduction to this scenic border region. There are a few hills along the way, but with the high quality lightweight mountain bikes provided these are relatively easy to tackle so don’t worry if you’re not super-fit. The Golden Triangle cycle tours are led by local English-speaking guides who will explain the fascinating history and culture of the areas you visit.