Where We Be
|From the Golden Triangle overlook, you can see Thailand in the foreground, Myanmar in the
middle (with the Ruak River to the left and the Mekong to the right), and Laos on the far bank
|Golden Triangle, Thailand
|Looking along the Ruak River, with Myanmar on the far bank,
you get a sense of just how rural the area quickly becomes
|Having read about the Golden Triangle in books, it was great to finally see it in person. Why is it called the
Golden Triangle? Because of the huge quantities of gold Chinese traders once paid for the opium grown here.
|We hiked up this Naga (snake) staircase to Wat Phra That Pukhao,
a temple located close to Golden Triangle Park (Sob Ruak)
|From the top of the hill, you get great views
up and down the Mekong and across to Laos
|A short drive brought us to another temple. After a short visit we
walked down another Naga staircase to the House of Opium Museum.
|The House of Opium was good for a half-hour's visit, with instructive
maps and placards along with plenty of opium pipes and paraphernalia
|A few of the displays in the House of Opium
make opium growing look downright idyllic!
|Of course for opium addicts the reality was downright awful. The museum
includes a display of a person laying on one side in the traditional opium pose.
|After lunch we drove up a winding road near the House of Opium
to Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao for more terrific views of the Mekong
|Most tourists come for the views more than the temple --
and with views like this you can hardly blame them
|Robin took the opportunity to ring the enormous temple bell
|Then we walked down yet another Naga staircase -- the longest by far -- through jungle
to the lower parts of Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao, with its chedi built atop a huge boulder.
|The Karen Long Neck tribe is the highlight of a visit here for most, but we
also got to meet members of other hill tribes like the Akha, Yao, and Kayor
|From the Golden Triangle we drove 45 minutes south to Hill Tribes Village.
Here we got to meet and chat with members of the Karen Long Neck Tribe.
|The village is a convenient place for members of five different
hill tribes to meet with visitors like us and sell their handicrafts
|From an early age females of the Karen tribe place increasing numbers of brass rings around
their necks. This pushes down their clavicles, which makes their necks appear extremely long.
|Robin bought several handmade products from this young
girl of the Kayor hill tribe, known for their elongated earlobes
|These women from the Lu Mien-Yao hill tribe were
especially friendly and encouraged us to pose with them
|I had to bend way down to pose with this older
woman from the Akha tribe in traditional dress
|At the on-site museum we got to weigh just how heavy the brass coils are. We were
surprised at how much weight these women are carrying around on their necks.
|In truth we felt a little uncertain about our visit to Hill Tribes Village. We were concerned it might feel a bit like a "human zoo."
But we tried to treat each individual we met with respect, and like a person instead of just a photo subject, and that helped.
Our visit also gave us a chance to support the local economy in a practical way by buying locally handmade crafts.
|Maps at Golden Triangle Park make it clear this is an important
meeting point for three countries -- with China surprisingly close as well
|Across the Mekong is Laos. You can take a boat from
here to Laos (but we didn't since we've been there before).
After crossing the border briefly into Myanmar,
we continued our all-day tour with a visit to the
Golden Triangle. This is the place where three
borders meet -- Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar,
with China just a bit further north. It’s also
where the Ruak River meets the mighty Mekong
River. Standing at an overlook point, we got a
grand view of the area. It was hot and hazy with
smoke from burning fields in May, but we were
still glad to experience a place we'd read so
much about. After all, this is one of the world's
two major opium producing areas, along with
Afghanistan. Nowadays, this exact spot has
more to do with tourism than drugs, but just
beyond, in the hilly rural regions of Myanmar
especially, opium production is still a big issue.
The Golden Triangle is also famous for its hill
tribes, in particular the fascinating Karen Long
Neck tribe whose women wear coiled brass
rings around their extraordinarily long necks. At
Hill Tribes Village, a convenient gathering point
for five different hill tribes in the area, we got
to meet more locals in traditional dress than we
could have otherwise in a single day, including
women from the Karen, Yao and Akha hill tribes.
|Nearby we paid our respects at the ruins of an ancient temple where
the main Buddha image had been mostly destroyed by an earthquake