Thailand is a common destination for those that like to broaden their horizons. So, this is a narrow look at the Golden Triangle, an area defining the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma).
We had flown to Hong Kong and stayed there for a few days before moving on to Bangkok and finally Chang Mai. Bangkok is a city of concrete and tarmac. Chang Mai is a big city full of shops, people, and it is also more in tune with the jungle surrounding it. Chang Mai dates back to the 13th century.
It would be a long drive from Bangkok, the two cities are 700 km (440 miles) apart. It is possible to get a sleeper train from Bangkok, but we chose the hour-long flight. Chang Mai’s international airport is small, modern, and a short 5-minute car trip to the walled city centre.
Chang Mai is a great place to see the natural wild of Thailand and still be able to sleep in a comfortable bed each night. Hotels range from the familiar international 5-star hotel offering every amenity you could want, to the modest motels that are perfectly clean and serve as a place to crash.
It is worth spending a week in Chang Mai purely because its location is so central. You can spend a day or two going around the mall and markets, then venture out of the city. Thailand is still developing at a phenomenal rate and they have done well to preserve all of the ancient buildings,
The zoo on the edge of the city is, an amazing, 200-acres of plants and animals. It is so expansive you need a golf cart to get around. Included in the open-ground park are ranges for animals from every continent in the world, from the Arctic to Australia. The animals have plenty of space in this zoo and large animals have huge ranges to traverse.
Further out, the city stops, and the jungle gets thick with nature. The shops and restaurants are replaced by rainforests and rivers. Thailand has many parks; some you need to pay for like the elephant park where you can take a ride on giant Thai elephants. Others lead you through trails to see monumental waterfalls and mountains peaks.
Ports and borders are funny places. As you would expect they have a lot of businesses around them that depend on the trade route to each of the opposing countries’ economies. Just over the border and the most northerly part of Thailand, and into Laos is the booming town of Tachileik.
Even with such little distance between the two countries, there is a dramatic change in the culture. Items are even cheaper, and the sensation of going over is like jumping back in time another 10-years.
We ate and drank the local food and beer. There is a surprising number of Thai’s that visit and run businesses there.
Laos over to the right of Thailand a small village
Laos, Burma, Thailand, and a River
The Mekong is a fast-moving, and very wide, river. It is worth a trip. Mekong Whisky is famously easy to drink and does cloud some of the details, but the area is unforgettable and stunningly beautiful. Endless forests on rolling hills interrupted with occasional towns and rivers.
The Mekong River separates the countries of Burma and Laos until Burma moves off to the left, and Thailand takes on the river with Laos. At this point of separation there is a celebration of reaching the Golden Triangle.
The division of borders is a tribute to the unity of the cultures and the Hall of Opium. There you can also get a small boat to Laos to satisfy your need to visit another country.
Hall of Opium
The Hall of Opium is a museum that supplies a shocking experience reminding everyone what the Golden Triangle is famous for. It is a museum displaying everything from a deep history of why the drug became so popular, right down to the lives it destroyed.
It is a fascinating place to visit and very sad to see the negative effect the drug had on the world including their own people. The place has a similar feel to a WWII memorial in Europe. A very modern museum that makes a strong statement against the use of the drug.
There are many good places to stay in Chang Mai, from the very best 5-star hotels to perfectly adequate 3-star accommodation.
If your intention is to visit The Golden Triangle in Chang Rai, the 600 km round trip every day may get a little tiring. To visit all of the museums and countries in the Triangle it is worth staying there for a couple of days.
Again, a good 3-star hotel costs little and is more than good enough to have a comfortable night in. Or you can upgrade and pretend to rough-it in the 5-star Four Seasons Tented camp accommodation complete, with swimming pool, fire pits, and the very best food.
Bangkok is easy to get to from anywhere in the world, it always has been, Chang Mai also. Chang Rai international airport will shave over 200 km off of a drive from Chang Mai.
The drive is long and beautiful, and worth doing one way. So, if you want to do both, fly into Chang Mai, and book your flight when you are there to fly back to Bangkok for your return flight. Book a van to take you from Chang Mai to the Golden Triangle.
It is the type of journey that seems endless, but it is also one of the most amazing scenic drives that you will ever embark on.
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