The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Chiang Mai area: Golden Triangle and Points North

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 09•10

Ann tribeswoman sewing rice, near the Golden Triangle

Aside from trekking opportunities, many visitors make the northern run to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, to visit the Mekong area and Burma.  There is very little to see in the ancient capital of Chiang Rai, as ancient buildings have been plowed-under.  A few minutes north, in the Golden Triangle area, where Thailand, Laos, and Burma converge, you can take a boat for 300 baht which will take you on a one-hour tour down the river, allowing you to step inside Laos for twenty minutes.  This has value if you’re up here anyway, but in our opinion, is not worth the time and effort unless you want to tell your friends you’ve stepped into Laos and Burma. 


The area between Chiang Mai and the northern border is fine for trekking and village visits, but the towns themselves have little to warrant a stop.  In a nutshell: 

Chiang Rai:   Not worth a stop for itself, as much of the old capital buildings have disappeared or been torn down.  If you’re here, the Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is worth a visit, with clothing, implements, and accessories from six tribes on display.  Downstairs, tribal crafts are for sale.  Located at 620/1 Thanon Thanalai, in the eastern part of the city (053) 719-167.  Open from 9 am – 8 pm. 

Chiang Saen:  This is a small town a few kilometers distant from Chiang Rai with a few historical temples, but not as impressive as those you’d find in other parts of Thailand. 

Mae Sai:  This town hosts the border crossing into Burma. Tachileik, on the Burmese side, features little above shops selling the same goods you’d find anywhere in northern Thailand.  Most are overtly commercial.  You are allowed to travel north into Burma from here, as far north as Kyiangtong (Cheng Tung), which is a city that offers very interesting treks into hillside villages.  Occasionally, the Tachileik-Kyaingtong road is closed due to military activity. 

If you cannot travel into deep Burma, our advice is to avoid the Mae Sai/Tachileik border town, and instead concentrate of seeing Myawadi, the Burmese town adjacent to Mae Sot, south of Chiang Mai, roughly due west of Phitsanoluk.  Myawadi has its own fascinating elements and, in our opinion, is more reflective of Burmese life. 

Sop Ruak:  This is the “center” of the Golden Triangle.  From here, you can hire a fast longtail boat, or 300 baht ferry to visit a small Lao outpost at Don Sao island, pay 20 baht to Lao authorities, and by Lao crafts, and sample Lao drinks.  We were fascinated by jars of Lao whiskey, containing (alternately) scorpions, cobras, and tiger penises.  One shop allows you a free taste before you buy, and surprisingly, the tiger variety has the smoky flavor one would normally associate with Scot malt whisky from the island of Isla.  If you are tempted to by a jar, consult your own country’s customs policies, as the jars contain parts of animals that might be on the endangered species lists. 

We found the House of Opium museum in Sop Ruak to be worth a visit, although most of the signs are in Thai.  You can buy antique opium pipes there, and see exhibits related to the cultivation of opium.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.