June 2, 2014

Thailand: visiting the Golden Triangle

For a totally different side of Thailand, get out of Bangkok, leave the beaches and islands to the tourists and head into the “Rose of the North” where hill tribes, mighty rivers and tropical jungle walks await the curious traveller.

History buffs will love this part of Thailand!

Chiang Mai means the New City, and it celebrated its 700th birthday in 1996(!) It was set up as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, the cultural core and centre of Buddhism in the north in 1296.

Today you’ll find modern hotels and boutiques next to centuries’ old temples and plenty to do to keep you busy before heading out for hiking or rafting trips on the Mekong. Mountains, waterfalls and rivers, distinctive architecture, festivals, handcraft workshops and classical dances make Northern Thailand so unique.

Muser hill tribe, Thailand

The Muser Hill Tribe welcome visitors with their tribal dance. Pic courtesy Tourism Authority of Thailand

There are several hill tribes all with different dialects featuring a wealth of different cultures. Trekking up here is one of the most popular activities, along with river rafting and elephant riding. (But note: not all operators engage in elephant-friendly practices. Tourism Thailand advise people not to visit camps that exploit these beautiful animals.)

I spent a few days here meeting the locals, dining at the Cabbages and Condom’s Restaurant (read my blog here!) and visiting quieter, nearby Chiang Rai, named for where the Ruak river meets the mighty Mekong.

If steering away from the tourists is your preference, then you’ll enjoy Chiang Rai as it has stayed under the radar for many years, but is just starting to experience growth.

Chiang Rai, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) is known as the Golden Triangle, named by the US State Department in reference to the opium that was grown here.

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle where the mighty Mekong and Ruak Rivers meet. Pic Flickr/Heiko S

In 2005 the Hall of Opium opened in one of the most beautifully designed buildings I’ve visited. It’s a sombre look at the devastating effects of opium on the locals, how they were exploited by traders, and features harrowing images, displays and text of the mystery, danger, trafficking and wars. But there’s more to see than just reading as you walk through dark corridors featuring the perilous poppy, opium wars between China and Britain, and the effects on poor farmers working with and addicted to the poisonous  plant.

It’s utterly captivating and educational and I can totally recommend you take a little detour to see it. (Cost 300 baht)

Tea harvesting in Chiang Rai

Love this pic! Today the local hill tribes harvest tea instead of opium. Courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand

I’ve got a lot of blogs on here about Thailand, so if you’re planning a holiday up here any time soon, click here for the whole shebang!

This post is sponsored by the great team at Tourism Authority of Thailand. If you want more info on the myriad things to do, places to stay and great deals, jump here to their website >>>

About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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