Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Golden Triangle

As I wrote yesterday, the kids have a week off from school at the end of October.  Since Kevin is not traveling nor does he have any visitors at that time, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to make our first journey out of the Bangkok metropolitan area. 

We are thinking about going to Chiang Saen, a town in an area of Thailand known as "The Golden Triangle".  If you are looking at a map, find Chiang Rai (in the northwestern tip of Thailand) and Chiang Saen is just to the northeast.  Chiang Saen was founded in 1328 and is one of the oldest towns in Thailand.  It was built high in the hills in the northernmost part of Thailand and overlooks the joining of the Ruak and Mekhong rivers.  These rivers converge and then form not only an actual triangle but also the borders of three countries:  Thailand, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Laos. The Mekhong river is about 2,600 miles long and is the longest river in southeast Asia and the 8th longest in the world.  Chiang Saen is about a 13 hour drive from Bangkok but only a 2 1/2 hour flight.  I found roundtrip airfare at $140 for each of us and, with the resort (4 star!) at about $50 per night, this would end up being a relatively inexpensive trip. 

This region (northern Thailand, eastern Burma and western Laos) has, unfortunately, long held a reputation for growing large amounts of opium.  Opium production was made illegal in Thailand in 1959 and program of crop substitution managed by the King has largely eliminated its production in Thailand.  However, across the borders in Myanmar and Laos, the revolutionary groups are believed to fund their activities through the production and sale of opium and heroin.  Although trafficking of the opium across the borders and into Thailand does happen, it is definitely safe for Americans to visit and travel in this area.

At first glance, this might seem like an odd destination for our trip.  However, after reading through my guidebooks, I found Chiang Saen to be a little off the beaten path and there are some really interesting activities that will keep us occupied for a few days.  This area is referred to as the foothills of the Himalayas and the views of the Myanmar/Laos/Thailand borders from the mountains are supposed to be just spectacular.  There are numerous trekking trips offered into the jungle and the mountains.  We will also have opportunity to take a boat trip and see the homes and daily activities of the Burmese and Laotian families that live along the Mekhong river.  In addition, there are two hill-tribes (the Mien and the Akha) who still live in villages in this area and produce quality crafts and jewelry.  There are temples and elephant camps that we can tour.  So, while we won't be laying on a beach (we are saving that for Christmas!), I think this will be a fantastic opportunity for us to experience a very unique part of Thailand.  Plus, I will be able to take some great photos to post here!

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