For unique experience in Northern Thailand, we booked the Chiang Rai White Temple and Golden Triangle Tour with Pon Chiang Mai Tour.
Mae Kajan Hot Spring
Mae Kajan Hot Springs is one of the most popular Hot Springs in Chiang Mai. Women cook baskets of eggs for 3 minutes in the hottest spring with a temperature of 176 degrees Fahrenheit. The soft boiled eggs can be purchased by visitors soaking their feet or enjoying a cup of coffee.
The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is the meeting of Myanmar (formally known as Burma until 1989), Laos, and Thailand. The name, Golden Triangle, originated from the large quantities of gold traded for opium grown in the area. The opium and gold were cut open before completing the trade to ensure there was no betrayal. Issues still arise in the area and tours may be cancelled if it is unsafe to visit.
The banning of opium in the area caused many families to sink into poverty. Farmers received a significantly higher profit for opium than vegetables and other crops. There were no shipping costs associated with selling the illegal drug. Buyers traveled to the farmer to purchase. Although extremely risky, there was a much higher reward.
Before our boat ride along the Mekong River, the third widest river in Asia, our tour guide arranges for us to enter Don Sao Island of Laos. After paying, we leave our passports at a small stand in Thailand along the Mekong river. We ride in a speed boat to Sop Ruak, the meeting of the Ruak River and Mekong River before docking at Laos.
The massive golden Buddha, Phra Buddha Nawa Lan Tue, sits on a boat along the edge of Thailand. The legend is long ago a wat holding a large, golden Buddha sat on a small island in the middle of the Mekong River. Sadly, the island and massive Buddha sank into the river. In 1936, the Buddha was seen floating in the Mekong River. (Remember: opium was very popular in the area during this time.) All attempts to retrieve the Buddha were unsuccessful. In honor of the sunken wat, a new Buddha, Phra Buddha Nawa Lan Tue, was brought to the area and sits safely on a boat along the river.
We have one hour in Laos before returning to Thailand. Venturing beyond the market is prohibited without a visa. Not technically an island, Don Sao Island is a territory of Laos fenced off from the rest of the country with special visa requirements.
We see very few tourists as we walk by hawkers yelling to get our attention, hoisting cobras out of large, clear jugs of whiskey. When in Laos. We try a Beer Lao and a shot of cobra whiskey from a plastic jug containing a cobra, lizard, and branches. Making the mistake of looking closely at the shot in my hand, I see many particles floating around in the small glass.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Contrary to our research, additional passport photos were not needed to enter Laos. Upon returning to Thailand, our purchases were not searched or confiscated, and our passports were not stamped.
House of Opium
Not far from the Golden Triangle is the 212 House of Opium Museum. The origin of opium is still unknown, but believed it was first used for medicinal purposes in Greece, Egypt, Rome, and Persia. Opium, meaning fruit juice, was then transported to China and India. Hill tribes fleeing China brought the opium with them, settling in the mountainous Golden Triangle. There are several legends of how opium and tobacco originated.
- One legend is a 6 armed, red god appeared before a great emperor. Exhaling 3 breaths across the earth, he created first a bamboo pipe, then a flame, and lastly a beautiful poppy; the 3 elements of opium.
- A second myth involves the passing of an elderly woman. Per her request, she was buried near a busy intersection. Many days after her burial, 2 tobacco plants grew above her breasts and a poppy a bit lower. Intrigued by these strange plants, the villagers tasted them. Favoring the taste of tobacco much more than the poppy, the villagers planted, harvested, and smoked it. Growing near the women’s breasts, children began smoking tobacco once they were weaned off breast milk.