Laos: No Visa Needed, Only in Thailand at the Golden Triangle

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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.

Hot Spring in Chiang Mai

Hot Springs

Hot Springs
Mitch purchasing eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the eggs are soft boiled, not hard boiled, until cracking one open.

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.

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Our view from lunch overlooking the Mekong River.

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle
The AEC, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community, was established in 2015. The goal of the AEC is for the 10 states to be sustainable and economically integrated by 2025.

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Elephant statues at the Golden Triangle

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Sop Ruak

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. 

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Boarding a speed boat in Thailand, next stop: Laos.

Golden Triangle

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.

Golden Triangle
Gambling other than the national lottery and horse races has been illegal in Thailand since 1935. The casinos of Laos (pictured left) and Myanmar (pictured right) compete heavily for the area’s gambling business.
Golden Triangle
The meeting of the Ruak River and Mekong River can be seen in the different shades of water.


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.

Golden Triangle
Docking in Laos.
Golden Triangle
Before we took a shot of amber liquid called “cobra whiskey” from a jug containing a cobra, lizard, and branches.

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.

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There are various cobra whiskeys available for purchase as well as the mysterious pickled animal pictured on the right.

Golden Triangle

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. 

Golden Triangle

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  • 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. 

September 2018

Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

The Traveling Gingerbread is a place for us to share budget travel tips for people with full time jobs, fun facts, itineraries, and where to find the best craft beer. We have been traveling together since 2013. Living and working full-time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. We cram each adventure with activities, tours, experiences, and local breweries. We can't walk by an Irish pub without stopping in for a pint of Guinness. In 2019, we brewed our first beer and were hooked, although, we have no intentions of brewing more than small batches. We'll continue our self appointed roles of professional testers and creating craft beer trails.

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