Thailand – Chiang RaiBack to Story

Deep in the heart of the Golden Triangle

Thailand’s heart of the Golden Triangle is a fascinating place to travel. It is at this location where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet. My local guide tells me the Golden Triangle is this area of land in the middle of the Mekong connecting the three countries but is in no-mans land. You can see this triangle of land in the dry season. The region has long been notorious for the traffic of opium across the borders. Opium production has been illegal in relatively recent times and significant efforts have been made to shut down the industry at all economic levels .

The Hall of Opium

The Hall of Opium is a museum that is funded by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. The aim is to educate people about the history of opium in the region and also point out some of the more negative impacts of the drug. The well displayed, informative exhibits outline the importance of opium in the history of this region.

Anantara Elephant hotel

Right across the road is Anantara Resort and Spa where you should (at the very least) pop in for one of their well made cocktails by the pool. If you can, it is worth the stay to combine an elephant experience. The hotel has its own elephant camp which is basically a living village where the mahouts and the elephants live. The elephant husbandry is taken seriously here with all the appropriate care taken to ensure the elephants are well feed and all interactions are taken responsibly with the elephant and tourist welfare in mind. Make sure you book an experience at your time of reservation to avoid disappointment as it does get busy.

Wat Rong Khun

The temple Wat Rung Khun is the masterpiece of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is all white, a colour sacred to the Buddhists and is a modern take on Buddhism. You cannot help but think it resembles a fairytale image or fantasy world when you first see this gleaming white building.

The aim of the temple being as a dedication to the Lord Buddha and also a way of giving back to the town where he was born and raised. The murals on the temple wall are also an extremely interesting insight into the artist. He depicts modern symbols such as coca cola cans, cars, watches and oil and the effect the materialism and greed is having on our society.

The project remains unfinished as the artist adds further visions to his creation. Its certainly an extreme example of the stage in life when you want to leave something behind but if you can – why not. His messages are heartfelt and maybe he can spread the Buddhist beliefs to a new audience who may not ever enter the traditional temples.

Minority Groups

It is estimated that approximately 25% of the hill tribe minority groups in Thailand live around Chiang Rai. This is not surprising as Myanmar and Laos boarders are so close. Tribes represented included Lisu, Akha, Lahu and Karen.

The silver head gear is very recognisable and beautiful. Unfortunately as with the villages around Chiang Mai very few villagers choose to wear their traditional clothes. Many of the minority groups have migrated over 100 years ago from China and Tibet then down through Myanmar and eventually into Northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Modern constraints mean they often cannot return to their countries or origin and there is increasing pressure on the hunter / gatherer lifestyles of their old ways.

Tea Country

A drive to visit the hill tribes will uncover Thailand’s largest tea country, Santikhiri. The origins go back to the time when Maoism was in China. General’s fled the country in protest of communism to eventually find refuge in the hills in Northern Thailand. They bought with them their prized tea and planting in the highlands soon followed. The landscape is much steeper than the Sri Lanka Tea Country – seen on my travels.

Today the tea from this region is highly valued due to its unique flavours. The hills also look spectacular as the neat plantations hang to the very steep countryside.

 

 

Akha villages, Wat Rong Khun, Anantara

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