Oct 13 - The Golden Triangle loop
We hooked up with a tour guide nearby the hotel. Tour prices at this hotel were 2000 each; our guide charged 1000 baht each. Mr Pon (085-5461945 or 081-2874615) is a retired educator, and we were driven in a new Isuzu extended cab Hilander; very comfortable and quiet. We chose our route, wanting to see Mae Chan, Mae Sai, and Chiang Saen. These three villages represent the three points of the Golden Triangle. Anyone wanting to get their passports stamped in those countries can easily cross borders and do so, crossing back into Thailand and getting a new entry stamp into their passports. The drive out from Chiang Rai went to the foothills of the mountains, with rice and pineapple fields everywhere. We just drove thru Mae Chan, not stopping, in order to spend more time in Mae Sai. There, you can walk across a foot bridge into Myanmar if you'd like. The immediate surrounding areas are all shops, hundreds of them, all selling the same things. We stood under the sign that said "The Northern Most Point In Thailand", took some pictures, bought some roasted chestnuts, and walked around for 30 minutes before meeting Mr Pon again. It was crowded; daily workers from Myanmar that come over for the day and return, lots of tourists, and lots of shopkeepers. Back on the highway, we then drove to The Hall of Opium which was built by Royal decree and depicted the history of opium production and use thru the ages. This was a first class museum and very informative (300 baht). After time spent there, we went on a Mae Kong River trip (300 baht) which is boarded at Sop Ruak, the official center of the Golden Triangle, which is at the confluence of the Nam Ruak and the Mae Kong rivers. From our long-tail, we saw the Myanmar Paradise Casino, then went across river to Laos to Donesao Island. Although part of Laos, tourists are allowed to land there, pay the 30 baht entry fee, and walk around their shops; no visas or passport stamps are required at this special economic zone. Although it was a lot of money for the river trip and Donesao Island visit, we felt being upon the river offered something special, and more so than just standing under a "Golden Triangle" sign to take a few photos. Upon our return, we had a cappuchino (have I mentioned that Thai coffee is some of the world's best, and that a cup is about 30-45 baht depending where you buy it?), then went for a late lunch/early dinner before going to to the ancient city of Chiang Saen. There, walls of this 7th century empire can still be seen. The nearby Wat Chedi Luang dates from the 12th-14th centuries, and is built in classic Lanna style architecture. We returned to our hotel at about 1800, and would recommend Mr Pon as tour guide if you're making a visit to the Golden Triangle or anywhere nearby.