A Day Trip to The Golden Triangle (Thailand, Myanmar and Laos)

In July 2015 my family and I escaped the Australian Winter and travelled to Thailand for three weeks. During our week in Chiang Mai we went on a day trip to The Golden Triangle to get a glimpse of the triangulated mix of cultures.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

The Golden Triangle is the term used for the border regions of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. It’s often associated with the opium and heroin trade as it’s the second largest opium growing area in the world.

The Mekong River runs through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and can be seen from many locations throughout The Golden Triangle.

NORTHERN THAILAND

Our drive began in Chiang Mai in the early morning, stopping in Chiang Rai to visit the famous White Temple, before reaching Tachilek, Myanmar. Along the highway market stands offer delicious fresh produce. Depending on the time of year you will find the most flavoursome corn, mangoes, dragonfruit and more. In July it was mostly pineapples – Thailand’s renowned tiny and richly sweet pineapples. If you have time on the way the Wat Rong Khun temple (A.K.A The White Temple) is worth the stop.
Wat Rong Khun
This breathtakingly unconventional temple was the highlight of my visit to The Golden Triangle. The completely white temple (hence the nickname The White Temple) is the masterpiece designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat and has been open since the 1990’s. Read more on my review of Wat Rong Khun here.

Sop Ruak
Sop Ruak literally means Golden Triangle and is at the heart of the three countries. A giant golden buddha (pictured below) was built upon a treasure ship in Sop Ruak on the Mekong River and this marks the spot where many tourists ride by boat to the Laos island, Don Laos.

Wat Rong Khun Temple
The golden buddha at Sop Ruak

MYANMAR

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is just North of Thailand. Travelling to Tachilek (Myanmar’s southern most region) feels like stepping back through time. Unfortunately we only had time for a quick visit to Tachilek before continuing forward on our trip of the triangle.

My family and I had lunch by the Northern Thailand market area on the left of the border entry before making our way through customs. It was 100baht at the Thailand Immigration checkpoint for a 3 day visa for Myanmar then another 300baht each for entry at the Myanmar Immigration checkpoint (baht is accepted throughout Tachilek). I wasn’t prepared for the number of beggars waiting at the border as well as the crowd of taxi drivers and tour guides frantically yelling and waving pamphlets in the hopes of finding their next customer. It can be a little overwhelming to say the least.

If you are visiting for the day a tour by motorbike or a small tour truck is the easiest option. It should only be a few hundred baht to see the most popular sights in the area. These prices are usually negotiable so practice your haggling skills before you go.

Myanmar Hill Tribe
Meeting the tribeswomen who wear rings around their necks and legs is a popular tourist attraction in Tachilek. Costs include a few hundred baht for entry and souvenirs for sale from each hut. Most people tip the tribeswomen for a photograph too.

Honestly, it all felt a little too tourist driven and inauthentic for my liking. I felt like an intruder and didn’t stay for long.

Botatuang Pagoda
This famous pagoda sits by the Yangon River and has gorgeous views over Myanmar. It was quite busy in July (which is low season) yet it wasn’t overcrowded. Expect souvenir stalls and child beggars to hassle you just outside the entrance.

The border of Myanmar and Thailand (in cheesy tourist photo form)
The view from Botataung Pagoda, Myanmar

LAOS

Underneath the golden buddha at Sop Ruak, Northern Thailand, there is a stall where you can hand over your passport, walk down to the dock and take a slow long boat to Don Laos Island. No visa required. Spend a couple of hours wandering around the island then ride back across the river to Thailand. The markets on the island sell souvenirs, rip-off handbags, alcohol, jewellery and more. It was pouring with rain while we were there so we spent most of our time under the shelter of the market stands.

 

Although the area has become much more commercialised in recent years, The Golden Triangle still promises an interesting day trip. It’s one of few day trips where it’s possible to tick three countries off your list in one day. If I were to go back I would try to avoid the numerous tourist traps and instead try to eat where the locals eat, shop where the locals shop and explore the natural beauty of the river and the mountains.

Overview

  • Best time to visit | Low season (June to October).
  • Must do | Step foot in each country of The Golden Triangle (Thailand, Myanmar & Laos) and explore and engage with the locals.
  • Value | Dependent on your haggling abilities.
  • Rating | 3/5

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11 Comments

  1. What a lovely account of your day trip to the Golden Triangle!
    I've traveled extensively in Asia and found it's quite hard to avoid people trying to sell you cheap stuff – even up on a volcano in Indonesia 😉

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