As its name suggests, this museum is about the Opium trade that took place in the area of the Golden Triangle. The museum displays artefacts relating to the dark periods of late 1960's when the opium trade dominated the Golden Triangle. These include a huge collection of old weights, scales, fancy opium pipes and other paraphernalia plus details the cultural aspects of Northern Thailand as far as the different hill tribes are concerned. There's also a shop which sells masks, opium pipes scales and boxes, knick-knacks and handicrafts, lacquer boxes, antiques, Buddha amulets, tiny ceramic tea sets, stamps, bank-notes, t-shirts and clothes, musical instruments, lots of post-cards, posters etc.
Open: 7am-7pm daily. Admission: 50 baht.
The Golden Triangle is the English name meaning the meeting of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, but to the locals it's Sop Ruak, since this is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River. The landscape is hilly, divided by the Ruak River that flows into the Mekong River. These rivers form a natural boundary between the three countries Laos (to the east of the Mekong), Myanmar (to the north of the Ruak), and Thailand (to the west of the Mekong). You can see the point where the rivers meet on a small hill on the Thai side and this is where you can get a picture of yourself standing in front.
Historically the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for the growing of opium, and the name comes from a US State Department memo on the practice. Nowadays, the Golden Triangle is, undoubtedly, the largest tourist trap in northern Thailand with loads of stalls, shops and a huge golden Buddha, where as there's virtually nothing to see on the Laos or Myanmar side.
Unlike Chiang Mai where there's dozens of tour agents offering tours, it became apparent to me when I walked around Chiang Rai that tour agents were a bit thin on the ground. I only found a few and the cheapest I found to do a Golden Triangle Tour was a place opposite the Chiang Rai First Church called Four Lens Tours. The tour cost me 1200 baht which I thought was still too much but then I had been quoted 1600 baht at another place and silly prices elsewhere as I was on my own. Luckily for me, 2 other people were booked on the same tour which helped with the price.
The tour started with the tour company picking me up from my hotel in a nice Ford 4x4. We then headed off to pick up the other 2 people on my tour and headed north to Doi Tung where we visited the lovely Mae Fah Luang Garden which is part of a royal villa that was the final home of the Princess Mother (mother of King Rama IX). We then visited the Wat Tham Pla which is also known as the Monkey Cave Temple. As its name suggests, it's home to several cheeky unpredictable monkeys that came up to us for food. The temple itself was fairly good with a very old looking laterite chedi.
Next it was up to Mae Sai on the Thai/Burma border which we crossed over into the Burmese town of Tachileik on a 24hr permit which cost us an additional US$10. The permit was just a stamp in the passport and we visited a market selling all kinds of things. It was all very chaotic with lots of people trying to sell us cigarettes, Viagra, flip-knifes etc. I didn't buy anything and thought it was a waste of time and money but then it was Burma and it is a hard country to get in to. We then crossed back over the border back into the relative calm of Thailand and had a lunch buffet which was included in the price, which was fairly good.
After lunch, we got back into the car and made our way to the Golden Triangle town of Sop Ruak where we had our photos taken standing in front of where the two rivers join. We then visited a museum about the opium trade that took place in the area. The museum was very good and we spent quite a while looking around. Next up it was a short drive to Chiang Saen which is further down on the Mekong River. Here we visited an old temple called Wat Chedi Luang before we headed back to Chiang Rai. The tour was OK but nothing special and a bit expensive but if you have more time, then it's probably best to try and visit places by your own means or by public transport.
"A Journey Through the Long History of Opium"
At 300Bt, this museum was the most expensive tourist attraction we visited on the holiday - and worth every last Baht. It was one of the best museums I have ever visited anywhere. Starting off rather badly, with little accurate direction, we walked the almost 3klms to the museum from town.
The 9 year, 400,000,000Bt project - from initiating research to opening the doors - is part of the Mae Fa Luang Foundation reeducation project - started by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Mother in 1988. The aim of this museum is to educate the visitor about the history of opium growth, processing, uses (both legal and illegal), and sometimes with quite confronting media displays of contemporary and past addicts, the effects of sustained use of the drug - physical, emotional, social and economic.
The entrance to the museum is immediately affronting - as you walk up into the museum through a dimly lit 40ish metre hall with earthen walls, from which sculptures of the tortured, emaciated faces and bodies of the afflicted emerge at you - with voiceless mouths opened in obvious pain and eyes full of anguish. It was incredibly effective as an entree to what was to follow in the museum.
A range of diorama, interactive computer puzzles and audiovisual educational resources were arranged throughout the different rooms, and historical details dating back to the original use of opium in Europe, the Opium Wars of the 19th C, and the spread into more wide and popular use in Asia, particularly the countries around the Golden Triangle - Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
Absolutely well worth the money and the trek.
We had a funny experience when we left this museum, when a very courteous young driver insisted that we get into his van, and we were duly delivered to the resort across the road. It took much convincing that we were not guests at the hotel, and have him deposit us back at the road, facing our long walk back into the town!
The original Opium Museum is open daily from 7.00am til 9.00pm - entrance 50B, which seems rather paltry compared to the 300Bt for entree to the Opium Hall.
This was a well organised little museum, with both interesting information about the historical relationship with Asia, and the social, cultural, and, most particularly, economic influency of this plant-drug. There is also some interesting political history from the last century.
Display cabinets holding a range of paraphernalia for preparing and smoking the drug is also held here - hundreds of preserved pipes, carved teak boxes and brass bottles for holding and storage, headrests for comfort during the "sessions" and multiple sets of opium weights from cast bronze and brass.
There is also a sizable giftshop, with a range of good reproduction Chinese and Thai opium pipes, weights, boxes and the usual souvenirs.
I would also add that the ladies restroom in the museum was probably the cleanest I chanced upon in a public facility in Thailand. Mind you, we did visit early in the day!
Located about 9 km north of Chiang Saen, Sop Ruak serves as the official center of the Golden Triangle where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet, at the confluence of the Nam Ruak and Mekong Rivers. The “Golden Triangle” actually refers to a much larger geographic area across Myanmar, Laos and Thialand, where the opium trade has flourish for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, this is the spot where you can take your picture with the famous Golden Triangle sign. There is also a small temple atop this hilltop pavilion, the Wat Phra That Phukhao.
Additionally, a brilliant golden Buddha monument was recently built on a boat-like structure right on the shores of the Mekong. You can’t miss it driving along the main drag.
Bottom-line: Nothing particularly amazing here (unless you're an opium junkie), but cool to say you went.
The Mekong River at the border to Myanmar and Laos. This pic was taken in Sop Ruak which is the center of the 'Golden Triangle'. It´s wonderfully amazing like almost anywhere in Thailand.
Leaving from Chiang Rai you can take a public bus to Chiang Saen and then it's about 20 more minutes with one of the small red short distance buses to Sop Ruak.