Having sat on an elephant for the first time in my life I was feeling stiffness in places I didn’t even think I had muscles so jumping on and off a mini bus the following day was probably not the best recovery plan. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what we did as we joined the tourist trail once again on a trip to the Golden Triangle; the area in northern Thailand where three countries converge – Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos and the Ruak and Mekong rivers join.
Our United Nations group today consisted of two Spanish men, a middle aged Iranian couple, two American backpackers, a lass from Leeds (UK) and four Aussies and with our guide Moon and driver Mr Ken, we set off before rush hour had even started. Ahead of us was a three hour drive just to reach the Golden Triangle. Mr Ken was a speedy driver and soon we were passing all the traffic down the invisible third lane which lies somewhere between the centre line markings and the on-coming traffic.
An hour north of Chiang Mai we stopped at some hot springs – mainly for a comfort stop and the chance to purchase souvenirs or even grab breakfast of a couple of eggs boiled in the sulphurous spring. Twenty minutes later we were once again speeding through the Thai countryside with views of hazy mountains and rice paddies. Moon announced we were just about to arrive at the White temple (Wat Rong Khun) Chiang Rai. This privately owned art exhibit is slowly being rebuilt by its owner Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened the temple to visitors in 1997. He is self-funding the entire project. The temple is extremely impressive externally with an unmatchng interior. Adjacent to the temple was an equally impressive gold building which turned out to be the rest-rooms and making use of them is a whole separate post!
An hour later we were back in the centre lane speeding towards our destination of the Golden Triangle, so named by the CIA after it gained notoriety in the 1920’s as one of the world’s largest opium producers.
Fairly ordinary scenery greeted us. I was expecting a jungle bound river, with the odd tribesman journeying across on a bamboo raft with a few wild elephants roaming freely. Instead the river was wide and muddy,over-shadowed by a giant golden Buddha on the Thai side and a casino on the Myanmar side. A long-tailed boat took us across to a small Laos island where we could shop for counterfeit goods (handbags mainly) or sample the local whisky which most disturbingly included either preserved lizards, tiger penis, scorpions or ginseng. Needless to say we declined all options.
Safely back in Thailand it was time for a sumptuous buffet lunch laid on by the locals before a quick stop at a traditional tribal village before returning to Chiang Mai. We arrived back at the hotel at 9.00 pm, we were exhausted and grateful to be having a quiet day. The trip was a great experience and it’s been ticked off the list now.