Boonbubdan Guest House, Chiang Rai
Sunday 22nd December 1985
M. has rejoined me and today we visited the Golden Triangle. Maybe I should emphasis that: Today we went to THE Golden Triangle. I’m not sure what I envisaged. Tales of opium smugglers, the CIA and the Vietnam War created a mental picture, but I could never sort fact from fiction. Exotic, dangerous, perhaps even romantic?
So, what is the Golden Triangle? Officially it is an area bounded by three thirty kilometre stretches of road. At the north with a bridge into Burma lies the border town of Mae Sae. To the east is Chang Saen where the mighty Mekong is joined by the Maekok. To the south, at the bottom of the V part of the Y which has Chiang Rai at the bottom, lies the third town, Mae Chan where we hired bicycles.
The link to Chang Saen is by dirt road and we were unable to avoid the clouds of dust churned up by passing camionette taxis taking wealthier tourists than us as we peddled through the fields of tobacco being harvested. Having seen poppy fields in the hills around Chiang Mai, an area which is penetrated with difficulty and mainly on foot, it is perhaps understandable that inside the triangle little opium is now produced.
In the hills, there is a quasi-legal status: hill tribes are only supposed to grow enough for their own consumption. With US government backing, the Thai government is presently destroying ‘excess’ rias of crops in accessible areas which have now gone agriculturally legit. Given their abundance on street stalls, I presume that tobacco, corn, rice and, possibly, oranges are now the financial mainstay of farmers.
The Golden Triangle is no longer a mystique, a forbidden land. Now one can be photographed under a concrete sign telling you where you are. But I didn’t. The view, particularly from the ancient semi-ruined wat (temple) on the hill above, was sufficient.
The Vietnam war is already a long time ago. The flat bottomed boats are still paddled along the rivers by poor peasants. But back in Chang Saen is a sign for boat cruises. These are powered by Honda outboard motors. The Japanese conquest is more thorough than the Americans dreamt of.