Escape to Chiang Rai

The Golden Triangle is where the Mekong and Ruak rivers meet within a vast mountainous area overlapping 4 countries; Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It was a 25 mile drive from where we were staying.

Just a few km’s before we got to the ‘Golden Triangle’ park we stopped in at the ‘Opium Museum’ created by the Thai Royal family, it was fascinating and disturbing.

I never knew much about the ‘opium wars’ or the ‘Boxer rebellion’ and hadn’t realised the huge part the British played in the whole affair. Between 1839 and 1842 British forces fought a war on behalf of drug traffickers. Their victory opened up the lucrative China trade to British merchants. This was all done with the full blessing of the British government. The British traded opium from India for silk and tea causing havoc among the Chinese population with at one point almost 10% of the population addicted. The Chinese originally wanted to be paid in silver and not trade there was a second war a few years later.

After 1916 the Chinese were then ruled by harsh Warlords, no wonder Mao Tse Tung managed to lead the nation into communism in 1949. From appearing to be a man of the people he also left a legacy of fear and death with his ‘cultural revolution’. No respite for the embattled people.

It also explained in the museum that from the 1950’s how much of a role the CIA played in today’s world drug use of opiates and heroin. All for the fight against communism…..not just Asia but S America, they always seem to pick the bad guys.

Early 1950s, Southeast Asia

“The Nationalist Chinese army, organized by the CIA to wage war against Communist China, became the opium baron of The Golden Triangle (parts of Burma, Thailand, and Laos), the world’s largest source of opium and heroin. Air America, the CIA’s principal proprietary airline, flew the drugs all over Southeast Asia.”

1950s to early 1970s, Indochina

“During U.S. military involvement in Laos and other parts of Indochina, Air America flew opium and heroin throughout the area. Many GI’s in Vietnam became addicts. A laboratory built at CIA headquarters in northern Laos was used to refine heroin. After a decade of American military intervention, Southeast Asia had become the source of 70 percent of the world’s illicit opium and the major supplier of raw materials for America’s booming heroin market.”

The museum explained the history, impact and social problems of opium and the effect it had on the hill tribe people who grew the poppies and used the drug initially as medicine and as a cash crop but after a while many became addicted. They explained how it was picked and processed. It was a morning well spent and was well worth the visit.

Every day is a learning curve as they say…You have to know where you have been in history to know where you are going. Now China is producing fentanyl in the bucket load which is killing thousands and increasing addiction and misery in the USA and around the world….it’s a very vicious circle and they thought heroin was a problem!!

The Golden triangle park I thought was a bit disappointing, just a tourist trap with the normal touristy tat on sale and the obligatory big gold Buddha. It was worth seeing to stand and look at 3 countries at once. It was very disappointing to see the huge casinos built by the Chinese in both Myanmar and Laos just over the water accessible by small boats because gambling is illegal in Thailand. You can go over for a couple of hours and lose your money!!!!

This picture below is taken with us in Thailand, Myanmar straight ahead and Laos to the right.

We followed the Mighty Mekong river valley and very different vegetation and scenery for a few miles stopping at ancient ruins of the Wat Chedi Luang built in 1344 AD on the banks of the river before returning to the guesthouse.

The next day we wanted to go to Doi Mae Salong which is 6km from the Burmese border and is a very scenic mountain range about 30 miles south from Mae Sai. We left early with layers of clothes on in the cool morning air.

We stopped for breakfast and hot coffee to try and warm up…Once we were on the road to Mae Salong we noticed lots of people off the road all heading somewhere in all their finery.

We stopped the bike and headed towards the people and music. There were hundreds of people in their best bib and tucker from all the Akha hill tribe villages, it was an amazing site.

It was an Akha festival!! We were the only ‘farang’ there, Chris asked if we could take pictures and they were delighted to pose for the camera.

When we got to the main event the only way I can describe it is like May Day, dancing around a big decorated tree. We took a short video

Maybe a hundred people all in their own individual villages traditional dress, dancing to hypnotic music round and round, it was fantastic. A glorious spectacle. This was the highlight of the trip without a doubt.

We carried on the journey buzzing from the previous experience to carry on up the mountain. Mae Salong is a Chinese village high in the mountains which principally grows tea. The road was spectacularly steep and windy along a road on the top of a ridge with steep drops, hairpin bends and lush mountain vistas either side.

It had been a long day, my bottom was numb from the bike so we headed back to the guesthouse for our final relax around the pool and a well earned drink.

We were invited out by our new friends Tony and Thip for dinner in town and a good time was had by us all. We selected amongst other items what looked like chunks of chicken on a stick. When it came back to the table Thip said ‘you like chicken arse?’ questioningly; we had inadvertently chosen a stick full of parsons noses. Chris tried some, I’m becoming vegetarian, aargh………

We will be returning without doubt next year, it’s our new favourite place.

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