In a nutshell
Located 70 km North of Chiang Rai, the famous Golden Triangle is a spectacular place made of forested hills, majestic rivers and hill tribe villages set at the point where the Ruak River flows into the Mekong.
Why go to Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle owes its name to the fact that here is where three countries, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos border each other, separated only by the two rivers. Originally referring to a vast area which for decades has been the biggest production center of opium in the whole South East Asia, the Golden Triangle is nowadays one of the major touristy spots in Northern Thailand attracting visitors from all over the World. A day trip to the village of Sob Ruak is what is meant nowadays with the name of Golden Triangle, and from there you will get fabulous views over the three countries and the two rivers, especially if you decide to spend a few hours on a boat trip on the Mekong, the real highlight of a trip to the Golden Triangle. Two opium museums will give you detailed information about the history of the area and how it has been successfully transformed from a major illegal trading center to a favorite western tourism destination.
When to go to Golden Triangle
The dry season between November and February can be considered high season and it’s the best time to visit the Golden Triangle, being the temperature a bit cooler (especially at night) and the rain completely absent. If you can’t cope with the heat, April and May are the worst month to visit. When the rainy season starts in June, the number of tourists drop down and if you don’t mind a daily rain shower in the afternoon this could be a great time to be around. The rain also helps to cool down the temperature in the evening, making the sleeping hours a bit more comfortable.
Where to stay in Golden Triangle
There’s not really a lot to choose from if you decide to sleep in Sob Ruak. Especially if you’re on tight budget we would suggest you to move to Chiang Saen.
Ban Yoo Pen Suk (2, Moo 2) is located a few hundred meters from the main road, far enough to guarantee peace and tranquility away from the buses and tourists coming and going. The few simple bungalows with air-con and Wi-Fi are organized around a small garden (not directly on the river) and run by a very friendly host who speaks enough English to help you with advices and recommendations. Prices start at THB500 in the low season and can be double than that in the peak season.
A number of high end resorts can be found in the immediate surroundings of Sob Ruak. Many of them have an elephant camp attached and all of them claims to be saving the animals from horrible conditions to give them a peaceful life. Please make your own research before booking any of these places.
What to eat in Golden Triangle
A great number of almost identical restaurants are set on the riverfront, both on the Mekong and the Ruak Rivers bank. They mainly aim to western tourists and you hardly find any Thais eating there. The English menu is wide, offering both Thai and Western dishes. Expect everything to be quite pricey, with a simple fried rice coming at THB60. For more genuine and reasonable priced Thai food, move away from the river, and you’ll find small noodle shops and Thai eateries. If in doubt follow the bus and taxi drivers and see where they’re going to eat while waiting for their customers.
How to get around Golden Triangle
There’s not a lot to move around in Sob Ruak and your feet will be more than enough for everything you want to do. The Hall of Opium is located 1 km north of the main car park and this is the longer that you will have to walk, admitting that the Opium Museum in the town center is not enough for you. Boats can be hired to travel along the Mekong and Ruak Rivers, and they will be able to take you to different stops in Laos and Myanmar without any need of stamps and Visas. Head to the boat office in the car park to see all the options. A small boat for 4 people will cost you THB500 for a few hours trip.
How to get to and from Golden Triangle
Golden Triangle can be directly reached from Chiang Rai with an air-con minivan that will drop you in the main car park near the river. Departures are very frequent all day long. The trip will take you two hours and tickets are THB50.
Sob Ruak is on the route between Chiang Saen and Mae Sai and a public blue songhtaew can drop you off and pick you up here. Fares are THB20 to Chiang Saen and THB40 to Mae Sai. This service is available only in the morning.
If you’re sleeping in Chiang Saen the best way to visit the Golden Triangle is to get there by public transportation in the morning and arrange a private boat to get back in the afternoon. The trip on the Mekong River will be spectacular and it will take just 1 hour.
If you miss the last songthaew to Chiang Saen and you don’t want to do the boat trip, tuk tuk and motorbike taxies are available to take you there. The distance is just 10 km and your bargaining skills will highly influence the price that shouldn’t be more than THB150.
Safe travel in Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is one of the major touristy destination in Northern Thailand and it is definitely a safe and comfortable place to travel. Locals are used to western tourists and many of them speak at least a basic English, which is enough to help you in case you need it. No public offices are available in the small Sob Ruak, and in case of emergency the closest hospital and police station are located in Chiang Saen.