The Golden Triangle (Sop Ruak) is located in the North Thailand in the Chiang Rai province. It's an area where Laos, Myanmar/Burma and Thailand are all joined at a confluence where the Mekong River meets the Ruak River.
The term Golden Triangle is used more for tourists than locals. It's a very popular route on many day tours out of Chiang Mai.
Did you know?
When looking over the confluence Thailand is the west and south, Laos is the east and Myanmar to the north.
The actual term "golden triangle" used to refer to the opium trade occurred here before tourism prevailed.
There is a fairly large buddha statue here and people often take 20 min boat trips out to the sandbar islands to buy souvenirs.
The Golden Triangle is mainly a stop off point for many tourists on day trips. You can do just about everything here within 30-40 minutes. Less if you just want to see the confluence and move on.
Take a boat ride: you can hire a small motor boat to take you out into the confluence. During dry season there are small souvenir stalls set up there selling typical items (masks, beads, statues) from each of the three counties. There's nothing you wouldn't find elsewhere. Boat hires are about 200 baht each. Or 400 baht per boat (5 people)
Visit the Buddha and elephant statues: There's a giant golden buddha here along with several large elephant statues that usually impress family visitors.
Take a photo: at the back of the Buddha complex are a few fitted telescopes and a large sign showing the directions of all the counties here. A popular place for a photograph.
Visit the opium museums: The cheaper of the two (House of Opium)is located in Sop Ruak while the other (Hall of Opium) is about 2km north. The two museums showing the history of the trade here. If you are into the history of opium trade and usage the it's worth it. If not then give it a skip. There are no opium samples in either in case you were wondering. 50/200 baht.
Visit Laos: hire a long tail boat and make your way over to an island in Laos without a visa but you will have to pay a visitors tax of 20 baht.. Truth be known the island is privately owned and there's really nothing here other than vendors trying to sell overprices trinkets. That said you can always gaze over at the huge casino (gambling is illegal in Thailand). Do be careful though as the boats are not exact the safest to be on.
Phra Chiang Saen Si Phaendin: located in Sop Ruak this large temple is places on a boat like structure. Donations only.
Wat Prathat Pukhao: Near the house of opium climb the steps of this wat for possibly the best panoramic view of the Golden Triangle.
Sample some cobra whisky: Whiskey here is quite cheap though the quality is distinctly Thai. Included here are the touristy bottles with a snake (dead) floating inside.
Eat: there are a few local stalls, couple of restaurants and a 7-11 here which make do for a lunch break or snack.
Please take note that in 2014 Thai immigration cracked down on visa runs to the border. It is no longer possible to go in and out within a day unless you have an incredible excuse. And even then it will just get you a 15 day visa.
In 2012 Sop Ruak opened up it's borders to foreigners wanting to exit or enter Thailand / Laos. A full 30 day Laotian visa (USD$ 35) is available at the border. While on the Thai side unless you have a visa already you will only be given a 14 day stamp.
Do be aware that there's a distinct lack of public transport on the Laos side of the border.
The majority of visitors to The Golden Triangle come from Chiang Mai on package day trips that also include trips to Mae Sai or The White Temple in Chiang Rai. Day trip prices vary but many start at around 500-700 baht.
Songthaews run from Mae Sai to Chiang Saen (50-60mins) and can drop you at the triangle or Sop Ruak for 50+ baht.
"Green Bus" company runs Mini-vans run from Chiang Rai to Chiang Saen (1.5 hours) from the early morning to late afternoon on a near hourly basis (50 baht).
From Chiang Mai you'll need to take a bus to Chiang Rai first and onwards from there.
Golden Nakara Place - A very clean and pleasant hotel set back a little from the river. The staff are courteous and helpful but lack english. A good place to stay a night or two. ★★★☆☆
De River Boutique Resort Chiang Rai - Right on the river this resort offers good value for money. The beautiful viewing deck is a great place to spend the evening. The rooms a spacious, clean and well decorated in Thai style. ★★★★☆
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The Golden Triangle Sandbar where the boats will take you for souvenirs