Thailand Travel – Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai and Phayao

Foreword, June 2020

Another period of Thailand travel resumed from our apartment with a hire car being delivered. We drove north to Chiang Rai Province, bound for the small community of Sop Ruak and the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where Thailand borders Laos and Myanmar, nearby the town of Chiang Saen. After staying the night in Chiang Saen we headed to Chiang Rai for a night via Chiang Khong. In addition we explored Phayao Province which was our last stop before returning to Chiang Mai. This article recounts the Thailand travel I experienced in the northern provinces.

Golden Triangle – Thailand Travel on another level

The region is extremely remote and mountainous, indeed some peaks are 1,500 metres.

Notably, the Golden Triangle is dissected by the Mekong River, which flows almost 4500km. Our first stop was at the viewpoint where we could get close up views of Laos and Myanmar across the magnificent Mekong. Meanwhile we visited Wat Phra That Doi Pu Khao, opposite the viewpoint, which contains fascinating insights into Buddhist history. My overall impression of the Golden Triangle was fascination at witnessing country borders merging in the midst of the river and mountains.

At the Golden Triangle Viewpoint.

Laos Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone

On approaching Chiang Saen an interesting sight was the ostentatious looking buildings we could see in Laos. The complex, classed a Special Economic Zone, includes casinos, several hotels and a hospital. Yet it felt out of place in this remote border area. You can cross the river to Laos but you need to check where entry is permitted. This is because foreigners can only visit specific places in Ton Pheung where the zone is located. Likewise, for onward travel into Laos you will need a visa. I’ve keenly followed the BBC series Tropic of Cancer (Laos to Hawaii) by Simon Reeve whereby he visits the zone.

The Special Economic Zone captured from the Thai side of the Mekong.

Chiang Saen, Siam Triangle Hotel

The fantastic location overlooking the Mekong and the vast mountain ranges in Laos.

We stayed at the exquisite Siam Triangle Hotel, Chiang Saen on the banks of the Mekong. Certainly, we were fortunate to wake up to the above river setting each morning. Further, our room interior was modern with all the amenities including a balcony and a tasty breakfast. In the evening we walked along the riverfront and sampled local fish and from one of the street vendors. At dusk I stood on the balcony to see fisherman on the Laos side, yet there was an amazing calmness. Meanwhile, Chiang Saen is one of Thailand’s oldest enclaves and also home to hundreds of Thailand’s indigenous hill tribes.

View from our room and the odd narrow boat passing by.

Chiang KhongThailand travel in the border regions

On the descend into Chiang Khong from Chiang Saen.

The next morning we headed for Chiang Kong, 70km south and also situated on the Mekong border with Laos. Additionally, Chiang Khong is the location of the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, a land crossing point into Huay Xai in Laos. A clear sign of this was that I noticed you could pay with Lao Kip in some places. The Friendship Bridge is vital for trade between Thailand and Laos as well as a crossing for tourist and expats. I captured the image of a truck crossing the Bridge as we drove as close to the border as possible. Leaving here after lunch, our next port of call was Chiang Rai and the 95km took us around 2 hours.

Thailand travel into Laos: a sole truck crosses the bridge, the area was quieter than usual due to crossing restrictions.

Chiang Rai City

Having visited Chiang Rai once before, I was excited to revisit the street food, restaurant and market scene. We arrived in time for the Pad Thai and Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw (northern Thai noodle soup) dinner options. The next morning I visited Wat Min Muang temple before we explored the Baan Dam Museum. The museum contains art and cultural artefacts which were created by Thailand national artist Thawan Duchanee. Above all the collections gave us a fabulous insight into Lanna and northern Thai culture. Our daily coffee stop was at Abonzo Coffee, the same company detailed in the post Coffee Plantations, a previous trip. After lunch we departed for Phayao Province, the final destination of our June Thailand travel.

Abonzo Cafe in Chiang Rai which had recently opened at the time of our visit.

PhayaoThailand Travel concludes

Gwan Phayao came into focus as we stopped on the edge of the city for lunch.

For our final night we travelled 2-3 hours to Phayao city, surrounded by the large lake Gwan Phayao. Indeed, we later walked lakeside providing us stunning views out to the mountains and the temples around the boundary. Phayao seemed peaceful and perhaps less visited in tourist terms, yet the COVID-19 may be one factor for this. Nonetheless, there were many Thais exercising lakeside and I was struck by a satisfaction at such beautiful surroundings. Additionally, we visited the walking street night market, equivalent to the ones in Mae Hong Son and Pai. Certainly the market had a range of enticing food as well as other items, and appeared to be the main evening event. We finished the trip by winding our way back to Chiang Mai through the beauty of the mountains the next morning.

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