CHIANG RAI AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

CHIANG RAI AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

GOLDEN TRIANGLE was once the world's largest and most famous opium growing region but production has dropped dramatically—particularly in Thailand—and now Afghanistan is far and away the world’s largest illicit opium producer . Covering an area the size of Nevada and at one time the source of 60 percent of the heroin consumed in United States, it embraces the lovely green mountains and valleys of northern Thailand, western Myanmar (Burma) and northeastern Laos.

The Golden Triangle is an area of around 350,000 square kilometers that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. The Golden Triangle originally designated the confluence of the Sop Ruak River and the Mekong river and may have been coined to describe the payment of gold for opium. Later the term was used to describe the opium and heroin trade around the nearby junction of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Later still it was appropriated by the region’s tourist industry to describe the region where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar all come together.

Most of the opium and heroin is produced today in the region comes from Myanmar and to a lesser extent Laos. The section of the Golden Triangle in Thailand is pretty tame these days. Many former opium-growing areas are now popular trekking areas. King Bhumibol of Thailand has been active in promoting alternative crops to opium. Some hill tribe villages see a lot of foreign trekkers. Other are still remote and relatively untouched.

At one time about 70 percent of the heroin on the streets in the United States originated in the Golden Triangle. The region produced 3,000 tons of opium in 1996, 60 percent of the global supply. In the late 1990s, the Golden Crescent in Pakistan, Iran and particularly Afghanistan surpassed the Golden Triangle as the world's largest opium-growing area.

Myanmar produces 90 percent of the heroin and opium produced in the Golden Triangle. Laos produces some but much less than Myanmar. Thailand used to produce quite a lot but it doesn’t anymore. Many of the former opium growing areas in Thailand are now popular trekking areas. Sometimes opiums harvests are lower than they otherwise might be due to heavy rains and cold winters in the area. In addition, Chinese authorities have tried to crank down on the drug production and smuggling along China’s border with the Golden Triangle area.

In 1994, it was estimated the drug baron Khun Sa and the United Wa State Army controlled 75 percent of the heroin originating in the Golden Triangle. A Panthay Chinese Muslim from Burma, Ma Zhengwen, assisted Khun Sa in selling his heroin in north Thailand. In 1996, Khun Sa retired and the United Wa State Army took over many of the areas he controlled.

According to Wikipedia: “Over the two decades of his unrivalled dominance of the Shan state, from 1974 to 1994, the share of New York street heroin coming from the Golden Triangle—the northern parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos—rose from 5 percent to 80 percent. It was 90 percent pure, "the best in the business", according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And Khun Sa, the DEA thought, had most of that trade. [Source: Wikipedia]

HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE OPIUM TRADE

Opium was introduced to China by Arab traders during the reign of Kublai Khan (1279-94). The drug was highly valued for its medicinal qualities and was grow by some ethnic minorities in south China to raise money to pay tributes to the Chinese Emperors.

Opium as a major cash crop was introduced to the Golden Triangle by the British in the colonial period. It was grown as a cash crop for the French as well as the British. But it was Chinese who once fought for the Kuomintang troops with Chiang Kai-shek against Chairman Mao's Red Army that introduced big time production and smuggling.

The British aggressively marketed opium in China. The result: lots of addicts. Some smoked the drug in opium deans. Others took opium pills. Cheap pill known as pen yen gave rise to the expression have a "yen" for something. Chinese who came to the United States in the 19th century to work as laborers brought opium smoking with them. Opium dens opened in San Francisco and towns where Chinese railroad workers stayed. By 1890, there were a number of "smoke houses" in the basements in back-ally buildings in New York. The customers included prostitutes, showgirls, businessmen and tourist as well as Chinamen.

In 1949, the remnant's of Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Kuomingtan (Chinese nationalists) army retreated to the mountain of Burma along the Chinese border and tried to organize attacks against the Red Army. To raise money the Kuomintan encouraged peasant farmers to raise opium, which the Chinese nationalists sold for huge profits. Later the Beijing-backed Communist Party of Burma financed their operation with money from the opium and heroin trade.

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “Following Mao Zedong's victory in China in 1949, thousands of Kuomintang soldiers came streaming south, and, supported by the surviving Republic of China government in Taiwan—and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)— they tried in vain to "liberate" the mainland from their new sanctuaries in Myanmar, then known as Burma. The Kuomintang invasion resulted in a reign of terror for the ordinary people who lived in the areas, as the nationalist Chinese collected taxes, forcibly enlisted recruits and encouraged poppy cultivation in the area to finance their "secret" army. At the age of 16, Khun Sa formed his own armed band to fight the intruders. In the early 1960s, his small private army was even recognized officially as the "Loi Maw Ka Kwe Ye", a home guard unit under the Myanmar army. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007*]

"Ka Kwe Ye" (KKY), which literally means "defense" in the Myanmar language, was Yangon's idea of a local militia to fight the Kuomintang as well as local, separatist Shan rebels. The plan was to rally as many local warlords as possible, mostly non-political brigands and private army commanders, behind the Myanmar army in exchange for the right to use all government-controlled roads and towns in Shan state for opium trafficking. By trading in opium, the Myanmar government hoped that the KKY militias would be self-supporting. The warlords, who were supposed to fight the insurgents, strengthened their private armies and purchased with opium money military equipment available on the black market in Thailand and Laos. Some of them, Khun Sa included, were soon better equipped than the Myanmar milirtary itself. *

VIETNAM WAR, THE CIA AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE DRUG TRADE

The Vietnam War was a boon for the opium and heroin business. Americans in Southeast Asia not only provided a fairly well paid source of buyers they also provided ways for Asian drug producers to export their products around the world. Before that time Turkey and the Middle East were the primary source of opium. As time went on demand increased and to meet demand production increased as more drugs flooded the market more people had access to drugs. Joe Cummings wrote in the Lonely Planet Guide of Thailand: “As the cycle expanded opium cultivation became a full-time job for some hill tribes within the Golden Triangle. Hill economies were destabalized to the point where opium production became a necessary means of survival for thousands of people, including the less nomadic Shan people.”

As part of their effort to combat Communism, the CIA allegedly helped expand the opium trade in Southeast Asia—first in Laos, then in Burma and finally in Vietnam—to help groups fighting Communism raise money and sew instability. From 1960 to 1973, the C.I.A. allegedly trained Hmong tribesmen to fight against Communist in Laos and the Hmong in turn financed some of their efforts by selling opium. There is much controversy about how deeply the CIA was involved in the Southeast Asia drug trade. If the CIA was not involved in the drug trade, it did know about it. As former DCI William Colby acknowledged, the Agency did little about it during the 1960s, but later took action against the traders as drugs became a problem among American troops in Vietnam. The CIA's main focus in Laos remained on fighting the war, not on policing the drug trade. See Opium Under Southeast Asia.

William M. Leary, the University of Georgia historian, wrote: “For more than 13 years, the Agency directed native forces that fought major North Vietnamese units to a standstill.... As Joseph Westermeyer, who spent the years 1965 to 1975 in Laos as a physician, public health worker, and researcher, wrote in Poppies, Pipes, and People: "American-owned airlines never knowingly transported opium in or out of Laos, nor did their American pilots ever profit from its transport. Yet every plane in Laos undoubtedly carried opium at some time, unknown to the pilot and his superiors--just as had virtually every pedicab, every Mekong River sampan, and every missionary jeep between China and the Gulf of Siam."

According to Alfred McCoy, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, the French administration of Indochina had financed its covert operations with the drug trade, and the CIA had simply replaced the French, to finance similar operations. He said he was told by retired general Maurice Belleux, the former head of the French equivalent of the CIA that the French military intelligence had financed all their covert operations from the control of the Indochina drug trade: “The French paratroopers fighting with hill tribes collected the opium and French aircraft would fly the opium down to Saigon and the Sino-Vietnamese mafia that was the instrument of French intelligence would then distribute the opium. The central bank accounts, the sharing of the profits, was all controlled by French military intelligence. He concluded the interview by telling me that it was his information that the CIA had taken over the French assets and were pursuing something of the same policy.

“During the 40 years of the cold war, from the late 1940s to this year, the CIA pursued a policy that I call radical pragmatism. Their mission was to stop communism and in pursuit of that mission they would ally with anyone and do anything to fight communism. During the long years of the cold war the CIA mounted major covert guerilla operations along the Soviet-Chinese border. The CIA recruited as allies people we now call drug lords for their operation against communist China in northeastern Burma in 1950, then from 1965 to 1975 [during the Vietnam war] their operation in northern Laos and throughout the decade of the 1980s, the Afghan operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

“Powerful, upland political figures control the societies and economies in these regions and part of that panoply of power is the opium trade. The CIA extended the mantle of their alliance to these drug lords and in every case the drug lords used it to expand a small local trade in opium into a major source of supply for the world markets and the United States. While they were allied with the United States these drug lords were absolutely immune to any kind of investigation. If you're involved in any kind of illicit commodity trade, organized crime activity like drug trafficking, there is only one requisite for success, immunity, and the CIA gave them that. As long as they were allied with the CIA, the local police and then the DEA stayed away from the drug lords.”

The CIA set up an airline called Air America that was involved in various activities associated with the war: moving fighters, flying reconnaissance missions, dropping and picking up spies and searching for downed aircraft. Some say Air American was involved in drug smuggling.

OPIUM AND HEROIN PRODUCTION AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

Most of the opium produced in the Golden Triangle is grown by subsistence farmers on two acre plots of land. Opium is usually raised as second crop after their main food source rice is planted in May and harvested in September. On average the farms earned about $650 in the 1990s from five kilograms of opium crops. The money was used to buy everything from fertilizer to guns. In many places where opium is grown, the land is too high and too cold for rice and corn grown there doesn’t taste good.

A 2013 United Nations report said that just over 9 metric tons of heroin was seized in East and Southeast Asia in 2012, compared to 6.5 metric tons in 2010, while 2.7 metric tons of opium was seized in 2012 compared to 2 metric tons in 2010.

The opium harvesting season is in January and February. In Southeast Asia opium is usually in wrapped bundles called jois. Each joi weighs 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds), the amount of opium produced by 3,000 poppies. In Thailand about 2.2 kilograms of raw opium is grown on one rai of land (1,600 square meters).

Much of the opium grown in the Golden Triangle in the 1970s, 80s and 90s was refined into a super-pure form of heroin known as China White (also known Heroin no. 4). Favored by intravenous drug users in the United States, it was stronger and cheaper than heroin from Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan that circulated during the 1960s. Golden Triangle opium was also made into Heroin No. 3 smoking heroin, favored by addicts in Southeast Asia.

Most of China White has been refined from opium in remote but sophisticated jungle laboratories. In the 1990s these laboratories also began producing amphetamines such as "ice" which are very popular in Asia as well as in Europe and the U.S.

After the crackdown on opium and heroin production in Thailand in the 1980s most of production was done by opium farmers in Myanmar and heroin labs in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. Thailand remained a key link in the smuggling.

There was a steady increase of opium production in the Golden Triangle in the 1980s and 1990s. About 4,000 tons of opium was produced in the Golden Triangle in 1995, most of it from northeast Myanmar. At that time it was estimated that two tons of f heroin was smuggled through Thailand, with only about two percent of it being intercepted by authorities despite a large DEA presence in the area.

These days governments are promoting alternative crops to opium. Doi Chaang Coffee is cultivated and processed in the high mountain of the Chiang Rai province of Northern Thailand inside the Golden Triangle.The Thai area of the former triangle is full of small quiet villages where the most exciting thing that happens is the arrival of the next tour bus. The area is full of beautiful natural scenery and ancient temples, so it isn't like its not worth a visit.

Opium Production in Myanmar, Decline in Opium Production in Myanmar , See Myanmar. Opium Production in Thailand, See Thailand. Opium Production in Laos, See Laos

TREKKING IN NORTHERN THAILAND

Hill Tribe and Jungle Trekking in Thailand has become one of the kingdom’s most popular activities, as Thailand’s mountainous north offers spectacular forests with exotic animals and unique tribal communities. Treks are offered by numerous groups in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Tak and other towns and cities in northern Thailand. Nearly every guest-house and hotel in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai will offer single and multi-day treks into the surrounding mountains.

Be aware that the quality of Chaing Mai Trekking tours and the villages they visit vary greatly. Some operators focus on smaller groups and are more concerned about the impact they are having on tribal communities and the environment. Be sure to ask about the level of difficulty of various treks and current weather conditions, as the mountains get considerably colder than most parts of Thailand and appropriate clothing is recommended. It worthwhile doing a little background checking—on the Internet and talking to other travelers— and arranging a trek with a trekking company with a good reputation.

Good treks are led by guides, fluent in English and the hill tribe languages, and who introduce trekkers to the tribes in an intimate yet unobtrusive fashion. Bad treks are led by guides, who don't speak English or the hill tribe languages, and who take visitors to villages in the suburbs of Chiang Mai, where the people quickly throw on their costumes before minibuses arrive at their appointed time, pose for snapshots, and then take the costumes off when the "trekkers" are hustled back into the departing minibuses.

Finding a descent trekking group can sometimes be a hassle but it is worthwhile investing the time to find a good one. Because recommendations in guidebooks quickly go out of date, you are best off asking travelers who have just returned from a trek for their thoughts and recommendations. There are many trekking groups. The Trekking Association of Northern Thailand is an umbrella group for 100 or so different trekking companies.

The treks range in length from one day to several weeks. The longer treks allow visitors to reach the most beautiful spots and unspoiled villages. Most travelers go on three-day-two-night treks or five-day-two-night treks. Trekking on your own is not recommend. You might get lost or stumble accidently on a backwoods heroin lab, whose owners are might take offense to a surprise visit.

The longer treks typically begin with long truck rides into the countryside, followed by guided hiking through moderately challenging terrain, where visitors pass through breathtaking forests of lush greenery filled with Thailand’s unique flora and fauna. An overnight stay in a hill tribe village is a fascinating experience and activities including elephant trekking, bamboo river rafting, and ox cart riding.

A typical $50-per-person, three-day two-night trek usually begins with breakfast at a hotel, followed by a four-hour minibus ride to the trail head and a three or hour walk to the village, where the trekkers spend the night. One the second day the trekkers walk to a village, ride on elephants for a couple of hours, and walk some more to another village to spend the second night. The third day often features a raft ride on a river to the pick up point.

The nights are usually spent in hill tribe village huts and the meals are prepared by the villagers. Porters that accompany the trekkers carry anything that is heavy and most trekkers only carry a small day pack. Before you set out, it is probably a good idea to make sure everyone in your group trek is fit. There is nothing worse than getting stuck with a bunch of complainers. Some of the treks are geared for drug travelers intent on smoking opium or marijuana. Keep that in mind when choosing a trekking company or group of trekkers.

The one- and two-day treks tend to touristy. A $12 one-day trip usually involves a drive to a waterfall and a hill tribe village, and a two hour elephant trek up and down a hill.

The best time for trekking is dry season between November and May, when the rivers are calm enough for raft trips. During the wet season between June to October, the rivers are often too swift for raft trips and the remote jungle trails have lots of leeches. Remember that trekking areas are at higher elevation than most of Thailand. In December, January and February it can get quite cold, especially at night. By the same token, when the weather is hot in the plains, the temperatures are reasonably comfortable in the mountains.

Elephant Treks are highlight of most treks. Trekker usually ride on wooden platforms that are tied to the backs of the elephants, who are amazingly sure footed on the steep, narrow and sometimes slippery trails. The mahouts sit on the elephants neck and guide them by nudging a sensitive area behind their ears with a stick while the trekkers sway back and forth in a firm, steady motion.

Describing an elephant trek Joseph Miel wrote on the New York Times, "The boy driving our three-ton conveyance was barely learners-permit age, he knew what he was doing. On the scariest ascent, he demonstrated this by wisely jumping to safety...we flung to and for at every upward elephant strode, with fear providing the strength that kept our numb hands glued to the plank."

When riding on an elephant you can feel the raised spine and rumbling movement of the shoulder blades. Sometimes elephant people-carrying elephnats in Thailand stop on the trail to snack on leaves and plants and tourist he try to urge them on get a swat from yje trunk and spray of water.

Treks and Hill Tribes: The treks usually stop at villages of two or three of the seven hill tribes found in Northern Thailand. Each tribe has a distinct language, a distinct costume and traditionally has had a distinct role in the opium trade. Some tribes mostly grew it for money; others raise it for their own consumption. These days opium is not as big a part of hill tribe life as it once was.

The Akha, who live mostly around Chiang Rai, are the most colorful tribe and the one that trekkers usually want to see. Ahka women smoke from bongs and wear intricately-woven black costumes and headdresses with yellow, red and white beads. During festivals and tourist visits, they wear heavy silver breast plates, bracelets and earrings as well as headdresses with dangling coins and silver balls.

Lisu women also wear colorful costumes and silver breastplates. The Lisu men use to raise opium for money but didn't smoke it much. The Lahu, on the other hand, raise opium to smoke and many Lahu men still indulge themselves in the drug. The costumes of Lahu women are more subdued than those of other tribes, and the children and men often dress in rags.

Better represented in Laos and Vietnam that Thailand, the Meo (Hmong) wear costumes somewhat similar to the Ahka. The Karens are the largest and least friendly hill tribe. They wear turbans and have raised opium to support insurgency groups battling for an independent state in Burma. The Karen are well known for their ability to handle elephants. Most mahouts (elephant drivers) are Karen. The Yao and Lawa are smallest and lest visited hill tribes.

While some villages have now had more than a decade of contact with visitors, most remote hill tribes still maintain most of their traditional practices and values. It is possible to do a village homestay with a remote hill tribe village or arrange accommodation from a boutique company that provides semi-authentic lodging with more agreeable facilities.

Hill Tribe Etiquette: 1) Many hill tribes fear photography. Don’t photograph anyone or anything without permission first. 2) Show respect towards religious objects and structures. Don’t touch anything or enter or walk through any religious structure unless you are sure it is okay. If in doubt ask. 3) Don’t interfere in rituals in any way. 4) Don’t enter a village house without permission or an invitation. 5) Error on the side of restraint when giving gifts. Gifts of medicine may undermine confidence in traditional medicines. Gift of clothes may encourage them to abandon their traditional clothes.

Two Day Trek Near the Thailand-Myanmar Border: Amit R. Paley wrote in the Washington Post, “I eventually found a Chiang Mai company that would take me on a two-day trek to see the Padaung and four other hill tribes; the trip also included a journey on an elephant, a bamboo rafting excursion and an overnight stay in a village. So that's how I found myself on a 90-degree day in July on the outskirts of a jungle in Chiang Dao, about 30 miles south of the Burma-Thailand border. There was lush green vegetation and fields of corn as far as the eye could see, and I expected any moment to see an exotic tribal village emerge in front of me. [Source: Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, August 23, 2009]

Then my guide suddenly stopped, and a look of alarm crept over his face. "Where is the trail?!?" said the guide, Jakrapan Saengpayom, before turning to me. "Do you see it?" I did not. But after another hour plowing through dense brush that left our bodies covered in a nightmarish thorn known as butterfly grass, we arrived at our first village: the home of the Karen tribe, which is also originally from Burma. What exotic sights did we see? Several women in T-shirts and shorts cutting thin strips of wood to make baskets. "They don't like to wear their costumes," Saengpayom told me.

We next headed to see a village of the Lisu, a tribe originally from Tibet that wears heavy, multicolored fabrics, and then the Akha, a tribe whose origins are traced to Mongolia and famed for their headwear of silver jewelry. Several villagers there wore traditional costumes, but most did not.

It was only when we arrived late that afternoon at a Palaung village that we saw nearly everyone wearing traditional garb. Or, more accurately, nearly all the women. One of the striking things about all the hill tribes I saw is that there are elaborate get-ups or anatomical distortions required for women, while the men wear essentially Thai clothes.

The final stop on the visit was an orchid and butterfly farm outside Chiang Dao. The delicate, multicolored creatures would occasionally launch into the air, flying up, up, up until they hit the mesh cages of the farm. Then the butterflies would flutter down to one of the artificial stands and spread their wings. I watched as tourists gaped and snapped pictures of their natural beauty

CHIANG RAI

CHIANG RAI (200 kilometers by road from Chiang Mai) is a good starting point for hill tribe treks to Akha villages and rafting trips on the Kok River between Fang to Chiang Rai. The raft trip takes about six hours. In a motorized long-tail boat it takes much less time. River trips on the Kok River pass thatch-roof-hut villages, fishermen, bathing elephants and water buffalo. Treks often include a river trip. In the area there are also places to spot exotic wildlife, and check out places associated with the Golden Triangle.

Chiang Rai itself is not all that interesting and quieter than Chiang Mai. It is near some interesting historical sites though. Located near the summit of Doi Tung, the Chiang Rai area's highest mountain is Wat Phra That Doi Tung, which offers spectacular views of Thailand, Burma and the Mekong River valley. The golden chedi of the wat enshrines sacred Buddhist relics, which attract large crowds during the pilgrimage season.

Chiang Rai has been inhabited since the 7th century and was the first capital of the Lanna kingdom, which was established there in 1262 by the first great Lanna monarch, King Mengrai. A few archeological sites have remains that date back to this era. The capital was later relocated to Chiang Mai and since that time Chiang Rai has lived in the shadow of its neighboring province,

For a long time Chiang Rai stayed off the tourist radar. Recently though tourism has boomed in Chiang Rai but as it has an effort has been made to generate community development projects that help rural villagers without adversely affecting their natural and cultural assets. Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “While Chiang Rai now has some of the malls and office towers common to large cities, it remains a far cry from crowded, noisy Bangkok or Chiang Mai, a larger city roughly 115 miles to the southwest. Old women still walked the streets of Chiang Rai, selling freshly cut fruit in front of 7-Eleven stores. Bicycle rickshaws moved around town, sharing the road with motor scooters and pickup trucks. Buddhist temples, like Wat Doi Thong on the outskirts of town, possess a humble elegance, decorated with simple hard-carved wood sculpture and painstakingly assembled mosaics.[Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

Despite increasing tourism and development around Chiang Rai, much of the surrounding area remains wild and untouched. Northern Thailand was once a kind of lawless frontier zone of Asia; its population includes not only Thais and members of hill tribes but also a large number of Burmese and Chinese. Many of the latter came as part of Chiang Kai-shek's army, and fled China after the Communist victory in 1949. The mix proved combustible. Until the past decade, in fact, opium trafficking was a major source of income in the region, and drug runners used to settle disputes gangland-style. In the 1980's, the feared Burmese-Thai warlord Khun Sa ruled the world's heroin trade from his jungle headquarters near Chiang Rai. Today the area is relatively placid and law-abiding - Khun Sa's old headquarters is now a museum - but its diversity remains.

CHIANG RAI TOURISM AND TRANSPORTATION

Tourist Information: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chiang Rai, 448/16 Singhaklai Road, Muang District, Chiang Rai 57000, Tel. +66 5371 7433, +66 5374 4674-5, Fax. +66 5371 7434, E-mail Address: tatchrai@tat.or.th . Accommodation: Chiang Rai town features a decent selection of accommodation, including backpacker lodging near the Mae Kok River, standard Thai-Chinese style hotels scattered throughout town, and more upmarket hotels and resorts located along the riverside and in secluded compounds in the Chiang Rai countryside. As most attractions are accessible via daytrip, the majority of lodging is found in the town, though there are some home stays and other culturally friendly resorts located in and around hill tribe villages and other rural communities. Wangcome Hotel (66-53) 711 800 is a mid-range establishment on Pemavibhat Road in the center of Chiang Rai. Rooms are basic, with satellite television. Rooms start at about $35 per night.

Dusit Island Resort (66-53) 715 777 or chiangrai.dusit.com , is the most luxurious hotel in Chiang Rai. It is slightly more than a mile from the town center on Kraisorasit Road on a small island in the middle of the Kok River. Rooms are beautifully appointed, and the resort contains a large health club, a modern pool, tennis courts and many other amenities. Rooms range from $72 to $168, including breakfast.

Anantara Resort and Spa (66-32) 520 250 or www.anantara.com recently opened in the heart of the Golden Triangle, about an hour north of Chiang Rai. The resort has extensive views into neighboring Laos, and offers a range of activities, including elephant treks, and many spa services. Rooms range from $128 to $320 through April, and $104 to $260 starting in May.

Eating and Shopping in Chiang Rai : Chiang Rai’s night market is filled with food stalls, fruit sellers and handicraft peddlers. There is often music by local bands. Located behind the bus terminal on Ratanaket Road, the night market opens at dusk and features vendors selling everything from freshly grilled fish to spicy Thai salads to freshly cut fruit. Most dishes cost less than $3. Seating is picnic style, on outdoor tables and plastic chairs. There is usually live music.

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “At night, I wandered over to Chiang Rai's famous evening market, a block-long bazaar of cooked food stalls, fresh fruit sellers, and handicraft peddlers. It was arranged in a half circle around a stage where bands played Thai country music, which combines wailing guitars with mournful melodies. Here, at the market, the hill tribes seemed well equipped to survive. Older Akha women, their teeth permanently stained red from chewing betel nut, gave no ground, haggling persistently with European tourists over tribal jewelry they were selling. Finally, the Europeans gave in.[Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

Rattanakosin (66-53) 740-012 is an more upscale restaurant overlooking the night market. It serves northern Thai specialties as well as standard Thai food. Reservations not required. Dinner with Thai beer costs about $10 a person. Open 4pm to midnight. There is an outlet of Cabbages and Condoms, with condoms and sex toys hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant is owned by a charity whose goal is to prevents AIDS by encouraging safe sex. There are a number of Cabbages and Condoms branches in Thailand. Located at (66-53) 740 784, at 620/25 Thanalai Road, Cabbages and Condoms Chiang Rai branch serves northern and central Thai food. Dinner costs $10 to $15 a person. Reservations are not required. Open 9am to midnight.

Many rural communities of Chiang Rai are engaged in either handicrafts production or agriculture. These goods are available both in the far-flung villages where they are produced or grown and in the city itself. While it’s much easier to purchase such goods in town, there is something satisfying in meeting the people who produced your souvenir, and Chiang Rai is an outstanding opportunity for such an experience.

Getting to Chiang Rai: Although a fairly remote province, Chiang Rai is fairly well connected to the rest of Thailand and can be reached via private car, public bus, or airplane. By Air: Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. For more information, visit www.thaiairways.com or www.airasia.com . From Chiang Mai, both Thai Airways and Nok Air have service to Chiang Mai, though Nok offers flights only a few day each week. www.thaiairways.com & www.nokair.com .

By Car: From Chiang Mai it’s a three hour drive to Chiang Rai if you follow the fastest route and avoid stopping at attractions along the way. Otherwise there are several routes one can take between the two cities, the most straightforward of which are: 1.Take Highway No.107 north to Route No.109 and then Highway No.1 to Chiang Rai. 2.Travel South to Lampang on Highway No.11 and then follow Highway No.1 North to Chiang Rai. From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), to Highway No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong, and Singburi Provinces. Change over to Highway No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, driving through to Ngao District where a right turn back onto Highway No. 1 will lead through Phayao to Chiang Rai Province. The total distance is 785 km.

By Bus: From Bangkok, there are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take from 9 to 11 hours, though there are overnight sleeper buses available that may make the time seem to pass more quickly. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, air conditioned buses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal for the three hour, 182 kilometer ride. Some buses continue on to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen. By Train: There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. Visitors must take a train to Lampang (9 hrs. from Bangkok) or Chiang Mai (11 hrs.) and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. (2 hrs. from Lampang and 1.30 hrs. from Chiang Mai) For more details, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690 (hotline), 0 2223 7010, or 0 2223 7020.

Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River, linking Chiang Rai Province of Thailand and Ban Houayxay (Huay Xai) in Laos, opened in December 2013. About 480 meters long and about 14.70 meters wide, the bridge is about 10 kilometers from Amphoe Chiang Khong (Chiang Khong District) in Thailand and about 12 kilometers from Ban Houayxay of Laos. The Thais, Laotians, and Chinese have jointly invested about 1,900 million Baht in the budget for this construction project. The share will then be divided in half between the Thailand and China.

Getting Around in Chiang Rai can be done on foot and by tuk-tuk or songthaew, although there are a few taxis if you need some air-conditioning or it happens to be raining. To get into the countryside there are local buses and songtaews between rural towns, though exploring is likely more convenient in a rental car or motorbike. For around 200 to 300 baht per day you can also hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law.

There are car rental agencies such as Budget and Avis in Chiang Rai as well as some more reasonably priced local agencies, including Northern Wheels. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road. If you are concerned, hire a car with a driver for a reasonably priced extra fee.

SIGHTS AND MUSEUMS IN CHIANG MAI TOURISM

In the Chiang Rai one can visit hill tribe villages, markets that sell hill tribe jewelry and stuff from Burma and Laos, jungle-topped limestone cliffs, and take jungle walks. Two high forested peaks Doi Mae Salong and Doi Tung lie just a few kilometers north of the town, providing easy access into the local hill country. Of the two Doi Mae Salong is wilder, Doi Tung has been the sight of development projects by the Thai Royal Family.

Wat Phra Kaew is the former home of The Emerald Buddha’s, which according to popular lore was found in 1434 near Chiang Rai. After it was discovered it was covered with gold leaf and plaster and placed inside Wat Phra Kaew. Later, when the Buddha was being moved after the chedi that housed it was damaged in a storm, the image was dropped and its plaster encasing cracked open. Later The Emerlad Buddha was moved to Lampang and then to Bangkok, where it ow rests in the capital’s Wat Phra Kaew. A replica of the Emerlad Buddha made from Canadian jade in 1990 how rest’s in Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Kaew.

Wat Rong Khun is also known as the White Temple. Whereas most temples visited by tourists have a history going back many centuries, this magnificent place of worship was built only recently. It is the realization of a dream for Thailand’s noted artist, Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and supervising the construction of this beautiful white temple and its many statues of figures based on religious beliefs. The construction started in 1998 was expected to be completed in 2008. In addition, there is a gallery nearby exhibiting his paintings. To get there from Chiang Rai, drive north along Asia Highway. It is open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

Museums in Chiang Rai: Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: Chiang Rai has a fine concentration of cultural museums. In the mountains outside the city, near the town of Chiang Saen, a nonprofit group called the Mae Fah Luang Foundation has opened the Hall of Opium, presenting the local history of the poppy, including displays of the most ingenious hiding places for smuggled opium, such as stuffed animals, and exhibits documenting the 5,000-year history of writings about opium. In Chiang Rai city, an elderly antiques collector has opened a small museum dedicated to the Dai, a tribe from which many northern ethnic groups sprang. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

PDA Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center (Thanalai Road) has exhibits on traditional dwellings, agricultural tecnqiyes and guides provided exlantion of hill tribe animism. The display of traditional costume includes Lisu multicolored turbans, Hmong silver neck rings and Akha headdresses made of dog fur, bird feathers, beetle wings and silver coins. The PDA Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center, on 620/25 Thanalai Road, (66-53) 740 088 or crpda@hotmail.com , offers an overview of the history and culture of hill tribes in northern Thailand. Open Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am to 10pm

Kurlantzick wrote: Friends had urged me to see the Population and Development Association museum in Chiang Rai, suggesting that it was the best place to start learning about hill tribes. They were right.... Alberto de la Paz, one of its directors, told me that the group works with communities to preserve elements of the cultures of Akha, Karen, Lisu, Hmong, and other tribes; it collaborates with tribal leaders to ensure that minority languages are taught and festivals survive, and to create accurate presentations at the museum.

I strolled through exhibits on hill-tribe agricultural techniques, models of their simple thatched dwellings, and explanations of traditional animist beliefs. Finally, I came to displays of the striking costumes for which the hill tribes are famous: the Lisu's multicolored turbans, the Hmong's shiny silver neck rings, and the Akha's headdresses, traditionally made of a mélange of dog fur, bird feathers, beetle wings, and silver coins. Each exhibit contained comprehensible English text, a rarity in Southeast Asia. Mr. de la Paz himself specializes in development: the association helps hill tribes with economic projects like coffee plantations so that they can earn cash but do not have to leave their land.

Oub Kham Museum (near Den Ha market, one kilometer from the Chiang Rai town center) houses a collection that includes objects from the areas once belonging to or affiliated with the Lanna kingdoms encompassing northern Thailand and some parts of northeast Myanmar, southwest China and Vietnam. Apart from objects used in rituals the collection mainly consists of objects used at the royal courts including lacquer ware, silver jewelry and clothing. Most notable is a golden bowl, a masterpiece, used by royals. Admission fee is 100 bahts per person. Open everyday from 9:00am to 6:00pm. Tel. 0 5371 3349.

HILL TRIBE AREAS OF CHIANG RAI

Traveling in the Hill Tribe Areas in Chiang Rai: Although no permits are required to visit to visit most places in the hill tribe areas around Chiang Rai it is advised to get briefed at the Population Development Association’s Hill-tribe Education Center prior to organizing or setting out on a trek to visit hill tribe villages.

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “The next morning, I hired a car and guide and drove north on a well-paved, if winding road. While arid plains and mangrove scrub dominate much of Thailand, the rugged northern landscape is richly varied. High peaks abut narrow limestone cliffs, and as we drove up into the hills along a narrow road, we looked down on farmers working their sodden rice fields with hand plows.

After a long day driving and walking twisty mountain roads in northern Thailand I arrived at Baan Kew Sa Tai, a village that is home to people from the Akha hill tribe, an ethnic minority group that inhabits the region. I had the scrubby town of thatched huts to myself: With no other visitors in sight, I was surrounded by Akha children dressed in traditional multihued leggings, and I struck up conversations about the village with older boys who spoke Thai. I didn't notice a familiar tinkling melody until the sound was very near. The Good Humor man had arrived. He had driven his tiny motorized cart up the winding roads. It was a wise business move: Akha youngsters quickly surrounded him, buying up his stock of Popsicles. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, April 25, 2004]

I shouldn't have been surprised. In recent years, the region has been transformed from a relatively remote, thickly forested region with few paved roads and even fewer visitors, into a center for adventure tourism, primarily hiking trips...[On our trip] We stopped at village morning markets, sprawling, open-air bazaars, full of everything from hand-rolled Burmese cheroot "cigarettes" - the size of a cigar - to Chinese silks to Thai rice. Hill-tribe handicrafts such as Akha silver jewelry and Karen hand-woven sarongs, were on sale for far lower prices than I had seen at shops in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

The lawless era, which kept away tourists and prevented development, had another side benefit: it helped preserve native animals, since their habitat remained largely undisturbed. The guide and I stopped, and I went for a jungle stroll on my own, wandering off the road on a faintly marked footpath. Hordes of toads, whip snakes and geckos scurried alongside me. Directly above, stunning white-throated kingfishers issued sharp, staccato calls.

In the afternoon, I hiked past tiny hill-tribe hamlets. Some villages have remained animist, with altars in each home. Shamans go into trances on special occasions, furiously slapping their thighs while dancing and shaking a rattle, in order to fight off dangerous spirits. Other villages, like Baan Kew Sa Tai, have converted to Christianity, which is spreading in the North. At Baan Kew Sa Tai, adults traded early Christmas presents outside the new village church, and sang hymns.

I stopped for several hours at Baan Kew Sa Tai. The village had seen foreigners before - trekkers wander through, and a Taiwanese Christian group sent missionaries to teach the local people - but it is still remote enough that its people were curious when I showed up. After swarming the Good Humor man, Akha children returned, peering up at me in surprise. Older boys smiled and invited me to try some curry.

Kok River is one of the most scenic attractions in Chiang Rai. It runs from Thathon in northern Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai City and then flows on to meet the Mekong River at Chiang Khong. From Baan Thathon boats, rafts and treks leave daily venturing into the surrounding mountains where the jungle dips into the river's cool waters. A long-tailed boat can be hired to ferry visitors up and down the river. Stops can be made at Akha or Iko, Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages. Alternatively stops can be made at the Buddha cave, a temple within a cavern; an elephant camp, for trekking; a hot spring; and a riverside Lahu village. Trips range from 300 bahts to 700 bahts ($7-$16), depending on the number of stops made. The ferry pier is beyond the bridge across from the Dusit Island Resort. Kok River Contact: Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Doi Mae Salong (70 kilometers from Chiang Rai) is the site of Santi Khiri village, a community settled by the former renegade Kuomintang 93rd Division who moved from Myanmar to reside on Thai territory in 1961. The village became well known for its enchanting scenery and tranquil atmosphere. Today it is a major tourist attraction with its small-town ambience, delicious native Chinese dishes, small hotels and guesthouses catering to visitors and tea, coffee and fruit tree plantations. Most of the residents are Yunnanese Chinese (know to loclas as “galloping Chinese” because the first arrived on horses. or members of hill tribes. The architecture in town clearly has a Chinese character. The scenery is especially picturesque in December and January when sakuras are in full bloom. Scattered with many hill tribe villages, Doi Mae Salong is ideal for trekking.

Hours, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 53717433. To reach Doi Mae Salong, take the Chiang Rai-Mae Chan route for 29 kilometers, then turn left and proceed for another 41 kilometers (passing a hot spring). The return trip can be taken on routes nos. 1234 and 1130 which wind through Yao and Akha hill tribe villages. From Doi Mae Salong a road leads to Tha Thon, the starting point for the Kok River cruise, a distance of 45 kilometers. There are hotels and guesthouses to accommodate tourists and a paved road leading to the village.

Doi Hua Mae Kham (about three hours by road along the Mae Chan-Ban Thoet Thai-Ban Huai In route) is the domicile of the hill tribes near the Thai-Burmese border The road to get there winds along the steep mountain edges. The inhabitants are predominantly Lisu, with a smattering of the Akha, Hmong and Muser tribes. Doi Hua Mae Kham is most spectacular in November when the yellow wild sunflowers are in full bloom. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Doi Tung (60 kilometers from Chiang Rai, halfway between Mae Chun and Mae Sai) contains a summer palace and garden used by the dowager queen, Princess Sri Nakarindra Borom, who died in July 1995. The Hill Tribes Welfare Development Center in Doi Tung has royal gardens. It was founded by King Bhumibol.

Doi Tung is reached by road that winds through beautiful scenery with many interesting sites including the Doi Tung Palace (Pra Tamnak Doi tung), the Mae Fa Luang Garden and Akha and Muser tribal villages. In addition to scenic lookouts, the most notable attraction is the Phra That Doi Tung Holy Relic, an old religious site atop the mountain. Also located on Doi Tung Mountain is a beautiful royal residence known as Phra Tamnak Doi Tung. The royal villa, situated on the slopes of the adjacent Pa Kluay Reservoir, was to serve as a royal winter retreat for the Princess Mother, who passed away in 1995 and was originally built on the theory that the local hill tribes would be honored by the royal presence and thereby cease their opium cultivation.

The main attraction for visitors to Phra Tamnak Doi Tung is 'Suan Mae Fa Luang', the beautiful landscaped gardens filled with hundreds of different kinds of plants and flowers, named in honor of the Princess Mother and the Doi Tung Development Project established by the late Princess Mother in 1987. Hours, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 7.00am to 5:30pm. Contact: Mu 7 Tambon Mae Fa Luang, Amphoe Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5376 7015-7. Doi Tung is located in Mae Fa Luang District. It can be reached by taking Highway No.110 for about 48 kilometers and turning left onto Highway No. 1149, an asphalt road leading directly to Doi Tung.

Phu Chi Fa (25 kilometers to the south of Doi Pha Tang in Thoeng District) has a cool climate, producing colorful flowering shrubs and the large meadow on the top provides breathtaking views of Laos. In addition, spectacular scenery can be seen from the sheer cliff of Phu Chi Fa, especially the sea of mist at sunrise. Visitors can stay overnight at Ban Rom Fa Thong and Ban Rom Fa Thai. Open everyday from 05.00 - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Thoeng, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5.

Mae Sai (near Chiang Rai, along the Myanmar border) is located in the Golden Triangle at the northernmost point of Thailand. Situated across the Sai river from Burma, it is a bustling town with crowded shops, lots of banks, flower gardens, and a casino on the banks of the Mekong. From Mae Sai you can cross into Thakhilek, Burma by paying around $5 and surrendering your passport to immigration officials at the bridge.

Mai Sai does a roaring business in real and fake gems, amphetamines and cheaps goods form China. A Friendship Bridge across the the Sai Riiver leads to Thakhilek, Myanmar. Mae Sai is a major drug town. The town is filled with dealers and addicts. For a while (and maybe it still is) it was possible to take small jungle paths into places Myanmar where you could buy heroin for $5 a vial and amphetamines for 50 cents a pill.

This is good place to shop for Burmese jade and rubies and cheap stuff brought in from China and Laos. Hill tribes that live in the area include Akha, Karen, and Lisu. Trekking is a little dangerous however. Opium cultivation was concentrated around here and land mines were laid in some the mountains when the government was battling insurgents in the area.

CHIANG SAEN AND THE HALL OF OPIUM

Chiang Saen (60 kilometers from Chiang Rai on the Mekong River across the border from Laos) was once the capital of the Lanna Culture. Overlooking the Mekong River is a historical park with 66 ruined chedi, including a number of impressive structures from the 13th century. The small Chiang Saen National Museum contains Buddha images, stucco work and other objects that show the characteristic Chiang Saen style.

The ancient city was established in 1288 by Prince Saen Ph, the nephew of King Menrai. It is laid out in a rectangle with three walls—facing the north, south and west. The east side faces the Mekong River and has no wall. Wat Chedi Luang was originally built in 1219 and houses the biggest chedi in Chiang Saen, It is bell-shaped with an octagonal base. The main hall and other buildings are in ruins. Wat Pa Sak was built in 1295. The main bell-shaped chedi has five tapered spires and is remarkably well preserved. Three hundred teak trees are planted in the temple compound.

The mountaintop temple, Wat Phra That Doi Tung, commands a wonderful view of the Mekong River and Laos. Several Akha villages are nearby. Six miles north of Chiang Saen is where Burma, Thailand and Laos all come together at the confluence of the Mekong and Sop Ruak rivers. It is regarded as the center of the Golden Triangle and now is something of a tourist trap.

Chiang Saen National Museum (in Chiang Saen) features exhibits and locally-excavated artifacts including a well-known Chiang Saen-style bronze Buddha image and Lanna Thai artifacts. Inscription stones from Phayao and Chiang Saen can be found in the museum. In addition, there are exhibitions of indigenous art objects of the Thai Yai, Thai Lu and other hill tribes. These items include musical instruments, ornaments and opium-smoking accessories. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. On other days it is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Tel. 0 5377 7102.

Hall of Opium (in Sop Ruak near Chiang Saen, about an hour's drive from Chiang Rai) is a $10 million, three-floor, 5,600-square meter, steel-and-concrete drug museum. Opened in 2003, it features multimedia tableaus, interactive displays and exhibits related to opium, heroin and other drugs. There are sensuround scenes form the Opium Wars and objects such as condoms and teddy bears that have been used to smuggle drugs. In the historical exhibits are details of drug use by the Egyptians, Sumerians and Romans.

Visitors enter through 137-meter-long tunnel with dim lighting, creepy music and images that show the pain and suffering of opium use. There are displays on how the hill tribes grow opium. One tableaux features a mannequin laying on its side with an opium pipe and variety of drug paraphernalia. In the Gallery Victims are photographs of Elvis Presley, Lenny Bruce and Diego Maradona. The final gallery features video testimonies by the families of drug users over the hardships they suffered. Princess Srinagarindra is credited with inspiring the museum.

The Hall of Opium Museum is closed on Mondays and open Tuesday to Sundayfrom 10:00am to 3:30pm. Tel. (66-53) 652 151, website: www.goldentrianglepark.org .

PHAYAO

PHAYAO (90 kilometers southeast of Chiang Rai, 140 kilometers northeast of Chiang Mai and 137 kilometers northwest of Nan) is the home of Wat Si Khom Kham, a temple with beautifully carved and gilded wooden facade. Located on Phayao Lake, it houses a monumental 55-foot-high seated Buddha covered with gold leaf. Phayao was surrounded by teak forests. Many of the finest homes in the area are built from teak and furnished with teak furniture. Ban Prathup Jai is the world’s largest teak house. The Thai Lue people that are found here are known for silk- and cotton-weaving.

Phayao province retains its greatly unspoiled natural beauty, featuring both rice growing lowlands and substantial mountains where many hill tribe villages continue to live traditional lifestyles. Phayao town, which is situated beside picturesque Lake Phayao, features ornate gardens and parks. The small city exudes a relaxing vibe, although Chai Kwan Road, which runs along the lakeside, features a respectable variety of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. A reasonable selection of accommodation is also available as the region is popular with Thai visitors from other provinces. Aside from the large lake and a number of charming temples however, there is little to do in Phayao except relax and plan for explorations of the countryside and neighboring provinces.

Thailand’s Second Largest Teak House: Ban Pratubjai (Ban Prathabjai) House in Phrae Province is reputed to be Thailand's second largest teak house. Phrae is particularly well known for its teak forests and the house was built in 1972-1977 by Kitja Chaivannakoopt using teak recycled from nine existing teak houses in Phrae. It includes 130 large teak logs, each over 300 years old, used as house supports. It was opened to the public in 1985 by the family after the death of Kitja Chaivannakoopt. The contains a large collection of golden teak and other furniture and other objects. It is clearly a family house and indeed the wife of Kitja Chaivannakoopt, Lamyong Chaivannakoopt, still comes to the house most days, despite her age, and is quite happy to sit and chat with visitors (in Thai). [Source: Si Racha, Arthurrvr, tripadvisor.com

Walking from the car park one passes some gardens to the house itself built in the classic Northern Thai style. The first entrance on the left actually takes you to the basement where you can see some of the 130 large teak house supports. Walk further on and up the stairs by the second entrance will take you to the main part of the house. There is one large room full of furniture and other objects. Towards the back and right of the main room there is a doorway into a nice small courtyard with seats and further objects and a few plants. No-one seems to have any objections if one tries out the furniture and the chairs are generally surprisingly comfortable. The house sits in just under 5 acres of grounds and there are other smaller buildings about the place, including a couple of further small souvenir shops, as well as some pleasant gardens. Well worth spending a couple of hours here especially if you like teak.

Tourist Office and Website: 448/16 Singhaklai Road, Muang District, Chiang Rai 57000, Tel. 0 5371 7433, 0 5374 4674-5, 0 5371 7434. Accommodation: Phayao has a variety of accommodation options to suit visitors on any budget. Getting to Phayao: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Phayao is best reached via private car or public bus. However, it is possible to take a plane or train to nearby Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai an then a bus to Phayao. By Bus: Bus companies which operate daily bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Phayao include Transport Co. Ltd (Tel: 0 2936 2852-66, website: www.transport.co.th); Siam First Tour (Tel: 0 2954 3601); and Sombat Tour (Tel: 0 2936 2495). By Air: There are no regular commercial flights to Phayao. Visitors can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and then transfer to a bus to Phayao.

By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32 and Highway No. 1 to Phayao via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Nakhon Sawan, Tak and Lampang, a total distance of 966 kilometers. For an alternative route, take Highway No. 1 to Amphoe Tak Fa via Saraburi and Lop Buri before turning onto Highway No. 11 to Phrae via Phichit, Phitsanulok, and Uttaradit, and finally proceeding to Phayao along Highways No. 101, No. 103 and No. 1. Otherwise, most visitors arrive in Phayao by driving from neighboring provinces, such as Chiang Rai (90 kilometers ), Chiang Mai (140 kilometers ) and Nan (137 kilometers ).

Phu Langka Forest Park is the only viewpoint spot to admire the sea of fog in Phayao Province, especially at the field of Dok Khlongkhleng - Osbeckia stellata Buch.-Ham. ex Ker Gawl. - which is usually in full bloom during July – December. It is located at Pha Chang Noi Sub-district with a height of 1,700 meters above sea level, covering an area of 7,800 rai. The Yao hilltribe call the summit of the mountain “Fin Cha Bo”, meaning an enshrining venue of angels. Its miracle has been told that on full moon days, there will be a white aura at the summit. The top of the mountain is very narrow and can contain less than 10 persons. Most of the area is hill evergreen forest with plenty of large trees, as well as, wild flowers and rare kinds of plants, such as Wightia speciosissima, Colquhounia elegans, Dendrobium heterocarpum, Impatiens mengtzeana, Paris polyphylla Smith, etc. It is a venue for the study of the original ecological system of the hill evergreen forest and the source of rivers along the nature study route where there are more than 100 species of fauna and a splendid sea of fog. Interesting sites in Phu Langka include Phu Langka Summit, Phu Nom Summit, Dok Khlongkhleng – Indian Rhododendron - Field, Namtok Phu Langka, Lan Hin Lan Pi – a million-year stone terrace, Hin Yaeng Fa, Pa Ko Boran, and legendary traces of the Communist Insurgents in the past.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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