In a region where even the tuk-tuk drivers may address you as "Monsieur", it's tempting to link the French Connection to the mythical poppies in the hidden valleys and the supposed narcotics warlords in the dining rooms of the five-star hotels mushrooming across the notorious Golden Triangle. It seems more likely, however, that north Thailand's multilingual roots lie in the former French colonial presence across the Mekong River in Laos, rather than in the illicit trade routes fanning out across the globe to the world's great metropolises.

Chiang Rai's dusty modernity belies its ancient history as an important trading center. It was founded as a walled city by King Mengrai in 1262, over thirty years before his 'New City' of Chiang Mai. Now linked to the outside world by air via Chiang Mai and bangkok, the little town sprawls along the neighbor, although Wat Kok River. It has fewer distinguished monasteries than its southern neighbor, although Wat Phra Kaew is a fine example of Lanna architecture and even claims to have been the original home of the Emerald Buddha now housed in the temple of the same name in Bangkok.

The Golden Triangle itself lies further north still, near the pretty tree-lined, moated town of Chiang Saen, at the confluence of the Mekong and Kok rivers and the intersection of the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma. Or so the signpost claims. The term's forbidding mystique really applies to the entire three-country area north of Chiang Mai, which despite policing and the introduction of alternative crops such as strawberries and coffee still produces over half the world's opium. Peopling the legend are the exotic hill tribes who migrated from China to Thailand via Burma and laos, each bringing their own language and animist beliefs: Akha, Meo, Yao, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu and Karen. Their remote villages provide local color for trekking adventures, whilst their bright geometrical embroidery and clanking silver jewelry stock the souvenir shops of the region. Far from all beaten tracks roam the nomadic Phi Thong Luang, the almost-vanished 'Spirits of the Yellow Leaves'.

Bucolic vignettes succeed each other as you rattle along the region's sparse road net-work, imposing the ancient air of timelessness lost in the jet-set-age. The peaks of the jungle-clad mountainsides, dotted with ruined chedis, are said to be inhabited by phis, spirits to be placated by a wai, the Thai gesture of respect, from passing motorists. Here you may see elephants felling teak or a colorful village funeral winding through the fields. Framing the whole is the mighty Mekong river system, best viewed from a long-tail boat - its muddy waters surging towards the ocean between verdant banks and bubbling rapids.

How to get there

By Bus
The 11-hour journey from Bangkok can be made on air-conditioned coaches and non air-conditioned buses originating from the Northern Bus Terminal on Bangkok's Kamphaeng Phet 2 (Tel: 0-2 936-3660 (or) 0-2937-8065 for further details).

By Air
Thai Airways Internationals Tel : 02 356 1111

* Thailand
* Chiang Rai - Golden Triangle (Home..)
* Main Highlights and Activities (
* Hotel & Restaurant in Chiang Rai (

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