Moonlit Caribbean harbors, ritzy Swiss resorts, jungle mountains. When you get right down to it, pirates, smugglers, swashbucklers and rogues are probably the world’s most discerning travelers, ferreting out the most stunning locales to conduct business in. Case in point: Southeast Asia’s lush Golden Triangle, synonymous with the opium trade and best explored by motorbike.
Buzzing along northern Thailand’s Route 1 toward the green peaks along the Mekong River felt like a road trip in Hawaii. Hot sun poured into the valley. Rainbows glanced off white clouds. We sped through a warm breeze. Our euphoria was appropriate, as we were on our way to the Hall of Opium.
The high was temporary — in about eight minutes, we’d be lost and pleading for English directions — but the laid-back vibe persisted. Despite the region’s dark reputation, we found Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province, wide open and welcoming.
The city of Chiang Rai has an airport, a mall, two universities, a four-lane highway, 200,000 residents and roughly 100,000 motorbikes. It was soon to be 100,001.
We’d arrived from Chiang Mai, 95 miles south, by bus, then trudged up the entrance boulevard to Mae Fah Luang University, a half-hour north of the Chiang Rai city center. As we tried to ignore a thick dead snake by the roadside, our host buzzed up on his scooter.
“You’re in king cobra country,” Bill, an American teacher, said with a grin.
It was country, for sure. At the end of the monsoon season, the rural landscape shaded from yellowing rice fields to blue-green mountains. We’d heard the region described as the Switzerland of Thailand, and the comparison seemed apt — with the addition of elephants. And, of course, snakes.
With plenty of sun and rainfall, poppies grow well here. So does everything from rice to pineapple, with the advantage that certain crops can be grown very discreetly. The hill country, home to ethnic tribes such as the long-necked Karen, is steep, the roads few and winding. If you were inclined to collect the poppies’ seedpods, squeeze out the milky sap, cook it into opium (or its rock-star incarnation, heroin) and smuggle it elsewhere for cash — well, yes, this would be the place.
Although recently overtaken by Afghanistan, this region produced the largest share of the world’s opium supply for centuries. Burma, Laos and Thailand continue trying to eradicate poppy cultivation with security crackdowns and economic development schemes that include the Hall of Opium itself. But eliminating opium production along the Mekong may be wishful thinking.
|Your name: *|
|Your email: *|
|Recepient's email: *|
|Enter code: *|
Google Hi5 YouTube Yahoo! Bangkok Post The Nation Pattaya Mail Phuket Gazette MCOT Chiangmai Mail Hua Hin Observer National News Bureau Phuket Post Student Weekly Fashion Music Siam Commercial Bangkok Bank Thai Real Estate Home Design Property Expat AIS True Foreign Exchange Rates Thai-English-Thai Dictionary Bumrungrad Hospital Wikipedia Facebook Suvarnabhumi Airport