The mountainous border regions of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand come together in the exotically named Golden Triangle—a haven of Buddhist architecture, lush forest, and colorful riverfront villages. Located in the Chiang Rai province at Thailand’s northernmost tip, the Golden Triangle is thick with wonders, both natural and man-made.
Originally launched into notoriety by the opium trade, this sleepy part of Southeast Asia is now a popular jungle escape and jumping-off point for visits to hill tribe villages populated by the White Hmong, Akha, Karen, and Lahu people. Most regional tours start in Chiang Rai, although some also make the trip from Chiang Mai. On a full-day tour, discover cultural delights of Northern Thailand such as the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), the impressive Hall of Opium museum, and Chiang Saen’s ancient Buddhist ruins. You can also visit farther-flung rural villages, ride in a tuk-tuk, peruse local markets, and cruise the Ruak and Mekong rivers. Some longer tour options cross into Myanmar at the border town of Mae Sai, while other excursions venture into Laos via the Fourth Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge.
Things to Know Before You Go
- On tours that cross into Laos or Myanmar, it’s helpful to carry a small amount of US currency in addition to Thai baht.
- A valid passport is required for border crossings into Laos and Myanmar.
- Thailand’s northern region is more conservative than Bangkok, the islands, and the beaches down south. Cover your shoulders and avoid wearing swimming attire at religious sites.
How to Get There
The Golden Triangle’s official center is the town of Sop Ruak, located at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. The capital city of Chiang Rai (the departure point of most Golden Triangle tours) lies roughly 113 miles (182 kilometers) north of Chiang Mai, a 3-hour journey by road. Multiple buses travel between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai daily, though most visitors travel by car or guided tour.
When to Get There
Winter is the most popular time to visit, when the days are usually dry and warm. Monsoon season lasts from late April through October, bringing rain and humid weather.
Things to Know When Visiting Hill Tribe Villages
Each traditional hill tribe community has its own style of dress, language, and cultural customs. Many villages retain their roots but also open up their way of life to curious visitors. Visitors should be respectful, always ask before taking photographs, and consider purchasing locally made handicrafts that support the village communities.