The confluence between the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar known as the Golden Triangle famous throughout the world not only for its stunning scenery, but also its notoriety as haven of opium smugglers and turbulent political history. The illicit activities that once plagued the region have today been reduced to no more than a historical footnote upon which the region’s tourist industry capitalizes. However, the many natural, historical and cultural charms still draw travellers to the area by the thousands.
One of the ways to best take in the montage of diverse landscapes and sightseeing offerings near and around the Golden Triangle, and the countryside of Thailand at large, is by going on a boat-cruise down the Mekong River. One of the primary irrigation arteries of Southeast Asia, the Mekong River is the longest of its kind in its geographic region, flowing down from the Chinese Tibetan mountains to create a natural border between the countries of Laos and Thailand and running through both Vietnam and Cambodia before finally spilling into the South China Sea. Although the upper part of the river is famously treacherous, with its swift rapids and steep inclines, the southern end around Louang Phrabang in Laos is popular for its idyllic cruising.
Most Mekong River routes through Thailand encompass the country’s capital of Bangkok, with its wealth of Thai temples and associated art and culture, especially in the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya. Northwards from here the cruise boats may dock at Chiang Rai, the most recommended base for a tourist’s exploration of the Golden Triangle.
Cross over to the Laotian border into the town of Huay Xay and get a taste of northern Laos with its hill-tribe villages and quaint Buddhist temples. The highlight here is Luang Prabang, the capital of Laos in its days of ancient royalty. Today, this city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted as one of the most picturesque old settlements in the whole of Southeast Asia. Guided city tours will take you through famous Wats such as Xieng Thong, Khili and Sene as well as the vibrant Hmong night market.
One may also encounter the stunning Kuang Si falls along the shores of Mekong as well as the nearby elephant camp. Discover the small Buddha idols secreted inside the caverns of Pak Ou and the delightful flora and fauna of the unspoilt forests lining the Laotian shores of the mighty Mekong. Unravel the origin of the massive stone urns in Xieng Khouang, or Plain of Jars, one of the mind-boggling archaeological mysteries of the world.
The further downstream one travels, the more wild and impressive the landscape becomes, with its hills blanketed by lush vegetation, enormous outcrops of rock and an unpredictable ride of fast currents and periods of placidity. All through, you will pass through a montage of not only hill, dell and forest but also tranquil villages in the hum-drum pace of rural life as well as bustling urban centres. The final destination of Vientiane, with its graceful boulevards and serene temples prove a fitting finish to this action-packed adventure traversing one of the world’s most untamed rivers.
Depending on where you embark and which tour you select, travellers have range of boat cruises to choose from, which may stretch anywhere from three to seven days journey. The charter is of course, subject to changing weather and river conditions and the crew necessarily reserves the right to change the itinerary without warning in the interests of safety.
The Golden Triangle is one of the best places to either dock or disembark, or simply spend the day on solid ground. Chiang Rai is the natural base here, being the commercial centre of the area. Those looking for a Chiang Rai resort, in which to find accommodation while exploring the many marvels along the Mekong, are directed to the Anantara Golden Triangle, Thailand, one of the most luxurious Chiang Rai hotels that makes the natural beauty of its environs into its own brand of enchantment.