A view of the forbidden countries of Burma and Laos

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 13.06.19851980's, South and Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

Est. reading time:

The Golden Triangle is where one could get a view of Burma and Laos, from Thailand. The two countries were off-limit to foreigners, but I came up very close.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Sunday 9.6.1985, Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai

One of my many goals before leaving home was to get to the northernmost part of Thailand. The name “the Golden Triangle” tickled my curiosity. Today I took a step closer as I stepped on a bus to Chiang Rai, 180 km north of Chiang Mai and only 65 km from the Burmese border. (The ride took almost 4 hours and cost me 47 baht in a non-air-conditioned bus with a fan.)

When I arrived in town I knew of no guesthouses but waiting tricycle guys showed the business cards of a few of them. I went to the place that seemed most intriguing.

I bargained the rate of the tricycle and offered four baht. The man said please and argued it was a long way to go, so I accepted a price of five. After a long and quite steep climb sitting comfortably in the back of the tricycle I felt quite embarrassed upon arriving. That tricycle ride was definitely worth a lot more and for the first time I realised that the despair in this man’s eyes was real. He was in need of money, and I had bargained a rock bottom price. Indeed, a price even below that.

  • CHAT GUEST HOUSE, near the ferry landing and a long way from the bus stop. 25 baht (a dollar) for a single, 50 for a double. 60 if you want ensuite toilet/shower. All rooms have fans as usual. Clean, nice, pleasant staff, cheap good food, lots of cassettes, mosquito net. Definitely a lucky choice.

I made Chiang Rai in a couple of hours. It is an ordinary town with nothing in particular to see.


Monday 10.6.1985, Chiang Rai – Mae Sai

Together with a German I met in the guesthouse I went to Mae Sai on the Burmese border. (Buses every fifteen minutes, 14 baht.)

The town has to hotels and two guesthouses. The two of us went straight to the one we had received strong recommendations to.

  • MAE SAI GUEST HOUSE. Half a kilometre to the left of the bridge that crosses the river over to Burma. Cabins for rent at 40 baht a person or 60 if two share the cabin. We settled for a cabin each.

This place was incredibly nice. It is situated a little distance from the crowds with the cabins only five-ten metres from the river bank. In other words I slept only 25 metres from Burma. The place was quiet and clean, the personnel were nice, and it had a small restaurant with not so “small” prices. I was immediately in agreement with myself to stay two nights here. 

The town of Mae Sai is not big. It all centres on one long main street. The market is comparatively big and interesting. The Thais and the Burmese from Mae Sai’s twin town of Tha Kee Lek can walk freely across the concrete bridge and into each other’s towns.

I ventured across the bridge as well but was stopped by Burmese police on the other side. So far, but not any longer. But I can say I’ve been to Burma, can’t I?

Some foreigners have waded across the river upstream. I fancied that, but ended up short of doing it.

That night I and Wolfgang got in touch with some Thais. We drank Mekhong, the popular rice-whiskey of Thailand.


Tuesday 11.6.1985, Mae Sai

Wolfgang and I had a little trip around the area. We had agreed to meet the Thais later in the afternoon but confusion aroused and we didn’t meet them until later in the evening.

One of the Thais, called Was, was all but pre-occupied with one matter, Thai-boxing. This was a sport he was practising himself. That was not difficult to tell, judging from the way his face was arranged.


Wednesday 12.6.1985, Golden Triangle

I went on my own to the Golden Triangle. First I took a bus to Mae Jan on the road to Chiang Rai (7 baht), then a jeep to Chian Saen at the Mekong River (7 baht) and another short jeep ride to the site itself, the Golden Triangle (10 baht).

To be true, the entire border region is called by that name. It is known to be the centre of the world’s opium production. This place is however right in the middle of it. From the porch of the cabin I rented there were 10 metres down to the border river Mae Sai between Burma and Thailand.

Right here that river flows into the giant Mekong. The Mekong River originates deep inside China and flows into the ocean in Vietnam. On the other side of the wide Mekong is Laos. Closer to that country one hardly gets. (I returned to this region and visited Laos and Burma/Myanmar many years later on separate trips.)

  • GOLDEN HUT, right in the eye of the storm but otherwise not much. 30 baht for the cabin.

There was little to see and do in the area apart from relaxing and enjoying the feeling of being here.


Thursday 13.6.1985, Golden Triangle – Chiang Saen – Chiang Mai

I joined a trekking group back to Chiang Saen. It is not always easy to get transportation on that stretch. I then took buses straight back to Chiang Mai and settled at the

  • CHIANG MAN GUEST HOUSE as last time.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: Northern Thailand: Amid temples, travellers and hill tribes of The Golden Triangle

Next chapter: Last days in Bangkok, a cloudy island stay and the end of a long journey