Golden Triangle in northern Thailand
In the Golden Triangle, the area where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, you will find rolling hills, the Mekong River, ancient temples, and elephants.
One of the most anticipated destinations was northern Thailand and the elephant camp at Anantara. The Golden Triangle area is located at Thai border and is separated from Laos and Myanmar by the Mekong River. There are roughly 1.5 million people in Chiang Rai province and 80% of the economy is based on tourism (the other 20% is farming). We planned to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then the bus to Chiang Rai. But when we asked the hotel concierge to help buy tickets, he found that the sleeper cars were sold out on our travel date. He suggested that we fly instead, so we booked a one-way ticket on Air Asia. After an easy 1 hour 20 minute flight, we met the driver from Anantara for a 1-hour drive through hilly countryside past a few wats (temples) and several spirit houses.
Anantara – Elephant Camp – Black Ivory Coffee
Anantara makes a nice first impression with a fresh flower welcome necklace and cold lemongrass tea. We spent two busy days getting to know the elephants. The first day we went to a mahout training where we learned some commands, rode the elephants, and swam in the river with them. The next day, we learned all about Asian elephants and learned how to do a health check. Read all about Beau, Meena, and what we learned in the post, meet the elephants.
We also got to see the elephant camp where they live with the mahouts and their families. At the camp, the wives produce silk and weave beautiful scarves and table runners.
Another reason we went to Anantara was to learn more about Black Ivory coffee. When we were planning the trip we saw a TV show, Dangerous Grounds hosted by Todd Carmichael. While searching for coffee in Southeast Asia, he saw an elephant he hoped would lead him to coffee plants, so he checked the dung for coffee beans. Michael was intrigued, so he did some research and found Black Ivory coffee, which is produced in Northern Thailand. Black Ivory is the most expensive coffee in the world ($500 per pound). The coffee is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants – the beans are collected from their dung the following day. Michael contacted the owner and founder, Blake, by email and we planned to meet for a drink at Anantara. Unfortunately, a Japanese film crew was also there to interview him and do a shoot about Black Ivory Coffee. We missed meeting Blake, but we did get the coffee and met the elephants that pooped the beans!
Next we went to the nearby town of Chiang Sean, ten kilometers away, and stayed at a family-owned bed and breakfast, Viang Yanok, overlooking Chiang Sean Lake. Husband and wife, Ian and Vassana, created Viang Yanok roughly ten years ago and it is truly a family-run business. Their son helped carry our giant bags and gave us a lift to town one day. Vassana’s mom does the cooking and the food was wonderful. Several dogs and cats made us feel at home. Lori made friends with Lucky and Momem.
Chiang Sean is an ancient walled city on the Mekong River that was built in the 14th century. It is a great place to explore temples and ruins – there are nine inside the city and six on the outskirts. On the first day, Ian and Vassana’s son dropped us in town when he took grandma to the market. We started at the Chiang Seng National Museum, a small but nice collection of artifacts, sculptures, textiles, folk art, tools, baskets, and religious objects.
Here are a few of the temples we saw inside the city.
Wat Chedi Luang
Chedi Luang was built in 1332 and is the largest in Chiang Sean. At some temples, there are large cloths that you can write on. These are later wrapped around an area at the temple. At Chedi Luang, we wrote ‘Isabel’, the owner of a flat we stayed at in Puerto Rico. Isabel is from Spain and is very into yoga and has always wanted to go to Thailand.
Wat Mung Muang
Mung Muang was built sometime in the 14th century. There is a spot for the Buddha image on each side. There were several street dogs at this temple – one went pee pee on it and one barked at us in a not so friendly way. So I nicknamed it, temple of the dogs.
After exploring the temples, we checked out the local outdoor market and walked along the Mekong River before taking a tuk tuk back to the hotel.
On the second day, Viang Yanok employee Chai took us to town to get bus tickets for the next day and then we visited some temples outside the city. Chai was an awesome guide and has a great sense of humor.
Wat Pradhat Pra-Ngao
To get to Pradhat Pra-Ngao, we drove up a winding road lined with lush trees. At the top, there was an awesome view of the Mekong River. The temple complex has several buildings that we explored. We also made a little prayer and rang the large bell three times.
Impressions of Golden Triangle
Five days was not enough time to explore the Golden Triangle. We had an incredible time meeting the Asian elephants and got to explore temples in laid-back Chiang Sean. But we felt rushed and didn’t get to see many of the area’s attractions like the opium museum, long boat ride on the Mekong River, and visit to Laos and Mynamar. I guess we will have come back!
Wanna see some photos?
Where we Stayed
Golden Triangle Travel Tips
- Air fares: Many Asian airlines have low cost base flights, but then charge extra for everything else like seat assignment and checked baggage based on weight. Even with the extras, the fares are still affordable.
- Bankgok airports: There are two airports in Bangkog – make sure you tell the taxi driver the correct airport.
- Don Muang Airport: Plan to arrive well in advance because the check in line moved very slow. Some airlines, like Air Asia, close check in one hour prior to departure. But the good news is that the security line moved very fast – no taking off shoes and unpacking liquids and electronics like in the U.S.
- Communication: Remember to ask your hotel to write its name and address in Thai so you can hand it to the taxi/tuk tuk drivers.
- Mosquitos: Bring mosquito repellant when you go to northern Thailand.