21 In Art + Museums/ Thailand/ Travel

A Visit to the Golden Triangle + House of Opium Museum

When Matt and I were in Chiang Mai, we jumped on the opportunity to take a tour to the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where three countries meet: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The Mekong and Ruak Rivers meet here creating the triangle where the three countries meet. This area is best known for the historical opium trade that occurred between these countries. The area got its name because the three countries met in a triangle and because each country has its own currency, they traded in gold.

Our tour offered a boat into ‘No Man’s Land’ an island in the rivers that’s technically part of Laos. We didn’t want to pay just to visit Laos for two hours. I think they said there is a casino there. Instead, Matt and I took the time to explore the area.

Golden Triangle

From this sign, you can look out to see the Golden Triangle. 

The Deck Overlooking the Golden Triangle

When you arrive at the overlook point just over the rivers, you’ll find loads of statues, decor and more. In addition to the many large figures, the market filled with kitschy items and restaurants that line the river, there’s a large Buddha figure.

Golden Triangle Golden Triangle

This large, gold Buddha looks down on the river. 

Here you can see a little of the market along with some figures and the Big Buddha. 

House of Opium (Museum)

Apparently, there are two opium museums in the area House of Opium and Hall of Opium. I’ve heard that the Hall of Opium is actually the better museum to visit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t within walking distance. So, we visited the House of Opium, which was still very informative.

Golden Triangle Golden Triangle

Left: The exterior of the opium Museum  // Right: Examples of dried opium pods. // Love my backpack? I do too – read my Cabin Zero review to find out why!

212 Opium House had a lot of information about the spread of opium as a crop throughout the hill tribes in Thailand. In addition to opium knowledge of the hill tribes, it also talks about other aspects of the culture of the hill tribes in Chiang Rai Province. It’s very interesting to hear about this crop and its byproducts spread.

This is one legend from the Lua Tribe which tells the tale of how opium and tobacco came to them.


There were hundreds, if not thousands of different examples of  opium pipes. Each of the three countries have their own style of pipes. In addition to the pipes, they have loads of examples of opium scales as well.

They showed the opium production, and one poster in the museum actually shows how to take opium and turn it into heroine. Serious. I mean, it’s just the chemical compounds, but still. I was a little surprised to see that. I think the only thing that was more surprising than that was this…

The kid corner at the Opium museum. There were toys and these very interesting coloring book pages of opium pods. We were seriously cracking up.

Some beautiful orchids just outside of the opium house.

Phra That Doi Pu Khao / Golden Triangle Overlook

This is actually a temple, but we couldn’t peel ourselves away from the overlook long enough to visit the temple – since we were limited on time because of our tour. To get to this temple/overlook you can either climb up loads of steps or take the road up. When you get to the top in addition to the overlook, you get to see the Big Buddha and there’s another super small market up there.

Seriously, isn’t this beautiful? Looking into Myanmar. 

Just a quick look at No Man’s Land.

Left: The Big Buddha at the overlook // Right: Matt + me standing up there together

The Golden Triangle was an interesting visit. I have to say I wouldn’t call it a must-see for Thailand if you had to take a huge journey to get there. Getting to experience this was cool, but if it wasn’t part of a tour package or near where I was staying, I don’t think I would go out of my way to get up there. However, if you’re nearby or you can add it to a tour for the same price, I would check it out. It felt a little bit like ticking something off of a list because there doesn’t feel like there’s much of a culture to dig deeper into.

Have you visited the Golden Triangle? Did you find a richer culture than I did? Did it just feel surface-level to me because I was on a tour?

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  • Reply
    Megan Indoe
    November 22, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Wow, how interesting! We were totally in this area for over a week – mostly Chiang Mai with a quick stop at Chiang Rai on our border crossing and never explored the Golden Triangle history! Wow, that sign explaining the history is rather interesting, haha – to say the least. So children were given tobacco when they were done breastfeeding? That’s nuts! I slightly remember some other travelers saying you could go try opium in a tiny little hut with a local from a guy at the canyon in Chiang Mai who hides behind a bush. HAHAHA sounds super sketchy right? We never found out if this was an actual thing, we just weren’t that crazy!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      Isn’t it interesting? I cannot believe that tobacco was part of their weaning process! There were so many things in this museum that made us say, ‘Whaaaaat?!’ Haha. I’m sure it probably was true. I’ve heard all kinds of stories too. However, the man behind the bush tops the ones I heard! I’m not that crazy either. Opium was nowhere near our bucket list. Haha

  • Reply
    November 22, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    This is very informative and just being able to cross to another country easily is amazing! I heard of rumors that this area was also a bit dangerous because of the opium trading especially with all the casinos nearby. However, it is definitely an interesting place to see.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 1:55 am

      Now, going into Laos, is just going onto a little island in the middle. I don’t actually know how easily you can cross here. I didn’t feel unsafe, but, being on a tour, we were in a more touristy area.

  • Reply
    Meg Jerrard
    November 23, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Cool to know that you can see into all three countries at once. The deck overlooking the golden triangle is so ornate, and it’s cool that they’ve established a museum there to preserve the history of the trade. Really interesting to see each country’s different opium pipes from back in the day .. I think I agree that I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way, but would be a cool stop over if in the area 🙂

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 1:56 am

      Yeah. It’s an interesting and unique spot, if you’re in the area. There’s a lot of its own beauty, but not the top of my Thailand list by any means.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    How cool that you can experience the three different countries with such ease. I was pretty fascinated by the tobacco and opium story and then seeing all those different kinds of opium pipes!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 1:57 am

      Yeah, I think the tale behind opium and tobacco is super interesting. I love the local tales behind crops and sites.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2017 at 2:37 am

    It might not be a must, but it sure seems like a nice day trip. It seems interesting to be able to peek into two more countries in such a lovely landscape! 🙂
    Didn’t know that the three countries traded in gold given their different currencies. Interesting detail.
    And how about that legend on tobacco and opium. Children smoking tobacco when weaned off milk! 🙂

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      It was a nice day trip. We had almost two weeks in Chiang Mai, so it was worth it for that long of a stay. Most people are a bit more pressed for time, though. I was amazed by that legend as well! There were many interesting facts in this museum.

  • Reply
    Melanie Klien
    November 25, 2017 at 3:36 am

    Paige, lovely post and thanks for being that honest that if you’re not really close, you shouldn’t go. I love those honest posts and I feel a bit frustrated when I see everywhere “you really should do this” and I didn’t. I wasn’t in an opium museum for example but I stayed in Chiang Mai for a while and when we drove through little villages everyone was telling us “opium, hash, opium”. I was a bit shocked too. I probably had the same look as when you looked at the kids corner 🙂 Once we went for a hike and found ourselves in woods where they take the drugs over, that was a bit scary too…

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      November 25, 2017 at 11:51 pm

      Thank you Melanie. I always hate that too – people do it on travel reviews as well. I try really hard to be objective. Haha! I’m sure you did! It’s unnerving when you hear that on the street like it’s a totally normal thing, isn’t it? I bet that was terrifying! Did you see people carrying the drugs!?

  • Reply
    anna faustino
    November 25, 2017 at 3:53 am

    Oh wow! I live in Chiang Mai on and off but have never been here. Have done the Mae Hon Son Loop loads of times but just haven’t passed by this area. Love the photos of the river. It’s so scenic and peaceful!

  • Reply
    November 25, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    The opium museum sounds fascinating! I’d love to visit and I’ve enjoyed reading about the legend and impact of the plant on the region and the different opium pipes from each country. I never realised that the golden triangle was the meeting point of three countries – but once you’ve heard the story of how the region got it’s name it makes perfect sense.

  • Reply
    Sumti Bhadani
    November 26, 2017 at 2:32 am

    One place to see three countries 🙂 I did not knew about Golden triangle but it seems to be great place. The deck when you enter seems to be amazing with wonderful statues and artwork. Further the story about tobacco seems to be interesting. In Short seems to be a must visit place for scenic and peaceful trip 🙂

  • Reply
    Cathy Salvador Mendoza
    November 26, 2017 at 2:53 am

    I haven’t been here but the photos you have sure is very cool! Indeed fascinating to know about these things. 3 incredible places at once. I’ve been living in Bangkok for 4 months now but actually haven’t heard of this. I should see this by myself, soon! The view overlooking Myanmar is just simply beautiful.

  • Reply
    Mimi & Mitch
    November 26, 2017 at 5:05 am

    Been to Thailand so many times but never visited the golden triangle. Would love very much to go and actually spend mroe time in Chiang mai too. The Golden Triangle spot itself is pretty nice and looks quite not too crowded which is perfect! thanks for sharing with us this stunning spot!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Looks like your rating for this place is somewhere in the middle. But personally, I like when there are a mix of things to do and to enjoy. I think this Opium Museum is definitely fantastic to look at, and the children’s corner is an absolute highlight. I also think that the views and the statues and temples look amazing, so altogether is actually quite a well-rounded albeit touristy experience. Probably best combined if you do intend to travel into Laos as part of the journey? Anyway, thanks for introducing me to this intriguing place.

  • Reply
    November 28, 2017 at 7:41 am

    We stayed in the Golden Triangle for a week, mainly to work with Think Elephants International scientists. But we had free time every day and walked down to visit the Opium Museum, took the boat over to Laos (I don’t recall a casino, just a big market) and did other things like go in to Chiang Rai for the night market and to visit the White Temple. It’s a pretty area, but not my favorite place I’ve ever been or anything.

  • Reply
    Sam Sparrow
    November 28, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Just goes to show how awful at geography I am, but hadn’t really considered the meeting of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and that it was called the Golden Triangle. I’ll be honest I’ve never been to anywhere in Asia, but you have convinced me that this would be a perfect place to start – I love the look of the Opium Museum and it does look very pretty indeed!

  • Reply
    November 29, 2017 at 1:14 am

    It’s interesting how something so devastating to the people of these countries also has a real place in their culture- though I certainly find it interesting you won’t find me trying a puff of opium if ever offered the chance! 🙂

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