10.07.2008 - 10.07.2008 30 °C
Our last day with Bua & Stephen was spent visiting the Golden Triangle - where Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar) meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. There are good views at the top of the hill where the Phra That Phu Khao temple is located, and we even got our first glimpse of China (the mountains in the distance). Further down the road, the town is littered with souvenir stalls and surprisingly expensive cafes (as poor Stephen found out when he offered to pay for the bill!)
The view of the Golden Triangle (see map above for explanation). This reminded us of when we went to the "Tres Frontiers" - where Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay meet (happy days!)
The town also houses the Hall of Opium. This isn't where you can sit around smoking in an opium den, but an informative museum on the history and cultivation of the poppy. Opium growing has been illegal in Thailand since the late 1950's, and the area became renowned for it's illicit production of opium in the 1960's and 1970's. It gained it's name as "The Golden Triangle" because opium was known as "black gold". Thailand seem to have halted the illegal growing and production of opium in recent years, with production of opium now centred across the border in Burma. Instead, the Thai Government have encouraged and subsidised farmers to grow other crops, such as coffee, tea and cabbages(!) in it's place.
For the production of opium, poppies are grown (purple one's giving the best concentration of opium) until the petals drop off, and the bud dries. The farmer then delicately scores the bud each day with a knife to release the sap. This is generally done at the hottest part of the day to collect the optimum amount of sap. This process continues from the same bud over a few weeks. The sap is then dried into pellets and sold on for production of morphine, heroin etc. Although we seem to have given a guide to "grow your own opium" we wouldn't recommend this as a new hobby - it's too cold and miserable for poppies to flourish in Rossendale (though we know what some of you are like, so we won't give the chemical process of how to turn opium into heroin).
We then took a scenic drive, following the Mekong, until we arrived in Chiang Khong. After a farewell meal (at a VERY nice restaurant that we don't know the name of, but it gave lovely views of the Mekong) we waited in anticipation for our slow boat down the river the next day, with just the two of us again for company.