There are many special things about the Golden Triangle and that is why it is famous. First, it is the place where the borders of Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Thailand coincide. Second, it is the place where the Ruak river from Myanmar joins the mighty Mekong river. And third and most importantly, this is the place which used to be capital for opium trade in South East Asia.
The place that exists today as the Golden triangle was a small unknown river side village, but today runs as a busy tourist location, thanks to the immense popularity of the golden triangle. The village is Ban Sop Ruak and is located at about 10 kilometers from Chiang Saen, the nearest large town.
People visit this place to see the place where the 3 country borders meet, visit the hall of opium and understand its troubled past and/or visit an island in Laos that technically doesn’t need a visa to enter and most tourists go here for shopping. Most of the tourists visit the Golden triangle as part of a day tour from either Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, but it is better if you explore this place from Chiang Saen as it will allow you to explore this place in leisure.
Personally, the joining of the 3 countries didn’t appeal to me much, but I liked the views of the mighty Mekong from Wat Phra That Phu Khao and the time I spent understanding about Opium and its impact on history and medicine at the Hall of Opium. Back in the early days, people used to grow opium for medicine, before the East India Company started buying it from here and exporting to China.
And since growing opium was lucrative, all the hill tribes started growing it. It took a lot of effort from King Bhumibol’s mother and the king himself to educate the people and give them an option of an alternate livelihood in terms of cash crops, fruits and vegetables. However, this is on the Thailand side. Opium production still takes place in Myanmar (Burma) as the government still has not taken strict steps against it.
Since this place is visited by a lot of tourists, lots of shops sell a variety of stuff and this includes gift items, curios, food and more. A huge Buddha statue resides right by the Mekong river. The Golden triangle is sure touristy, but it has a lot of history and gory days behind it. The experience is so much better if you understand this history.