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Things to do in the Golden Triangle
01 Apr 2007
Augmenting the lengthy list of things to do is the Anantara Resort Golden Triangle set within 160 acres of bamboo forest and landscaped gardens and featuring a renowned Elephant Camp, a world-class Spa and a Cooking School.
From the Anantara you can visit three countries in one day, take a longtail boat ride along the Mekong River to the last spawning ground of the giant catfish, visit the village of Therd Thai - the former home of the warlord Khun Sa, see 14th century Lanna Thai temple ruins, browse the buzzing night market of Chiang Rai, discover Doi Tung's cottage industries encompassing ceramics, Arabica coffee, hand-woven rugs and fabrics or just take a picnic lunch to a nearby lake and watch the birdlife.
Day excursions from the Anantara
~ Three Countries Tour ~
Located less than 0.5km from the border with Myanmar and Laos, the Anantara is the perfect location from which to visit three countries in one day.
The day starts in the Burmese border town of Tachilek, a melting pot of people and cultures and a fervent trading post. Visit the bustling market just across the Friendship Bridge from the northern Thai town of Mae Sai (remembering to put your watch back just half an hour - Myanmar is half an hour behind Thailand), walk through an ethnic Shan village and visit a replica of Rangoon's famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
Crossing back into Thailand, stop for a picnic lunch before driving to Sop Ruak also known as Golden Triangle village where a golden Buddha statue stands on a hilltop on the site of a 14th Century chedi (pagoda) with views up the Mekong to the point where the three countries meet.
Half an hour's drive away is the ancient northern Thai capital of Chiang Saen whose status as the sometime capital of the Lanna kingdom ensured that the town was richly endowed with religious buildings. Following victory over Burmese forces in 1804 Chiang Saen was abandoned for almost eighty years and many important places of worship and defensive walls fell into ruin. Historical highlights include Wat Chedi Luang with its huge 600-year old Bodhi tree, Wat Pa Sak which features the only Sukothai style ‘walking Buddha' and the Chiang Saen National Museum. A visit to the food market is an eye-opener; local foods, sweets and gossip are all available - the market even has its own ‘forgotten' ruin at the very back.
A longtail speed boat on the river takes you to Don Sao Island. A treaty between France, Siam and the English ceded the thirty eight Islands in the Mekong to French-controlled Laos. The island of Don Sao - which means ‘Island Twenty' (in the local dialect) - has a special dispensation which grants an easy route for the foreign visitor to set foot in Laos without the labyrinthine immigration processes found elsewhere along the border.
The quiet island, covered with kapok trees is a tax-free shopping haven, selling mainly souvenirs, cigarettes and local drinks. It is a perfect place for a sundowner of local beer, the famous Laotian coffee or for the very brave, Laotian whisky.
The day ends with a final trip upstream to Sop Ruak.. Enroute a view of the Anantara nestled in the hills is visible and there's a trip around No Man's Land Island - a sandbank which belongs to no-one but is exactly where the three countries converge.
The tour includes transportation, an English speaking guide, visa and entrance fees and longtail boat.
~ Day at Doi Tung ~
Just 45 minutes drive from the Anantara are the mountains of Doi Tung, a series of forest covered limestone peaks which rise dramatically to a height of 1500 metres from the lowland plains.
At the peak of Doi Tung (literally: Flag Mountain), is the Princess Mother's villa and gardens. Revered by the Thai people and known as Mae Fah Luang (Mother of the Sky), the Princess Mother's estate has become a place of pilgrimage since her death in 1994. The late mother of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Princess Mother dedicated much of her later years to helping the hill-tribe people free themselves from the dependency on the opium crop and to the reforestation of the area which had been heavily denuded by slash and burn farming.
Her colourful gardens and hilltop villa (made from wooden shipping cargo crates) are incredibly peaceful and command breathtaking views into the valleys. Half way up Doi Tung is the cottage industry village which the Princess Mother founded. Here you can buy handwoven carpets, silk cloth, mulberry bark paper hand-made in the traditional way, Arabica coffee grown on the mountain's plantations and roasted in the adjacent factory, hand-made ceramics and some of the world's tastiest macadamia nut cookies.
The drive continues up to Doi Chang Muub (literally: Reclining Elephant Mountain), the highest point in this part of Thailand at well over 1500 metres. The reclining elephant which lends its name to the peak is a rock which over the years has become an elephant shrine. Here you can buy flowers and incense and make a wish and if the wish comes true, the form is to come back to the shrine with a small elephant carving and leave this with the hundreds of other small ceramic and wooden elephants which stand in front of the rock.
From the rock it is a two-minute walk to the serene Mae Fah Luang Arboretum gardens, where a profusion of brightly coloured fuschias and rhodedendrons, manicured lawns and pathways hug the mountain side. From the Terrace of Dawn, the views stretch out over the Thai plain, almost back to the hotel on a clear day and from the Terrace of Dusk, the vista is over the emerald hills of Burma.
From the Arboretum, the road back to Mae Sai passes through a Thai army checkpoint and then snakes along the Thai Burmese border, descending steeply past hilltribe villages perched on ridges, old opium fields and rice terraces until it reaches the border town of Mae Sai.
The tour includes an English-speaking guide and trekking guides.
~ Trekking to the top of Doi Sa Ngo ~
The Akha village of Doi Sa Ngo Bon is a rare example of a hill-tribe village in the relative lowlands of the Mekong valley.
Our trek starts from the King's Royal Project, a flower farm designed to give the hill-tribe people an income away from slash and burn cultivation and opium. From the lowland Akha village we climb to the 710 metre view point.
Doi Sa Ngo was originally a fortified outpost of the Kingdom of Chiang Saen, commanding views from Doi Tung across to Myanmar and into Laos. The remains of the three fortified walls can be seen at the top (with a little imagination). The hill's name derives from the Akha pronunciation of the mythical symbol of ancient Chiang Saen: a beast that is half snake, half elephant (chang ngoo in Thai), which is said to live within a cave in the hill (doi).
Though slightly touched by the outside world, the village clings to its Akha roots and boasts spirit gates and a ceremonial swing, which, together with the lush forest at the top of the hill, are all reminiscent of much more remote villages.
The descent from the peak offers further panoramic views, this time of the rice plain towards Doi Tung and the Nong Nang hills beyond.
12.5% of the cost of this trek will go to the village development fund to help the inhabitants make use of their surroundings and ancient knowledge by allowing limited tourist access.
The walk takes approximately 2 hours and is for relatively fit walkers as there are some steep hills to ascend and descend. The views are panoramic and breath-taking. The trek is best undertaken at sunset and can be combined with either a bullock cart ride or a longer mountain bike adventure.
The tour fee includes transport, local guide and donation to the village fund.
Other activities in the Golden Triangle
Long Tail Boat Trips
The only way to see the Mekong River area is by long-tail boat. Take a trip to the ancient walled city of Chiang Saen or further to Chiang Khong (around 2 hours by boat) or just hire a boat for the pleasure of speeding up the river between three countries.
Chiang Saen City
Visit the ancient Lanna capital, nowadays a quiet rural town and an important trading post on the Mekong River. From ancient 14th Century chedis and Buddhist temples to the busy fish and food market, Chiang Saen is a place where people from a multitude of ethnic origins converge - Akha, Hmong, Lisu hill-tribe people, Burmese, Lao and Thai people. Visit the market during the day and buy freshly-made hot coconut and rice paste patties, deep-fried bananas, Thai cakes and sweets. See fishmongers' catch of riverine fish including the Mekong speciality, catfish. Watch out for the bamboo grubs, a deep-fried speciality of northern Thailand and all manner of exotic fruit and vegetables.
Chiang Saen Lake
A tranquil paradise of wetland area and islands, set aside for the protection of the eco-system. Whilst fishing is allowed, though strictly controlled, motor boats are expressly forbidden, which means it's a haven for wading and wetland birds as well as migratory ducks. A great place for a picnic lunch.
The Anantara grounds contain a number of habitat types, carefully preserved to encourage a diverse range of birdlife to call this forest home. The ponds and rivers are sanctuary or rest stop for waders, kingfishers and numerous ducks. In the forest you can spot drongos, rollers, robins, shamas, babblers, flycatchers, cisticolas and at dusk owls and owlets.
Hall of Opium
This world-class museum details the history of opium and opiates from the coffee houses of 17th century London to the opium fields of 20th century Thailand. A fascinating journey ending in the emotive Hall of Reflection.
Mountain bikes can be hired from the Anantara to explore the local area. The best time to set off is at dawn when the air is cool. Armed with a copy of the resort's ‘Adventurer's Map', head off along the Mekong river or into the hills.
Anantara Resort Golden Triangle is located 60km north of Chiang Rai's international airport. For enquiries and reservations, please call + 66 (0) 5378 4084 or + 66 (0) 2 477 0760 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.anantara.com/.
Anantara is taken from an ancient Sanskrit word that means 'borderless water', a name chosen for this element's association in many Asian cultures with wealth and good fortune. Inspired by local architecture and sensitive to the indigenous culture, Anantara Resorts are currently located in the seaside town of Hua Hin (220kms south of Bangkok), on Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand and in the Golden Triangle in the country's north. Anantara Resort Maldives has opened in August 2006.
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