We enter Laos from Thailand. From Chiang Rai (via Bangkok) we take the bus to Chiang Khong in the legendary Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is synonymous with opium and heroin production and drug trafficking in Southeast Asia. The term dates back to 1971. On the one hand, it goes back to the geometric shape of the triangle-forming countries Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, and on the other hand, probably to the gold with which Chinese traders initially paid for opium. Geographically, the Golden Triangle is where the Ruak River flows into the Mekong.
After the Kummunist revolution under Mao Zedong in China, many ethnic minorities fled the territory of China. Thus, hill tribes from southern China settled in the border triangle after their escape. The Kuominthang and Hmong hill tribes living here have always produced opium from the fruit capsules of the opium poppy, also for trade. The Vietnam War and strong demand from Western countries for heroin and opium made the Golden Triangle the largest opium-growing area in the world in the 1970s, but well into the 1980s.
Confluence of Ruak and Mekong
"Golden Buddha" in Chiang Rai
The source of the Mekong has not yet been precisely determined, as it arises from several confluences in areas of the highlands of Tibet that are sometimes difficult to reach. Following the Tibetan plateau, the Mekong flows through the Chinese province of Yunnan. About half of its total length is on Chinese territory. At an altitude of about 500 m it leaves China and forms the border river between Myanmar and Laos for about 200 km. At the end of this stretch, the Mae Nam Ruak flows into the Mekong, forming the border triangle (Golden Triangle) between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Subsequently, the river forms the border between Laos and Thailand, flows in a loop through partly deep gorges and rapids through northwestern Laos to Luang Prabang. There is a lot of shipping traffic on this section of the river. From Luang Prabang the traffic decreases sharply, public shipping was stopped after the completion of the national road 14 years ago because of the numerous rapids. Further south, the Mekong again forms the border with Thailand for several hundred kilometers, passing the Laotian capital Vientiane, until far in the south of the country the Mekong flows through the region of Si Phan Don ("Four Thousand Islands") and the city of Pakxé. In the area of Si Phan Don there are several waterfalls that compensate for up to 15 meters of height difference. Southeast of the city of Muang Khong, the Mekong leaves Laos and then flows through Cambodia.
In Huay Xai we pick up the red thread of our route on the Mekong. On one of the traditional boats we start our two-day tour on the Merkong through Laos – so we get to know the country peacefully from its original side. Water buffaloes wallow in the mud, curious villagers wave to us from the shore. Meanwhile, the friendly crew serves us a lunch on board. In the afternoon we head for our hotel in the Mekong town of Pakbeng.
From Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in two days