Mention the words “The Golden Triangle” and immediately romanticized thoughts of misty mountains,jungles,clandestine drug trade & lawless wild west existances form in the mind!.
The “old” Golden Triangle used to cover an area of some 350,000 kms (210,000 miles), and take in large areas of northern Thailand, western Laos, eastern Burma(Myanmar), Yunnan Province in China & Vietnam.
The “new” Golden Triangle as with many other things in the modern world is all about TOURISM!.
The triangle itself has shrunk from the huge expansive area it used to cover down to an area of just some 200kms (120 miles), which is basically the Mae Khong River meeting point of Thailand, Laos & Myanmar & surrounding areas.
There are lots of tours now that take you around sleepy hillside or rivers edge villages, where the only excitement comes from the arrival of the next tour bus!.
Even though the “golden days” of the golden triangle are behind them in Thailand, the area is still a great place to visit, with its natural beauty, lush vegetation & stunning ancient temples.
In Thailand the growing of poppies for use as opium was outlawed in 1959, for the Hill Tribes people of Northern Thailand the production of poppies had been their sole means of scratching out a meagre existance for generations before that.
Following the banning of the growing of poppies and after several years ofresearch by various royal commissions, in 1969 “The Royal Hill-Tribes Development Programme” was initiated by His Majesty King Bhumipol, thisprogramme is now known today throughout the whole of Thailand as “The Royal Project”.
The project was set up to address the problems that were being caused by both their “Slash & Burn” farming methods, which left huge areas of the north stripped & cleared every year, as the hill tribe farmers moved their crops to newer more fertile locations & also to reduce dramatically their reliance on the opium (poppy) crops that flourished all around Northern Thailand at that time.
To address these problems and to also help improve the quality of their lives the King granted the Hill Tribe groups long-term permission to reside within the Kingdom (up until then they had always been just migrants, with no rights at all), they were provided with Thai ID’s & land rights.
In exchange for this the King insisted they switch farming methods & cease growing opium instead of which they start to grow soft fruits,vegetables & flowers to be sold throughout the north of Thailand, in many cases this has turned out considerably more financially lucrative than the minimal amounts they were paid for growing the poppies!.
As well as the agricultural & personal status improvements that the Hill Tribes groups received, they were also taught how to make items ofSilver Jewelry & other souvenirs on a commercial scale that they could then re-sell to help subsidize their living.
Even today there are still some areas of poppy production, but it is dramatically less than it was before the abolition & outlawing of the crop.
Today,the large scale production of the poppies,opium and morphine base occurs mostly in the northeastern areas of Burma(Myanmar). It is then transported, by horse and donkey caravans to the Thailand-Burma border where refineries convert it to heroin and heroin base.
Once finished, the products are shipped across the border into North Thailand and down to Bangkok,where they are distributed around the world to international markets.
Improved law enforcement methods, public pressure and a regional drought, however, have taken their toll on the trade, leaving only less dominant traffickers in Bangkok in control of significantly smaller quantities of heroin.
The main destination for heroin from the Golden Triangle is the United States, it is typically transported to the US entering the country through California and Hawaii. The product is brought abroad by couriers, usually Thai, U.S, or Hong Kong/Chinese nationals, on commercial flights. A smaller percentage of the drug arrives into New York and Washington D.C.
Thailand, while no longer a producer of opium, deals with the problem of importation of heroin, opium and amphetamines from its neighboursLaos and Burma. Narcotics laws in Thailand are harsh & have been amended further to crack down on small time users and traffickers.
The recent changes in the law include sending addicts and pushers to military camps instead of prison. Penalties for possession and trafficking of dangerous drugs range from 1 to 10 years imprisonment and a large fine, up to capital punishment!.
In February 2003, the Thai government waged an all-out war on the drugs industry. Human rights advocates, however, expressed their concerns on account of thousands of reported slayings, with many of them being under dubious circumstances and conditions.
The Thai government continues to establish newer policies on drug use. A fear that an increase in drug usage could also lead to a surge of HIV patients is a primal cause for concern for the government.
To watch a series of videos containing much more information about the Golden Triangle today, please just click the link.