Thailand

The Golden Triangle

I don’t know how popular the term “The Golden Triangle (TGT)” is in the West. Back in Asia, it is a well-known name that only associates with drugs, opium, and drug cartels. For those who have little clue on what is The Golden Triangle, it is a special term for a geographical region in the humid Southeast Asia, more specifically the upstream Mekong valley where Thai, Burmese, and Lao borders triangularly meet each other. The geographical remoteness and complicated terrains of the The Golden Triangle have made it difficult for the outreach of governments’ influence in the past. These area was historically linked to drug lords and desperadoes aimed with military weaponry. In general, it was a total danger zone.

The reason I brought this up was because recently I read a terrifying piece of news that two Chinese cargo ship were hijacked, purged and loaded with drugs on the Mekong river in this region by the drug cartels who later clashed with the Thai authority. All cargo ship crew were killed in an execution style (12 dead, 1 missing, all Chinese). I was overwhelmingly astonished when I first read this. Two ship hijacked first and then executed everyone on board, what an appalling atrocity! This immediately reminds me of another post I wrote about the deeds of the drug cartel in the Amazons. Only those people could do such thing nowadays.

Then again, I was also shocked that it did take place in this part of the region. As dangerous as TGT used to be, in recent years Lao and Thai governments have actually put up with a lot of efforts in exerting their authority in their parts of the Golden Triangle (The Burmese part is still sort of a forbidden zone like the old TGT). Opium plantations have been significantly reduced in those areas. There has actually been a bit of economic booming in the region, after the opening of the Kunming-Bangkok highway which crosses straight in this area. I was particular familiar with this part of the world as I was personally involved in a research project that allowed me to live there (Lao part of the TGT) with the locals alone for 3 months back in 2008. I remember the whole place, as much primitive as it is, was full of businessmen from China and Thailand who rushed to Northern Laos looking for either rubber plantations or goods trading. With the laid-back mentality of the locals, it is really hard for me to believe that the drug cartels are debuting a comeback after so many years in such an unbelievably high profile. This definitely has to do with something or someone from Burma, as it is the only remaining political vacuum in the region. When I was in Bokeo, Laos I heard a lot about the women/children trafficking and casino scam in the region, mostly on the other side of Mekong River in Burma. I even met some of those tough guys. But there was never anything even remotely related to the drug business from what I heard back then, not to mention the level of mercilessness in this execution.

Pondering on such things really creep me out. I guess I would feel lucky that I did not encounter or even hear of such things when I was there. Now two things are going to happen there: 1. There is going to be another governmental sweep in the region in attempt to exterminate the drug lords. This time they might actually have to reply on Burma as well; 2. Since China has already heavily invested in the region, it would demand armed presence in the trade route.

Drug cartels are vicious venom that would poison the whole region. The upstream Mekong valley is a marvelous place. It is actually one of favor places among all the places I have been to. I certainly don’t hope the laid-back lifestyle and beautiful and quiet Mekong river be broken into gunshots and blood again. (I showed here some of the pictures I took during my stay in the Golden Triangle region. And this is where the atrocity took place…)

A little hut on the hill in Northern Laos, in which i had lunch and dozed a while

The Mekong was calm and beautiful

Lao border at the Mekong is a joke, but people are laid-back anyway