“Golden Triangle”, the words evoke images of opium poppies, of hill tribes, of mist–shrouded hills, of the mighty Mekong River, and of tropical forests. But most of all the words “Golden Triangle” evoke images of mystery and danger surrounding drug production and trafficking: porous borders; civil wars; armies, police, and smugglers clashing; poor hill farmers eking out a living from a beautiful poisonous plant; raids on hidden heroin factories; donkey caravans along old jungle trade paths.
The development of the Hall of Opium is the result of the initiative of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. The museum presents the history of opium and the impacts of illegal drugs, with an information center for research and extension education on opium, opiates and other narcotics in the near future. The Hall is 10 kilometers north of Chiang Saen town in Chiang Rai Province. The museum is incorporated within the 160 rai or 40-hectare landscape of the Golden Triangle Park. The total size of the exhibition area is about 5,600 square meters.
The exhibition begins with a walk through a 137 meter entrance tunnel, to help create an atmosphere of the contradictory moods associated with opium and narcotics: mystery, danger, fear, sleep and dreams, ease of pain, or suppressed suffering. Introductory displays are presented in the lobby, featuring two issues that attract people to the museum :1. the opium poppy and its products, and 2. Drug production in the Golden Triangle. This section provides a general introduction to the opium poppy, its products, and the history of its use from earliest evidence of at least 5,000 years ago to the late 18th century
Visitors pass through a short dark and bright hallway, in which the contrasting characteristics of opium are presented. On the side a plant with products of great benefit to humans, On the other side a plant that can cause considerable suffering.
The next sections describe the development of large – scale production, trade, and use of opium in the 18th and early 19th centuries, culminating with the Opium Wars between China and Britain. The opium trade led to confrontation, then war between China and Britain (and later the other western powers.) On one side the most powerful military and economic powers forced their trade on China and the rest of Asia, often leading to direct colonization. On the other side, an insular and increasingly corrupt, rigid, and weak Manchu regime attempted to maintain its tenuous control over a widespread empire.
The next large section presents the history of legal opium. Siam is selected as representative of the extensive legal opium production, trade, and use in 19th and early 20th century East and Southeast Asia.
It is the Mae Fah Luang Foundation’s hope that visitors leave the exhibition with an understanding of the long and fascinating history of opium. Though the drug provides many benefits, it also brings about great suffering. Even more so, the Foundation hopes to instill in each visitor the belief that they can and should join the effort to solve the problem of illegal drugs. Those who want to continue viewing the museum over a few days can overnight at the accommodations in the Park. Advance booking is required.
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