Deep in northern Thailand and just south of the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen is a former ghost town crawling back to life. Once one of the most important cities of Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Saen has been sacked and conquered many times throughout history. In 1900, the repopulation began but you can still see the crumbling fortified walls of a violent past. You can see massive barges carrying fruit, car parts and other goods from China out to sea on the Mekong river. And Laos lies just across the Mekong from this sleepy river town.
Today huge river barges from China moor at Chiang Saen, carrying fruit, engine parts and all manner of other imports, keeping the old China–Siam trade route open. Despite this trade, the town hasn’t changed too much over the last decade, and because of this it’s a more pleasant base than the comparatively hectic, touristy Sop Ruak, the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, 9km east.