From the Thai temple perched high on a hilltop above the mighty Maekong River I surveyed the very heart of the Golden Triangle - the infamous source of much of the world's opium trade.
On the far, western bank across the broad, swiftly-flowing, muddy waters unfolded the uncultivated, undeveloped grasslands and forests of Laos. Occasional long, open boats, powered by powerful outboards and sporting the red flag of the Pathet Lao, plied the turbulent waters.
To the North, sandwiched in a confluence of the Ruak River, a wedge of anonymous, green jungle protruded from the Peoples Republic of Myanmar ( the new name accorded to Burma by its current military government ). Only some 20 miles further upstream is the southern frontier of China - the origin of significant ethnic minorities in many of the countries of SE Asia.
Below lay a brightly-coloured cluster of souvenir shops and tourist restaurants lining the well-surfaced road extending to the nearby Thai city of Chiang Rai and then all the way South to Bangkok ( or, to use its abbreviated Thai name, Krung Thep - "City of Angels" ).
As with ancient Rome, roads emanate from the Thai capital to all corners of the country and at least one bus departs each day to every city and major town of the Buddhist Kingdom.
I was at the limit of an overland journey starting some eight weeks and some 1400 miles earlier on the island state of Singapore, just off the equator, and continuing northwards through Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand to the Golden Triangle at the three-way, frontier junction with Laos and Myanmar.
" You only stay one day in Singapore? ", queried the immigration officer. Most travellers spend at least a few days in this prosperous, ultra-modern, clinically-clean but relatively expensive Chinese city with its strict laws and harsh punishments. However the 'Lion City' holds little attraction for me compared to the greater delights and lower costs of Peninsular Malaysia. From Changi International Airport only two short rides by local bus are needed to cross the island and the 1000metre causeway to reach Johore Bahru on the southern tip of the mainland.
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