Visa Run: Heaven and Hell in the Golden Triangle

One of the strangest days I experienced on my travels was a trip to Burma and Laos from Chiang Mai, Thailand. The 12 hours were mostly spent in the back of a tour van but also introduced me to the Burma border control and a little piece of Heaven and Hell..

This popular, one day excursion brings you to the Golden Triangle – an area that overlaps Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. The 367,000 square miles of land are infamous for the extensive opium trafficking that occurs, but tourists mostly visit the portion where Thailand touches both Laos and Burma, for less illegal reasons. I took the day trip for one – to step over the border of Burma and immediately return to Thailand to get my passport stamped, earning me two more weeks in Thailand before my visa expired.

It’s a bizarre trip to begin with – the act of crossing a heavily armed border to blatantly re-enter made me quite uneasy. But the”Visa Run” is a common practice amongst backpackers and expats who need to extend to their stay. I was the only one on my tour who embarked for that reason but my tour guide had no problem walking with me to customs and guiding me through the process of tucking the extra “fee” into my passport to pay off the border patrol for my swift re-entrance.

A well-suited stop occurs on this already strange day trip when passing through Chiang Rai at Wat Rong Khun – a temple that feels as though it was devised by someone making good use of the region’s opium stock. Wat Rong Kun is a Buddist and Hindu, unconventional temple that has been in the process of completion since 1997. It is entirely white as a symbol of the purity of Buddha. I couldn’t get over the bizarre nature of this place – from the pit of hands reaching up from the ground to the mash up of pop culture and world events on the temples interior walls.

Once you enter the temple, it is forbidden to exit from the entrance. You must pass through all the way as the passage through Wat Rong Khun is meant to depict the journey through Hell to get to Heaven – hence the tortured hands beneath the bridge of the entrance.

I could go on and on about how perplexed and amused I was by this place, but the pictures speak for themselves…

The twin towers on 9/11, depicted in a mural on the interior of the temple. The mural also featured the likes of Keanu Reeves and Spider Man. (Photo Credit: 7 months with Carry-on Luggage, blog)

One of those awkward, “Will you take a picture of me, stranger?” pictures.


I'm a restless writer with a passion for travel, and an inkling that my generation will change the world for the better. I want to be a part of it all.

'Visa Run: Heaven and Hell in the Golden Triangle' have 5 comments

  1. May 22, 2012 @ 11:46 pm Shanna Schultz

    I read about the temple of course only AFTER we had come home from Thailand…it is on my bucket list of “Strange and unusual” for next time!


  2. May 23, 2012 @ 5:44 pm Britany Robinson

    It is definitely a must see. Especially after the umpteenth traditional temple – this one is just so out there!


  3. July 17, 2014 @ 7:29 am Ryan

    I’m reminded of the Buddhist message of impermanence – the White Temple was damaged in a fairly large earthquake a couple months ago, and people aren’t able to enter now. And the whole Visa Run gig seems to be up, as Immigration are not going to let people back in with a 30-day stamp like they used to if you’ve got any previous out-and-in trips in your passport.
    Ryan recently posted..Thailand’s Crackdown on Long-term Stay with Tourist Visas – Other Options?My Profile


    • July 17, 2014 @ 5:45 pm Britany Robinson

      Oh wow, I hadn’t heard about that. Thanks for the update! Any word on whether they’ll be repairing the temple soon?


  4. July 22, 2014 @ 12:39 am Ryan

    I’m not sure about the temple. They have to reinforce the structure of the main building, and a lot of the art was damaged, I guess.
    But surely there is enough intact to make a restoration attempt worthwhile.
    The head artist was on Thai TV talking about it right after the quake. He’s quite an animated and proud character. He was very determined not to have the government come in and try to help him.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge