Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hall of Opium

The Golden Triangle and history of Opium

Many people still believe that
the Golden Triangle is the heart of darkness.

The Golden Triangle usually refers to the vast area of three countries - Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand - where opium has been grown, processed to heroin, and smuggled out. Things began to change in Thailand in 1988 when Princess Srinagarindra, the late mother of the present king, set up the Doi Tung Development project in the northernmost point of the country. It was aimed at ending opium cultivation using a crop replacement strategy. The project took many years but it became a major success. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists come to this site simply because of its name and association with opium.
Speed boat ride service on the Mekhong River
Buildings seen afar are casinos in Myanmar border. It draws many tourists to spend money there. Thai people could cross the border by a speed boat to gamble there legally.
Another view of the Mekhog River
The Hall of Opium is not just a museum, it's not even just an exhibition. It's a multimedia experience that will stimulate all your senses as you immerse yourself in its captivating realm.
Thailand's new $10m opium museum is a brave attempt to uncover the mysteries of a poppy that has conquered the world. Built by a royal foundation with Japanese assistance, the museum covers 6,000 square meters (60,000 square feet) on a grassy hillside overlooking the Mekhong River. The museum has taken 15 years to construct, and has employed researchers from around the world, including China and the United States.
This is how one first encounters Thailand's newest, and arguably first, world-class museum, the Hall of Opium. This $10-million project took a decade to build and is backed by the royalty-sponsored Mae Fah Luang Foundation. The Hall of Opium occupies 5,600 square meters. It was built with financial support from the Japanese government. It's like a museum where you can learn about history of the plant dating back 5,000 years until the Opium Wars and beyond to the present day. It has 16 rooms dedicated to various aspects of the plant and its uses, backed by case studies, more than 100,000 pictures, state-of-the-art multimedia presentation and real equipment such as antique Chinese opium pipes and storage boxes.
Entrance tunnel: As you venture through a 130-meter Entrance Tunnel that passes through a hill, lighting, sound, and special effects such as the occasional impressionistic images conveyed in the form of bas-relief and projections that appear on the walls, ceiling and floor of the tunnel, draw you deeper into the dark realm of the world of opium.
Among the most memorable exhibits is a mock-up of a British clipper ship used to carry opium from India to China, where it was exchanged for tea and other spices. This trade sparked resistance from China's ruling dynasty, which was rudely crushed by British forces in the Opium Wars of the 19th Century.
First the museum painstakingly explained the history of opium, from the time of the tea and spice trade between Europe, India and China to the present. Next it outlined the history of opium use and production within Thailand's borders. I found it interesting that even when it was legal to produce opium, it was illegal for the Thai people to consume it...only Chinese nationals were allowed to partake publicly in the drug.
Opium Poppy
Poppy, Papaver Somniferum L., is an annual herb native to Southeastern Europe and western Asia. Also known as Opium Poppy, the species is cultivated extensively in many countries. Reaching a hight of 1.2 meters, the erect plant can have white, pink, red, or purple flowers. Seeds range in color from white to a slate shade that is called blue in commercial classifications.
The milky latex sap of opium poppies contains isoquinoline alkaloids.It is classified as a narcotic and is commonly found in certain members of the poppy family (Papaveraceae), such as the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).
I saw opium fields for myself one time when I was in Nursing School. We were on a missionary trip with a public health team from the hospital, giving vaccination to the mountain-tribe people in Chaing Rai. Opium flowers look similar to tulips. But opium flower petals are much softer and they have color gradient – one color at the bottom and another color on top. The stems are very soft, so when the wind blows, it looks like the flowers are playing with the wind. It's truly breathtaking, especially when you see this hills after hills.
Flower of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) grown from commercial poppy seed. This strain has very pale petals compared with other more showy cultivars.Thanks to the army's policy to eradicate poppy farming and support from the US Drug Enforcement Agency, opium production in Thailand dropped dramatically from 20 tonnes in 1990 to six tonnes in 2001, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report. These days, it is almost wiped out from the Thai soils. Even the Hall of Opium, an impressive museum on the opiates does not have one single real opium plant.
One learns that of the 250 species of poppy found around the world, Papaver somniferum is the most sought for its opium.
The raw opium is harvested using the "poppy straw" method. When the flowers gave gone to seed, combines cut the dried seed stalks containing alkaloid-rich, seed-bearing capsules. The seeds are removed for the culinary market. Raw opium is chemically extracted from the ground up capsules.
The opium poppy’s green, unripe seed capsule, revealed when the flower petals drop, contains a milky sap that is the source of opium. To collect the sap, slits are made along the circumference of the seed capsules, enabling the milky sap to ooze out and dry.The raw opium sap drips from fresh cuts into the pericarp of the capsules, and upon oxidation and solidification in the air it turns black. It is then scraped from the capsules, pressed into cakes, and dried to form the rubbery, yellow-brown opium. Natural derivatives of opium include morphine and codeine, used extensively in medicine as sedatives and pain killers. Heroin is a synthetic derivative of morphine. Morphine and codeine are habit forming. Heroin, which is especially addictive, is illegal in the United States. When the flowers gave gone to seed, combines cut the dried seed stalks containing alkaloid-rich, seed-bearing capsules. The seeds are removed for the culinary market.
Can eating poppy seeds really cause
someone to fail drug test?

Yes--eating a couple of poppy seed rolls, bagels, etc., can cause you to fail a routine drug test. Uh-uh. While many drug testers and researchers claim they can separate "false positives" from the real thing, other researchers dispute this. Sure, some guy with pinhole pupils and a tendency to walk into walls is going to have a hard time claiming he got that way due to excessive bagel consumption. The fact remains that if you got fired due to a borderline positive and had no follow-up tests or corroborating signs of drug use, a good lawyer would be able to cram that drug test--and your pink slip--down your bosses' throats. Currently, 87 percent of positives are reversed on follow-up.Are you telling me the poppy seeds in baked goods come from the same type of poppy used to make opium?
Maybe not all, but a lot of them do.
Remember not all species of poppy are opium poppy.
You mean I could get high eating poppy seed rolls?
No, goofball, I said they might make you flunk a drug test. The amount of morphine and codeine in poppy seeds varies enormously.

The Hall of Opium is in Chiang Saen district, Chiang Rai, on Highway 1290. It opens Thursday to Sunday during December to February and Tuesday to Sunday during March to November. The entrance fee is 200 baht for adults and 50 baht for students and senior citizens (more than 60 years old).
The phone number is 053-784-444/6

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Camera is not allowed inside the museum. Pictures of interior exhibit and opium poppies are from many other sources.


Anonymous said...


You should do video combine with local food tasting and sell it to travel & food network.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Thank you again.
You are such an informative person and with a good
descriptive capability!

Tub Tim Thai said...

Just love what you've been doing.
Keep up the good job !
P'Som @ Tub Tim Thai

Ravichai said...

Hi Amie,

I love your article "Hall of Opium". It is very informative. I feels like I was at the musium. I love your website. Please keep coming of good articles/knowledges for our Thai community here and abroad.