Chinese tourists account for more visitors to Thailand — and much of Southeast Asia — than from any other country. The Thai village of Sob Ruak, at the heart of the Golden Triangle region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, is no exception. Tour buses routinely disgorge thousands of Chinese tourists to buy trinkets, snap selfies and tour the nearby Hall of Opium Museum. And it's not just tourists coming from China.
About every month, a few Chinese gunboats cruise down the Mekong River through Myanmar and Laos from China's Guanlei port. They announce their arrival with a barrage of horns, then begin a long, sweeping turn back upriver just short of Thai waters, their propellers churning the mocha-brown water. Thai patrol boats sit bobbing gently, watching. As the Chinese border patrol boats leave, they let off one more long, loud burst of horns before heading back upriver, sometimes accompanied by a Lao gunboat.