Where I Met My First Opium Caravan

Opium, James Clavell, The GodfatherI encountered my first opium caravan in the jungle somewhere north of a place called Fang, in Thailand. To this day I cannot find it on the map.

The only spare rooms were in the local brothel. My mate’s girl had a club foot. We lay there in bed that night – there was only a thin partition between the rooms – and listened to the sound of machine guns quite close by. It was an incentive to stay laying flat.

The opium caravan was guarded by Kuomintang soldiers from Burma. I don’t know which side of the border we were on at the time, no one could ever tell. Maybe you could today, with a GPS. But it still wouldn’t matter.

Colin Falconer, James Clavell, The GodfatherWe spent a week in the jungle, carefully detouring around the camps of the insurgents, sharing cigarettes with the soldiers guarding the caravans when they stopped for a rest, their AK-47’s slung over their shoulders. The smallest caravan had fifty pack mules. Our guide was a bespectacled Thai with a wicked sense of humour who people said worked for the CIA on the side. He certainly knew his way around.

We stayed up in the Golden Triangle for about ten days, sleeping in the hill villages overnight, smoking opium, watching them harvest the poppies the next day. They never touched opium themselves. It was just for the old people and the sick, they said. They grew it because they were farmers and that was the crop the Chinese traders paid them the most money for.

They were Meo, Aka and Lahu. They were very friendly people. By way of greeting one of them pulled down his pants and bent over to show us the abscess on his butt. They wanted to know if we had medicine. I apologized and said no, we didn’t, but that my mate Alan would kiss it better.

Colin Falconer, James Clavell, The GodfatherThe best chicken I ever ate was in a Meo village somewhere north of Mae Hong Son. We selected it ourselves and they cooked it for us and the only thing they cut off was the beak.

That night we listened to the young girls pounding rice in the dark. Then one of the young men excused himself and went outside. We heard him talking to one of the girls. Then the pounding stopped. He was clearly a smooth talker and she was obviously good at pounding rice, because it’s a very important quality in a wife up there.

In those days the triangle provided the base for most of the world’s heroin. In the last ten years, of course, it has switched to Afghanistan. Wars enable drugs, and they finance them. It’s always been that way.

Colin Falconer, James Clavell, The GodfatherBut when I sat down to write the OPIUM series I didn’t have any political point to make. Sometimes it shocks people to learn the role that American government agencies have played in the development of the drug trade they are supposed to be fighting. But no book is ever going to change that. No nothing is ever going to change that.

It was years later that I came to write the books. I went to Laos and Vietnam and Hong Kong, interviewed triad and drug squad detectives in Kowloon, old time Corsican traffickers in Vientiane.

But the interest first started with the sickly sweet smell of opium in a musty bamboo hut somewhere in the Burmese jungle.

Colin Falconer, James Clavell, The GodfatherOPIUM begins in Laos in 1959 with a few sacks of jelly-like raw opium thrown in the back of a Cessna and ends in the 90’s, when heroin is a multi-million dollar industry.

It s about a man who sells his soul to the devil, and the woman who loves him. It is about getting everything you ever dreamed of and living to regret it.

It is a book about their love affair, but it is also about my love affair with Asia. I hope you’ll read it, and live with Baptiste and Noelle through that other time, and that other place, and perhaps also wonder what you would have done if you had been faced with those very same temptations.

Holy Week, Easter, Spain



About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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12 Responses to Where I Met My First Opium Caravan

  1. Julia Robb says:

    Good one, you have certainly had an adventurous life.

  2. Pingback: HK Ninja : HK Q&AWhere I Met My First Opium Caravan » HK Ninja : HK Q&A

  3. Michael Bang says:

    Hello Colin,

    I just want to say thanks to you for your incredible stories.

    I read the whole Opium series during the last two-three weeks – I had a wonderful time.

    It was such an incredible trip into the Asian world and at the same very educating of what really happened during these times told with such passion.

    I work as a business trainer and do lots of traveling mainly in the Russian territories so you inspired me to somehow get into the Asian market.

    Again thank you for giving me this view into your exiting stories.

    Best wishes, Michael

    International Business Trainer http://www.michaelbang.net michaelbang@mac.com

    • Thanks Michael. I’m so glad you enjoyed the books. It sounds as if you would have some stories to tell yourself! Best of luck with your ventures into Asia, still for me one of the most fascinating parts of the world.

  4. Russell Wiskar says:

    Being an avid Colin Falconer reader,I am looking forward to this one.

  5. violafury says:

    This area and era beginning with the royal ass-kicking the French received in Dien Bien-Phu in 1955, was my introduction to this beautiful, tragic part of the world. The wonderful editorial and political pundit, P.J. O’Rourke, who went from hippy to Conservative Republican in a generation, summed it up nicely, “We fell in love with Viet Nam and she broke our hearts. For that, we have never forgiven her.” I would agree with that. That part of the world is ancient and has held onto her secrets. The temples and culture seem beyond time. I can’t wait to start this series! Thank you, Colin. As always, you rock!

  6. filbio says:

    Sounds like you have lived a life of adventure. I need to pick up one of your books soon.

    • I hope you will, Phil. A lot of my books did well in the UK and Europe but were never picked up in the US so they’re available through CoolGus for the first time. Let me know what you think!

  7. Margaret Harding says:

    Dear Colin I can’t wait to get a I pad or something electronic so I can read. More of your books at the moment I’m still saving for one, but being ill means I don’t a lot of spare cash, but I’ll get there. Was lucky enough to find a copy of Stigma in a shop it took three days to read & only left me wanting more !

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