Get Back to School with Redbubble – Shop Here! or Win Stuff Here!

A hilltribe farmer in the Golden Triangle region in northern Thailand uses a broad blade to scrape raw opium from a mature poppy seed pod that he had incised with a small multi-bladed knife. After slitting the pods, the milky sap oozes out and is left to coagulate into sticky raw opium. The farmers traditionally wrapped their harvest in sheets of dried poppy petals before selling it to traders for silver rupee coins from colonial India. The traders sold it on to jungle refineries where it was cooked and reduced into morphine at a ratio of 10:1. Further addition of other chemicals and processing converted the morphine into No 4 heroin, a white, water-soluable powder that is easy to smoke, snort or inject. The hilltribe farmers had no conception that their harvest would end up in the veins of western junkies in distant lands. They felt about as much guilt as a tobacco farmer might feel for lung cancer victims. Taken in 1980 with a Nikon FM2, Nikkor 55mm macro lens and kodachrome slide film.


film, flower, golden triangle, opium, plant, poppy, thailand, tribe

I am an Australian expat living in the hills of Mae Hong Son province Thailand (please visit I photograph almost everything, above and below ground.

View Full Profile


  • micheleirene
    micheleireneabout 5 years ago

    Great image John and as always I love your information that goes along with it :)

  • Thanks Shelly, could have filled pages with this image…

    – John Spies

  • funkybunch
    funkybunchabout 5 years ago

    amazing shot

  • Thanks funky, I was down on my knees, and raw opium has a very distinctive strong sappy smell….

    – John Spies

  • Terri Chandler
    Terri Chandlerabout 5 years ago

    If you don’t mind my asking John, do the hilltribe farmers and their family have a use for the poppy on their own? I mean, it is not uncommon that over the generations something like this may have had medicinal purposes that had it not gotten in the hands of the wrong people it would still be used innocently enough. Thank you for the wonderful description and image!

  • It was very commonly used as a medicine- it was the strongest and most effective painkiller they (and we- in our hospitals in the form of morphine) had. So it was used in all pain relief and for stomach complaints. Many people with chronic illness or pain, usually the old, became addicted this way.

    – John Spies

  • Joy Watson
    Joy Watsonabout 5 years ago

    amazing image

  • Thanks, it was an amazing sight that close up.

    – John Spies

  • catherine walker
    catherine walkeralmost 5 years ago

    Amazing !

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait