The magnificent Hall of Opium is a white stucco, glass, marble, and aluminum building nestling in a valley above the Mekong. The site of the museum is so close to former poppy fields that a plan is still being considered to extend the complex to encompass an "open-air" exhibit of a functioning opium plantation. The museum traces the history of the entire drug trade, including a look at how mild stimulants like coffee and tea took hold in the West. It even attempts to give visitors a taste of the "opium experience" by leading them through a long tunnel where atmospheric music wafts between walls bearing phantasmagoric bas-relief scenes. The synthetic smell of opium was originally pumped into the tunnel but the innovation was dropped after official complaints.
The entrance tunnel emerges into a gallery where the nature of the opium-producing poppy is vividly described on an information panel. It's an arresting introduction to an imaginatively designed and assembled exhibition, which reaches back into the murky history of the opium trade and takes a long look into a potentially darker future.