Thai police said Tuesday they had seized half a tonne of crystal methamphetamine worth $30 million, their largest-ever seizure, as surging production in the Golden Triangle floods Southeast Asia.
Police said the seizure was made on Monday in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima when a pick-up truck tried to evade a checkpoint before dawn.
A man who was arrested said he was paid nearly $6,000 to courier the drugs from Laos to a staging point in central Thailand, where he was due to receive a call from the "kingpin" behind the deal.
Crystal methamphetamine -- or ice -- is of high purity and sells for around $60-80 a gramme in Thailand.
It is being churned out in unprecedented volume by Myanmar-based drug labs operated by the Wa -- a self-governing ethnic group behind the drug trade in the Golden Triangle which covers Myanmar's Shan State, Laos and northern Thailand.
Drugs are smuggled south into Thailand, mostly destined for Malaysia or even Australia -- the world's largest per capita consumer of crystal meth -- where the price surges.
"This is the largest 'ice' seizure ever (in Thailand) with a domestic value of one billion baht ($30 million)," national police chief Chaktip Chaijinda told reporters.
"If it reaches a foreign country it could fetch 10 times that amount."
The drugs were produced by "the North or South Wa groups and then trafficked through Laos to Thailand, destined for Malaysia," he added.
The Wa churn out ice, heroin and highly-addictive caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills to fund their powerful militia.
Narcotics police have made numerous high-profile seizures in a crackdown on the main Wa drug route through northern Thailand.
"So the traffickers have changed to the northeastern route" through Laos, the police chief added.
Myanmar's central government, which is trying to forge a fragile peace with myriad ethnic militias, has little ability or appetite to confront the Wa.