Outside of Chiang Mai there are many ethnic hilltribes living in the surrounding areas. Many of these hilltribes are originally from China, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and North Thailand. There are the akha (ekaw), lisu (lisaw),karen (karing, yang), hmong (meo), and the lahu (mussar). The karen tribe is probably the most recognizable-since they have rings around their neck that weigh down their shoulders-which makes their necks look longer. Hence the name "long neck karens".
Try to go on a responsible tour-not one that makes these hilltribes resemble a human zoo. There is a lot of controversey to these tours-since many believe the tour money does not filter down to the hilltribes, but to some overseer, who built a large house on the property.
Try to get a tour outside the city (usually less tourists). The tribe will sell some of hilltribe clothing and crafts. We visited an akha tribe and were able to go into the house of an Akha woman. When visiting it's always nice to bring some small gifts-cookies or biscuits. Always ask permission before taking their photograph. Otherwise, the children will chase you the whole time demanding financial compensation-usually 20baht or so.
Interesting web site on akha tribe
I’m not sure what to make of this. At this artificial village, different tribes from Northern Thailand are represented here. Apparently this is a project to help and assist some people of the hill tribes. I did feel uncomfortable and I’m not sure how happy these people are.
I find it intrusive to these people, but according to the driver who took me there, the people are quite happy?
It costs 500 Baht to enter the village, and you are allowed to take pictures as you like.
I did buy some of the crafts made by these people, although you will find most of it at the Night Market in Chiang Mai.
The hill-country is known as The Golden Triangle. It borders Burma and Laos and holds the rivers Mekong and Mae Kok and this is where most of the hilltribes are concentrated.
There are six principal hilltribes in Thailand: The Karen (known as Karieng) who arrived from across the Salween River in Burma. The Lisu, Lahu and Akha who are also from Burma (from the northern Shan state). The Hmong and The Mien crossed into Thailand from Laos. Out of these tribes only the Mien have any written records, therefore it is impossible to know the full history of these tribes. The tribes all have their own distinct costumes and rituals.
For me the most interesting tribe is the sub-group of Karen, found mainly in Burma but a few have made it across into Thailand. Padaung women wear permanent rings which are added to from girlhood. The rings gradually push down the collar bone to give a strange and unnaturally long neck. Rings can also be worn on the legs and the arms. When we encountered the Karen tribe, I had numerous piercings and I am still, to this day unclear as to who thought whom the oddist! They were clearly as intrigued by me as I was by them. The did not speak Thai, we were unable to communicate in any way other than smiles but I managed to buy some woven items from them and I was given a neck ring which I treasure.
If you get the oppertunity to experience some of the hilltribes, you should. The handi-crafts they make are exquisite and of exceptional quality. I have bags that are over 10 years old and still going, like new :)
Northern Thailand's mountain peoples - the so-called "hilltribes" are the backbone of northern Thai tourism. There are six large minority ethnic groups in the north of Thailand, and several smaller ones.
Hmong or Meo hilltribe villages are located on high mountain areas north from Doi Inthanon to the Burmese border. They are the closest group to Chiang Mai, with villages in the Doi Suthep - Doi Pui National Park area.
Hmong houses are built on the ground in clusters, with several clusters forming a village. The oldest male controls the extended family household that will include married sons and their families. The Hmong are divided into clans, which play an important part in rituals and relationships.
The Hmong believe in a number of household spirits as well as souls. Rituals are performed by household heads, but each village will also have a shaman to exorcise evil spirits and restore health to the sick
The village is very touristy, but still interesting to visit whilst visiting Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. They have some nice handicrafts for sale which you don't see anywhere else.
In the Doi Inthanon national Park live the Meo and Karen hill tribes. These people were granted permission to continue living in this jungle when it was declared a national park on the condition that they didnt kill any wildlife or chop down any trees. You can visit one of the villages and see how these wondeful people live. Many of the women weave silk, whilst the children play with the dogs and chickens under the huts. The village we visited actually had a schoolroom with a TV, was crammed with books and paper but no children!
We hired a mini bus (8 seater) and set off to visit a Hill Tribe settlement, approx 50 minutes drive into the hills. The road is windy as you weave your way into the hills, the landscape varying from natural forrest to small farmland areas.The hills quickly rise and you get great views of the lowland and Chiang Mai, our trip was extended by 30 minutes as traffic police halted all traffic as we neared Queen Sirikit's holiday mansion. It appears when she wants to visit Chiang Mai she goes by helicopter and the road must be closed for security reasons.We were very close as the noise was very loud. Eventually reached the village and well worth the visit, many stalls selling all sorts of handicrafts including silver jewelry, clothing, silk, weapons etc etc. The Hill Tribe people are very small but like to dress up in costume and can be seen throughout the village. There is a museum including weapons, farm implements etc etc. In a muddy dam on top of the hill young boys dive for coins tossed by tourists, plus there is the Cross Bow range where for 10 baht you can fire 2 arrows and attempt to hit the apple at 30 paces. The recoil from this crossbow is really felt on your shoulder and I was amazed at the accuracy of this lethal weapon. A Hill Tribe visit is essential. Just barter with a taxi driver for a half day trip, it is very cheap.
If you get to Chaing Mai, your visit will not be complete without visiting the temple on top of the hill. Climbing a few hundred stairs, the temple is in wonderful condition and provided its not too humid and hazy, the view of the valley is grand.
Sometimes it sounds like a human zoo, but if you look inside the eyes of that women you can find a simple woman with their needs, trying to survive honestly, and if you can help them, why not ?
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