One kind with a great divide. Those in the west has an entirely different set of culture, beliefs, and practices to our brothers and sisters living the east. But no matter how our lives are so different, there is this universal inkling to connect and discover the common grounds of why we laugh, of why we love great food, of why we are curious of the strangest things, and why we love discover things.

When you go to Thailand and go beyond all the shopping you can do in Bangkok, you might enjoy some tarantula for a snack. Yes, that is quite the reality when you trek up the hills of Thailand and immerse yourself into the lives of the tribes.

Share a night with a tribe and know what is behind their smiles, what is great about their rice wine, and what is great about their tribal life.

Trekking in Thailand

Here are some places in Thailand where you can get those legs working:

  • Mae Hong Son – You will deal with remote trails and get a bonus with the great scenery.
  • Um Phang – This is away from the usual tourist spots bringing you to the far Karen villages, elephant trails and beautiful waterfalls.
  • Nan – You will enjoy wildlife treks and explore the Doi Phu Kha
  • Chiang Rai – This is the more relaxed and smaller version of Chiang Mai. It is also cleaner and give you quicker access to great hiking trails.
  • Ko Tarutao National Park – Your trekking here will be easy into the lush forest with side trips to pristine waterfalls and beaches.
  • Doi Inthanon National Park – If you are coming with a group, you can have long walks around the area or venture into the challenge offered by the highest mountain in Thailand.
  • Khao Sok National Park – This area is a bit popular with tourists but is still worth it since you will be working through the rainforest and have a side trip to a picture perfect waterfall.
  • Thap Lan National Park – This is one of the biggest national park in Thailand and you will have a good encounter with some species of wildlife and trek through some rainforest.

Meeting the locals


If you are ready for some really good trekking experience and ready to meet the hilltribes of Thailand, here are some groups that you can go to:

Lisu

You can find this tribe in the northern portion of Thailand specifically in Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Sorn, and Chang Mai. They trace their origins in eastern Tibet. You will see their houses built with bamboo and standing near the ground. The women wear colorful costumes worn with silver ornaments during festivities. The men are very good in making crossbows, animal traps, musical instruments and practically anything that can be crafted from bamboo, wood, and rattan.

The Lisu people are adapting well with the changes happening around them. They make a living of the handicrafts, ornaments, and traditional clothings they produce. You might find them as the best looking among the hilltribes you will encounter.

Karen

There are about 28,000 members of this tribe in northern Thailand and they are considered as among the major tribes of the country. You will find them living in the highlands and plains of northern and central Thailand. Their houses are often raised in stilts and made mostly of bamboo while the space below their home serves as an enclosure for their domesticated animals.

The women of the Karen tribe are considered as very good weavers. The men are focused with agriculture.

The Karens are mostly animist but some portion of their population have already been converted to Christians. They are very cooperative and peaceful and go along very well with the other tribes. They put in high regard their living elders and their ancestors.

Lahu

The Lahus are about 25,000 in number mostly dwelling in the northern hills of Thailand. There are four groups in the tribe: te Red, Yellow, Black, and the She-Leh. The Lahus trace their origins from the southwestern portion of China.

Their women are very good in producing intricately designed embroidered works. The men and women of the tribe are considered as among the best basket maker in Thailand. The males of the tribe also produce high quality crossbows, decorative items, and musical instruments.

Akha

The Akha people live in the mountains of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in Thailand but they can also be found in Burma and China. The village of the Akhas has carved gates made of wood believed to be guarded by spirits protecting the tribe. Their primary source of income is agriculture and earn extra by producing handicrafts, cultural items, and musical instruments.

This group of people are very superstitious and they have a certain set of rules guiding them on how they should lead their life.

Hmong

The Hmong tribe peoples are divided into subgroups of Blue and White. It is among the biggest tribe dwelling in the northern mountains of Thailand. Unlike other tribes, their houses sit on the ground. The main floor though is atop a basement which serves as a storage area for food and other vital supplies. They make a living before through growing opium but have given this up for needle works, handicrafts, and cultural items.

The shamans of the tribe are known to contact the spirits and only a few of the Hmongs were converted to Christianity.

Yao

The Yao tribe is the only Thailand hilltribe that has a written language. They wear colorful costumes made by their excellent embroiders. You can distinguish them from other tribes as they wear a black turban.

The Yaos have written religious literature based on Taoism but there are already converts to Buddhism and Christianity. Among the hilltribes, the Yao people are considered to be the best traders.


Travel tips

The best months to go to Thailand is from October through April. These will be the driest days of the northern portion of Thailand. You might want to veer away from December through January since these are the busiest and most crowded months.

Do not forget to bring the following:

  • Torch – will be very useful when you move around in the dark.
  • Pens and Pencils – these will be better gifts to the kids of the tribes better than chocolates and candies
  • Comfortable footwear – foam clogs might be the best for walking through fields and rivers
  • Leech Socks- if you have plans of going to the wet southern portion of Thailand, leech socks will come very handy against the blood sucking creatures
  • Insect repellant – you do not want to contract dengue or other diseases from insect bites.

You also have to remember that the hilltribes people are a bit different from those you will meet in the shopping districts of Thailand. Make sure you dress modestly when you stay in their villages. You also need to ask permission before you take photos to make sure that they will not be offended or find you too intrusive. Make sure you respect their ceremonial objects and never take pictures of them or touch them. Although, the hilltribes used to grow opium, never ask for some.

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