Visitors to Thailand can too often become obsessed with finding the most idyllic of beach spots in the southern islands. Ever since Alex Garland penned the backpackers’ favorite “The Beach,” travelers spend their time searching for lesser known haunts by which to have the perfect time. But Thailand has so much more to offer than the beach. Visitors to northern Thailand can come into contact with indigenous tribes, learn a little of their culture and come away with an experience of a lifetime.
With your travel money at the ready, pack on your back and hiking boots on your feet, get out into the mountains and jungle of the north of the country and really open your eyes.
The train to Chiang Mai
You’re most likely to arrive in Bangkok when visiting Thailand, but making the trip up from the capital to the north of the country is easy. The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai may be a little longer than taking the bus and slightly more expensive, but it’s a very comfortable journey. Waking up on the bottom bunk of the sleeper train you’ll be treated to the stunning scenery as the train enters the highlands and traverses Doi Khun Tan National Park and the mountains between Lampang and Lamphun.
From Chiang Mai you can look into various options for trekking to see the tribes, although to spend a little more time exploring the country and relax before your trek, visiting the village of Pai — close to Burma — is a favorite amongst backpackers.
There are six main indigenous tribes in the hills of Northern Thailand. They are Karen, Hmong, Akha, Lahu, Mien and Lisu — all having migrated from neighboring Burma, Laos, Vietnam and China.
In order to visit specific tribes you’ll need to book yourself on a trek with one of the various operators; a high volume of which are found in Chiang Mai. When booking it’s important to book with a reputable operator. With that in mind be wary of those who offer the chance to go to a new area of village, as good guides have been visiting the same villages year after year and enjoy good relationships with the villagers.
It may sound great to find somewhere remote and away from the traveler trail but this is likely to hamper your time with the tribes.
What will I see?
All of the tribes offer something different for travelers. One of the most memorable sights is visiting the Karen hill tribe due to their distinctive taste in body jewellery with the elongating of the neck using a number of rings. This doesn’t apply to all Karen, but only a subgroup called Padaung. If you want to see this make sure you check when you make your booking.
How should I act?
It’s important that you don’t give any gifts to the villagers as this can promote jealousy between families; so just relax, breathe in the scenery and enjoy the humbling experience of village life.
Karen Padaung Hill tribe girl: momo