In Northern Thailand, there are still authentic tribes. Thai provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are home to hundreds of small villages of people who left Myanmar, Laos or China and came to Thailand, about 200 years ago, as refugees in search of a better life.
Many hill tribes live their lives by growing crops such as vegetables and rice, very deep in the high mountains of Northern Thailand. It is not an easy life.
Projects like King’s Royal Project provide them with agricultural cooperatives and bring little prosperity to some villages.
Although nowadays most of the people from the hill tribes are Thai citizens, they are still marginalized by Thai people, so the hill tribes prefer to live in the uplands.
There are seven main hill tribe groups in Thailand and many subgroups. Each of the tribes has its own distinct culture, traditions, and language.
Finding out about the hill tribes home staying and Thailand Hilltribe Holidays
When I organized the itinerary for Thailand, I read a lot about this country and about the things that we can visit here. This way I found out about Thailand Hilltribe Holidays, some incredibly passionate people, who try to help hill tribe villages by connecting travelers with the local hill tribes in a responsible way.
The company also helps the locals in other ways like employing hill tribe people as their drivers, finding English volunteers for hill tribe schools or connecting the villagers with markets where they can sell their handicrafts.
This is the reason we chose Thailand Hilltribe Holidays.
They offer authentic and non-touristic experiences within the hill tribe villages.
“We follow village life rather than village life following us,” they say.
Homestay and visits to remote communities and tribes in different countries is an off-the-beaten-path experience and one thing that we really like to experience in our travels.
This way we have the opportunity to meet authentic people from rarely-explored places, their culture, traditions and to learn from their way of life.
And we try to do it in a responsible way.
2days/1night Hill Tribe Tour
Thailand Hilltribe Holidays offers many types of different tours, but we chose the two days and one night tour which will offer a private home staying at White Karen hill tribe family and intimate cultural experience.
Arriving at the White Karen Hill Tribe
Our tour began at 9.00 when our guide, Tony Ratchanon, and the driver picked us up from the hotel.
We drove into the countryside of Chiang Mai for about 1.5 hours.
First stop was at a local market where Tony bought some groceries for our lunch and dinner.
It was a welcoming stop for us. We had the chance to taste some local street food.
Then we continued our journey to the National Park. Once we got off the main road, we entered on a bumpier country road.
We enjoyed the scenery as we moved towards the sub-tropical forest deeper into the National Park.
Around 11.00 we reached our White Karen Village.
It was a charming valley with only a few stilted wooden houses and a dusty road winding between them.
The place is so remote that we didn’t even have phone reception.
As we approached, the first thing that we noticed was the animals living under their raised bamboo houses.
Here the houses are more similar to huts. O single room with a porch raised on bamboo sticks and covered with palm leaves.
Underneath each house is the family’s pig, dog, chickens, and firewood. Firstly, we were introduced to our host family. A very charming family of six. It was the 72 years old grandmother that was very energic and full of life, her son with his wife and the children. They invited us to one of the huts and showed us the interior and the way they live.
The single room was the place for sleeping, for cooking and basically everything, except the bathroom.
The cooking is done by an open fire at one part of the room. Above the fire, there was a bamboo grill where they used to preserve food.
In another corner of the room, there were mattresses and some blankets. That was actually the bedroom.
The room had an open porch which was more of an all-day activities place.
The bathroom was close to the hut. It was a place where we could find a toilet seat and a huge plastic bowl filled with cold water. The water was used for everything from the shower to the toilet.
Soon after our arrival, we were invited to have lunch in the jungle.
They wrapped very fast some boiled rice in some banana leaves, they took their rusty rifle and some machetes and we started our way into the jungle.
After just a few steps we were in the village’s rice paddies fields.
The Karen that lives in the mountains is subsistence rice farmers. Today, alongside rice they also grow crops such as coffee, corn or different fruits. Our host was also honey gatherer from wild bees.
We visited this area during the dry season, so many of the fields were empty, just waiting for the raining season to start being cultivating with the new crops.
While we went down deeper into the jungle, our host was collecting fresh bamboo trunks, banana leaves and spices like ginger or turmeric from the wild areas of the forest. Which was pretty amazing!
We walk about, maybe, 45 minute in the shallow paddies fields under the strict observation of water buffalos and then deep into the jungle.
We stopped next to a stream, under the thick shade of the trees.
Our host started to prepare the fire and the cutlery and the plates from the bamboo just harvested. First, he made some pots from bamboo trunks, where we placed the vegetable and the water to be cooked for soup.
Then he handcrafted cups for our coffee. They prepared the fish with fresh species, covered it in banana leaves and put it on the fire.
We were simply amazed by how these people can handle everything with only what nature is providing.
We had a very interesting and educational lunch in the jungle, which gave us a lesson about camping.
After lunch, we came back home and we happily seated on the wooden floor of the hut’s porch.
For us, this experience was so tiring and combined with the heat of the day and it didn’t take long till we fell asleep right there on the porch.
I think we slept for about an hour or so, but the sleep was so deep and refreshing.
After waking up from our beauty sleep, I had a walk around the village observing a little bit their customs and traditions.
The Karens, especially the women, still wear their traditional tunics and sarongs, handwoven by themselves.
They are very skilled handcrafters.
I met a young lady who was weaving a skirt in the traditional Karen way, using a rustic wooden “machine.”
She showed me some basic things, but of course, it was too complicated for me.
This village, like many of the other hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, was completely off the grid. Two years ago the government tried to change that and brought electricity here.
Before the arrival of electricity, people didn’t need money to live their lives. What they were producing, was enough for them.
But now, although a part of the electricity is subventioned by the Government, they still have to pay a small part.
The evening was coming, so we started helping our host to prepare dinner.
They could not speak English, but their smiles and kind gestures said so much and Tony, our guide, was helping us with the translation part and with information about the life of these tribes.
He loves his job and he is passionate about every aspect of it. More than this, he is constantly helping the community to grow, by promoting their traditional way of life to tourists and their products which they are manually making and are being sold outside the village.
For dinner, we had fern, pumpkin leaves, and eggs along with pork and tomatoes, prepared on the open fire.
Our meal was set up on a low handmade wooden table. A simple rug on the floor serving as the seating area and would later serve as the sleeping area for the husband and wife. We were all happy around the small table speaking with our hosts.
They were eager to find about us and we about them.
So we talked for a while, with an amazing dessert in our hands: bamboo sticky rice with honey.
We stayed up until late enjoying the great company. It was one of the best nights of my time in Thailand, created by nothing more than the connection with these people.
That night, we slept in the new hut, just a few meters away from the family’s hut.
We slept on a mattress, on the floor and listened to the forest until we fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up grateful, not only for the hospitality of the family but for the lesson they taught us.
These people have nothing, but manage to discover happiness, to share, to respect and to cherish other people and nature.
The honey collecting
Soon after breakfast, they wanted us to see how they gather honey made from wild bees.
So we went in the jungle and our host climbed a very tall tree wearing almost nothing for protection and came down with a comb of wild honey.
This was really incredible.
Visiting Baan Tong Luang village
If you want to visit the different hill tribes in northern Thailand it is a bit difficult and it takes a lot of time.
We wanted to see the diversity of the Northern Thailand tribes. So, we asked Tony, to take us to Baan Tong Village.
Baan Tong Luang Village is a kind of Village Museum but with people who actually live here and a project that has been established since 2003.
It is a fabricated village containing 8 groups of Hill Tribes, among the most famous one are the Long-necked Karen.
The fee to enter here is 500 baht which is charged to protect and preserve the traditions of these peoples. One part of this money goes to the villagers.
I’ve read many reviews about this place. Many say it’s a human zoo.
But I don’t agree. Tourists come because they want to see how these people lived, what their traditions are and learn about these tribes.
And they earn money from that. They live here and go to school or church and the things they do are real and authentic. So they earn their existence by living here.
In our days it is very difficult to find the authentic hill tribes, one because people no longer dress in their traditional cloths and are adapting to the new way of life.
So if you want to see how these tribes were once, you have to go to this tourist village.
We entered the village and we saw that it was laid out quite well, with a separate area for each of the different Hill Tribes. There were even rice paddies.
The road winds through the village and on both sides there are wooden huts, where villagers are selling certain ethnic things like embroidery, cloth, jewelry, and many other things.
One of the most emblematic tribe is the Long Neck Karen.
The interesting thing is that they wear the brass ring on the neck.
Girls first start to wear rings when they are 5 years old and add one ring for each year up to when they turn 20. Over the years the rings push the shoulders bone structure down.
The brass rings are on the neck for beauty and unique culture. It is true that this particular village is quite touristic, but at the same time, it gave us the possibility to see different cultures, traditions, and different tribes.
So, we had quite two different experiences: one real authentic with the White Karen Hill Tribe, that gave us important life lessons and one more touristic, that showed us the differences between the hill tribes of Northern Thailand.
We consider that we had two unforgettable days and we highly recommend Thailand Hilltribe Holidays for this.
The opportunities to go to an authentic village or to interact with the tribes is a limited one, but they can help you to be closer to the local way of life in a non-intrusive and ethical way.
They are not only proving travel services, but they are also trying to find ways to help the local communities.
The total cost of our experience, personalized for us, was about 130 Euro/pers and we really appreciate that for the home staying and food, we paying directly to our hosts.
However, for those who want to experience “untouched” Thailand, we recommend taking a private tour with Thailand Hilltribe Holidays.