The dominant images of Thailand are the limestone cliffs of Phi Phi, long boats and turquoise water. But the ‘kingdom’ offers more than this. Beyond the beaches lie hills and mountains waiting to be discovered. Think lush green valleys, waterfalls, villages and wildlife.
Also think, tribal life. Having adopted farming when they came from China during the 19th and 20th centuries, Thailand’s hill tribe people settled in the lush hills of the north. One of the best ways to experience the distinctive color and culture of the region is trekking. Groups numbering from four to 20, can expect a cook, guides, transport and accommodation—often in traditional style long houses. Depending on how fit and adventurous you’re feeling, they can last anywhere from three to 10 days.
To make the most of a journey like this, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the different tribes to see just what makes them unique.
- Akha: Entering any Akha village means passing through a set of ornately carved wooden gates where guardian spirits are said to dwell. In a show of commitment to the past most of us could never attest to, it’s not uncommon for Ahka people to recall ancestors up to 15 generations back.
- Karens: We’re talking the largest of the hill tribes now. Karens people live in the foothills and can be easily distinguished by the unusual attire worn by women. If you see white blouse-sarong combinations with hair covered by a white scarf, you know you’re with a Karens tribe.
- Lahu: Perhaps the most outgoing and social of all are the Lahu people—known for their love of entertainment and a good time. They are also skilled hunters and masters of herbal medicine lore. Unlike the Karens tribe, dress is colorful – big silver earrings never going astray.
- Lisu: If the Lahu people are the ‘funsters’, the Lisu people are the entrepreneurs and lateral thinkers of the hill tribe people. On top of being ‘good looking’ they are inventive, engineering features like bamboo pipes to carry water around villages.
- Meo: The second largest hill tribe group after Karens, Meo people worship the ‘sky spirit’ and have strict gender division of labor. Anyone trekking out of Chang Mai is most likely to come across a Meo tribe. Look out for pleated skirts made of hemp, died with blue and white batik patterns.
- Yao: Here we have the true creatives. This is the tribe that art collectors want to meet. From silver jewelry to embroidery, their handicrafts are well-renowned.
Article compiled by Gemma Deavins, who loves to travel and is a writer for www.cheapflights.com.au