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Northern Hill Tribes of Thailand

Over the centuries, driven from their native countries by civil war, the northern hill tribes of Thailand have migrated from Laos, Burma, Vietnam and also China. Approximately 500 000  people are located in the upper northern regions of Thailand namely Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and also Mae Hong Son where they make a living from agriculture. The tribes in the lower valleys farm corn and rice while the ones living in the higher altitudes make a living from poppy cultivation.

Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
Hill Tribe Home in Chiang Mia Thaialand

Though they only account for 2% of the population the northern hill tribes  is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest tourist attraction of north. Thousands of visitors flock to visit Chiang Mai and the mountains each year to meet them, learn about their way of life and culture and to stay in their villages. They are a friendly people, conservative and welcoming.

Hill Tribe Home in Chiang Mia Thaialand
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes

The Thai government is making an effort to integrate the hill tribes into the Thai way of life, among other reasons, to stop the exhausting of agricultural land by means of their slash and burn approach to farming which sees them making huge fires to burn the undergrowth. Though the ashes may temporarily enrich the soil, the hill tribes simply move on to other pieces of land to farm once the soil is exhausted which happens fairly quickly.

Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes

The hill tribes are renowned for their jewelery making, basket making and an array of other handicraft. By supporting the hill tribe people of Thailand by buying their goods, we can help sustain these people in different ways, helping the Thai government at the same time by creating a market for the goods of the hill tribes. The hill tribes can typically be divided into six tribes namely the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Lisu and Akha. Each of these tribes has their own language, culture, religion, heritage and clothing.

The Karen Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
The Karen is by far the biggest of the six tribes, approximately 270 000, and seems to originate primarily from Burma. They started arriving during the 18th century and are still today entering Thailand. Their religion is predominantly Buddhist though many have over the years converted to Christianity.
Hmong Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes

There are approximately 80 000 Hmong living in the north. They are also known as the Meo, and is the 2nd largest of the tribes and originate from Laos.

The Hmong is nomadic with strong cultural similarities with the Chinese. They primrily cultivating poppy, but is also known for their ability to breed live stock.

Mien Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
The Mien counts approximately 30 000 and are also found in various other South East Asian countries like Vietnam and Laos. In Thailand the Mien hill tribe is mainly found in Chiang Rai, Lampheng Provinces and Phayao.
Lahu Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
The Lahu  live mainly in the highlands around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. They are known for their hunting skills and are  talented musicians.
Lisu Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes
The Lisu peoplecan be identified for their love of bright coloured clothing. They originate from Burma and live mainly in Chiang Rai. They are famed for their ability to produce jewelery.
Akha Tribe
Thailand Northen Hill Tribes

The Akha, also known as the Kaw originate from Burma (Myanmar) and seem to be the biggest attraction of all the tribes. Go there and find out why.

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