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.
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.
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.
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.
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