Meet the Hill-tribes of Northern Thailand

Hilltribes of Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand, and more specifically the area located between Chiang Rai, Pai and the Burmese border, is home to various ethnic minorities of different origins (Myanmar, China, Laos, Tibet, etc). Owning a distinct social organization, culture and language, these tribes often escaped conflicts in their home countries and were forced to emigrate in the northern mountains of Thailand. Very proud of their traditions and folklore, these tribes are distinguished by rather unusual practices such as elongation of the women’s neck with dozens of beautiful necklaces. Today we invite you to discover three of the most important tribes of northern Thailand, the Akha, Karen and Hmong tribes.

The Akha Tribe

Originally from Tibet and Myanmar, the Akha people are estimated to be about 70,000 in Thailand, mainly located in the northern mountains. Their language, coming from the Lolo/Yi branch of the tibeto-burman languages, has no written version, and their religion is an interesting mix of Shamanism and Christianity. As a result, they live in harmony with nature and dedicate a special worship to their ancestors. If Akha people have a long history of opium cultivation, they are now trying to diversify their activities by proposing a particularly refined craftsmanship. You will certainly encounter some of them while walking in one of the night markets in Chiang Mai where they sell their creations.

The Karen Tribe

Originally nomadic, the Karen people settled in Burma around the 8th century AD, before dispersing all over Southeast Asia, especially in Laos and Thailand. Very attached to community life and respect of nature, the Karen have preserved the harmony within their tribe focusing mainly on farming and weaving. If most of the Karens are animists, their religion is widely tinged with Thai Buddhism, which has certainly allowed them to better integrate into Thai society. Today, Karen face many difficulties to adapt to the modern economy and still sorely lack basic infrastructure such as roads and schools.

The Hmong Tribe

Forming the largest group after the Karen, Hmong people come from the Huang He Valley (Yellow River) in China. Persecuted and oppressed, they were forced to flee the country and settle in the hills of northern Thailand. Representing today nearly 150,000 people in Thailand, they are relatively well integrated into Thai society and are particularly known for their goldsmith skills. There is a good chance that you will find their beautiful jewelry on the shelves of night markets in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai!