Southeast Asia Natural Adventures

nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Thailand, Indonesia and Southeast Asia


Thailand Hill Tribes


The Hill Tribes of Thailand can divided into numerous divisions, according to tribal connections, language, dress, etc, but generally six main groups are recognized. In Thailand they are referred to somewhat differently in name, but in western terminology the more commonly used names (alternatives in brackets) are Akha (Ekaw), Lahu (Musser), Mien (Yao), Lisu (Lisa), Karen (Kariang) and Hmong (Meo). The first three are of Chinese origin, from older and newer migrations; Lisu and Karen are of Burmese origin, and the Hmong spread from Laos. Karen outnumber all the other groups combined. Although most famous for heroin production, this is not the only occupation in the hills; the Karen especially tend not to be involved in the trade.

Experienced Thai hands can distinguish the different groups on their dress, at least with the women, from elaborate headwear worn by the Akha to the multicolored clothes of the Karen. Although some tribes are less obvious than others, representatives of most can be seen selling their wares in the markests and craft stalls of Chiang Mai. Hill tribe religions range from the animist beliefs of the poorest group, the Akha through an animist/buddhist/christian/savior mix to the Chinese Taoist beliefs of the recently arrived Mien.

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