Chiang Mai Hill Tribes

Table of Contents

Ethnic minorities or Chiang Mai Hill Tribes

Northern Thailand is home to interesting and colorful ethnic minorities. They are also known as hill tribes although many people contest this nomenclature. The definition of a tribe is “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”.

In Thailand the term hill tribes has been used since Gordon Young published his book “The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand: A Socio-ethnological Report” but the use of this term probably goes further back. They are fascinating people and very different from the Thai people. Each tribe has its own language, culture, traditional dress, and peculiarities. The Thai people call them “chao khao,” which means “people from the mountain.” At this moment, they probably number about one million people out of a population of almost 70 million. On this page, we give a concise introduction to the history and current situation of these tribal groups.

Tours to Chiang Mai Hill Tribes

For more than 20 years, we have been organizing tours to hill tribe communities. Over time we have developed our own way of working with some of these communities. I wrote this blog about the history of hill tribe trekking. In the early days, many people criticized these tours to poor and undeveloped villages as unethical. They tend to forget that local people also profited from tourism, but in general, the trekking industry in those days was immature and poorly regulated. We have to do a lot better.

The future of hill tribe tourism

We organize tours that are educational, responsible, and respectful. We are the guests of communities and have to behave like that. Our goal is not only to bring money to a community but also to give them something to learn and remember.

We will respect and support the preservation of local traditions and language. These are worth preserving and will aim to help with that. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to meet and share experiences with these very special people.

We realize that much more thought and preparation have to go into these tours’ design and operation.

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Two Karen women