Tribal woman with bamboo plate
Akha woman in Ban Apha. Picture by Gary Latham.

The Akha people

Where do they come from?

The Akha hill tribe originated in Yunnan in Southern China. Yunnan has the highest population. Over several centuries many migrated southward from their original home. In the middle of the 19th century significant numbers moved into Kengtung State, the easternmost of the Shan States of Burma. Others made their way into Laos. The Akha in Thailand came from Burma.

Akha people probably established the first village in Thailand in 1903 in the Phaya Phrai area on the Burmese border. Phaya Phrai is in Mae Fah Luang District, Chiang Rai. An area with a large percentage of Akhas is Mae Salong (now known as Santikhiri) in Chiang Rai province. The area of Ban Therd Thai (formerly known as Ban Hin Taek), a former residence and base of the so-called “Opium King”, Khun Sa, has many villages as well. Many people regard them as one of the most interesting ethnic minorities in Thailand.

Religion and traditional dress

The Akha are originally animist. Animist villages have a spirit gate and still practice animist rituals. Many converted to the Christian faith and discarded their animist beliefs and rituals. They have three subgroups: Lomi, Ulo and Phami, recognizable from the head dress the women wear.

The Akha have probably the most spectacular and most recognizable traditional dress of the hill tribes of North Thailand. We offer tours to villages of this most interesting hill tribe in Chiang Rai province and in Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province.

Akha woman, child and tourist
Tourist posing with Akha