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.

The first village in Thailand was probably established 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. Many people regard them as one of the most interesting ethnic minorities in Thailand.

The Akha are originally animist. Animist villages have a spirit gate and still practice animist rituals. Many Akha converted to the Christian faith and discarded their animist beliefs and rituals.

The Akha have probably the most spectacular and most recognizable traditional dress of the hill tribes of North Thailand.

Four Akha women in Chiang Rai Akha hilltribe trekking
Traditional dress