Lisu hill tribe village Chiang Dao Chiang Mai Tribal Photography Hill Tribes Thailand
Lisu people in Chiang Dao district

The Lisu people

The Lisu are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority, originally from southwest China. Under pressure of the growth of the Chinese population many left their homeland. Nowadays there are Lise living in China, India, Thailand and Myanmar. They drifted into North Thailand from Burma (Kengtung) and live in Fang, Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai Tak, Khampaeng Phet, Phayao, Lampang and Chiang Rai. They speak a language that belongs to the Lolo branch of the Tibeto-Burman family.

Most of the Lisu are animists, which means that they believe that all things are embodied with “spirit”, ancestor worship, and living in harmony with nature and all beings. Over time many of them have converted to Buddhism.  More recently many have become christians but even the converts still mix their new religion with traditional animism. 

There are two scripts in use and the Chinese Department of Minorities publishes literature in both. The oldest and most widely used one is the Fraser script developed by missionaries in the 1920’s. The second script was developed by the Chinese government and is based on pinyin. Look at our page about the Lisu, where we have information about the language.

The Lisu are probably the only tribe that has cross border contacts. In 2018 there was a gathering in Mae Taeng in Thailand of Lisu people from China and from Myanmar.

Their dress is very colourful and beautiful. We organise tours to a Lisu village in Chiang Dao.

Children and girls in tribal dress
Lisu wedding at Doi Lan village in the 1980s. Picture by Otome Klein Hutheesing.