One of the major pleasures of travelling in Thailand is to get away from the cities and popular resorts to experience village life. Those who want more than a beach and a clear blue sea after leaving Bangkok on their holiday in Thailand often head north. There is the chance to enjoy the natural environment as well as visiting the ethnic minorities that live in the many small villages much as they have always done. There is a fair amount of poverty in the rural areas but Thailand travel packages bringing tourists to the North are certainly helping the economy. Life is often above 1,000 metres but none of the northern hill tribes see anything wrong with that.
Those interest in trekking, nature and culture could hardly find anywhere better.
How to get there
The Northern Highlands are fairly remote but there are good domestic airline connections into Chiang Mai in the north from Bangkok with onward travel by bus. In addition there is a train service between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Those on Thailand tour packages will have all travel arrangements made for them.
Best time to visit
The North of Thailand is cooler than the rest of the Country because of its altitude. Our Thailand travel guideidentifies December and January as probably the two most popular months of all even though night time temperatures can drop towards freezing with highs of 25C.
Visitors will head for this region right around the year such is the attraction of Thailand.It is always included in Indochina tour packages and there are different seasons from country to country.
There are seven broad tribes each with their own customs and costumes and there are sub groups within the seven. Many originate from the interior of Asia before making the Northern Highlands their home, living by subsistence agriculture.
• The Karen are the largest group, around 300,000 and many were converted to Christianity by missionaries; others are animist or Buddhist. They originate from Burma (now Myanmar) and their distinctive clothing include woven tunics and turbans. They are skilled weavers, rice producers and display their consciousness about the environment by practising crop rotation to help preserve the forest.
• The Hmong number 124,000 and are largely animist. Originally from Yunnan, they are known for their embroidery while as proud and independent they sided with the communists in the 1970s. Women wear pleated skirts and men black pants, always baggy and plenty of colour. They are the majority tribe around Chiang Mai and among the easiest for tourists to visit.
• There are 73,000 Lahu who originate in Yunnan and Myanmar. The live close to the Myanmar border, surviving on agriculture and hunting. The women prefer black and red while the men opt for green or blue baggy pants.
• The Akha come from Tibet and Myanmar. They are amongst the poorest of the tribes with some of the villages converted to Christianity. There is around 50,000 Akhu and they have managed to retain oral literature from days gone by. They have been in Thailand since the beginning of the 20th Century. Women wear plain clothing but with many accessories and ornate head-dresses.
• There are 40,000 Mien who originate from Central China; many still write Chinese. They live in fairly isolated villages where visitors will see the men in long black jackets with red trim. Amongst their skills are embroidery and silverwork.
• The Lisu from Tibet and Yunnan are known for their colourful dress will the elderly still wear turbans. There are 28,000 all living above 1,000 metres in villages that grow corn and vegetables and keep livestock.
• There is an unspecified number of Padaung, a sub group of the Shan who are primarily in Myanmar. The women elongate their necks with rings and tourism seems certain to ensure they continue to do so.
There are a number of villages that have opened themselves to tourism. Several are close to Chiang Mai where there is plenty of choice of accommodation, especially guesthouses. Those on organised tours over the whole country or even the whole of Indochina will be offered a range of hotels and guesthouses with all arrangements made before arrival.