Friday, February 23, 2007

Hilltribes of Northern Thailand

Hilltribes are minority ethnics who traditionally inhabited the hills of Northern Thailand. The Thai government recognizes six major groups of hilltribes, which can be further divided into dozens of sub-tribes with distinct languages, religious beliefs, customs, costumes and historical backgrounds. The six major hilltribes are:

  • Akha
  • Hmong (Meo)
  • Karen
  • Lahu
  • Lisu
  • Mien (Yao)

Akha women selling souvenirs in Chiang Mai’s night market…

Akha village near Mae Salong

Water supply in the Akha village…

On Jan 10, 2007, I visited a ‘human zoo’ not far from Mae Salong. Here, hilltribe people dressed in traditional costumes posed for photo-snapping tourists. The entrance fee for the human zoo was “sam roi baht”.

This picture shows a Lahu woman with her daughter. Sadly, even this little girl had learned to ask for money whenever her picture was taken

An elderly Lahu man playing with traditional music instrument…

Also in the human zoo were the “long-necked” Padaung women, who belonged to a sub-tribe of Karen. These women lengthen their necks by adding brass rings from about seven years of age to the day of their marriage…

This outdated tradition might have been preserved because of tourism . I feel guilty for visiting the human zoo.

On my way back from the human zoo, I came across this young girl who sold souvenirs beside the road. I asked to take her picture. Guess what, she insisted that I buy an item from her. This picture cost me “ha sip baht”…


  1. ...yep... the long-neck tribe thingy..

    ..i can imagine the difference between seeing it on "TV" v.s in Real-time"

    ..i remember i saw a tribe on National Geography with a "plate-shapped" thingy in the tongue once... (oUcH, ..must hurt)

    ...but, yea... they actually perceive it as "Beauty" (shrugs) (the longer the neck, the better) .....the irony..

    ..Beauty is in the 'eyes of the beholder' i guess..

    ..the lengths they go thru to attract the opposite gender... (hmm...)...


  2. ..i know how u feel.

    ...quite a sad sight... ..about the asking for money part...

    ... sad childhood..
    ..poor kids...

    PS: But, is still a blessing they r not into vice of coz..


  3. JuJu,
    There is one NGO, Mirror Art Group, which discouraged us from paying for photo session. Their poster can be seen in the guesthouses of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

    But the hilltribes are not the only people who pose for money. Models do this too.

    Are the hilltribes and tourists doing something wrong? I really do not know.

    Anyway, I did not give money to the kid, and I paid the teenage girl for the souvenir I bought. Of course, I might not made the purchase had I not taken the photos.