Hill Tribes in Thailand

hill tribes of northern thailand, karen

Indigenous hill peoples of Thailand refer to ethnic minority groups living along the mountainous areas in the North and the West of Thailand where are regarded as risk prone to various problems with inconvenient communication infrastructure, poor living conditions and the lack of educational opportunities. These hill peoples comprises 9 local tribes; namely, Karen (PgaGaYaw), Hmong (Meo), Mien (Yao), Lahu (Mu Ser), Lisu, Akha (Egor), Thin, Khamu and Mrabri (The Yellow Leaf People). These hilltribes stay along high mountainous border areas between Thai-Laos PDR and Thai-Myanmar, covering areas along northern, mid-western and northeastern Thailand. Details by geographical regions are follows:

14 provinces in northern region; namely, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Tak, Uthai Thani and Kamphaeng Phet.

5 provinces in middle region; namely, Suphan Buri, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi and Prachuab Khiri Khan.

1 province in northeastern region; namely, Loei.

Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand

Numbering approximately 600,000 the hill tribes consist of 7 main groups, most of whom have migrated into the area in the past 150 years, originating in Yunnan, Northern Burma and even Tibet. Primitive, poor and often marginalized by Thais, the hill tribes prefer to live in the uplands undisturbed and are noted for their distinctive costumes. Tourism dollars, and efforts by His Majesty’s Royal Project to provide them with agricultural cooperatives, has brought prosperity and outside influence to some villages.

hill tribes of northern thailand, karen

Karen and Karen Longneck Hill Tribe :

Among the more sophisticated of the tribes, the Karen mostly occupy a trip along the Salween River in Mae Hong Son province, with many more in the Karenni State inside Burma. They farm lowlands, practice crop rotation and are noted for basket weaving. Distinguished by their red or white cotton tunics.

hill tribes of northern thailand, hmong

Hmong Hill tribe :

The second largest group, most commonly found in Chiang Mai province, the Hmong benefit from integration through cooperatives. Fiercely independent, they helped fight communists in Laos on behalf of the CIA in the 70s. Distinguished by heavily embroidered costumes (women) and smart baggy trousers (men).

hill tribes of northern thailand, akha

Akha Hill tribe :

Perhaps the most down-trodden of the tribes, the Akha,s distinctive eyes hint at Tibetan origin. Mostly found in Chiang Rai their oral ancestral history and Swing Festival. They can be found hawking at the night markets and are distinguished by their intricate headdress of coins, beads and shells.

hill tribes of northern thailand, lisu

Lisu Hill tribe :

Considered the prettiest of the hill tribe women, the Lisu roam the markets in Pai and Mae Hong Son. Originating from Tibet, they keep livestock and cultivate vegetables, living above 1000 m. Their bright, multi-colored hats and accessories are commonly sold at markets. Distinguished by bright purple and peach frocks with elaborate bead gear.

hill tribes of northern thailand, lahu

Lahu Hill tribe :

A small and impoverished hilltribe found along the Burmese border in the North, especially in Doi Angkhang. Known as Musor “Hunter” in Burmese Lahu villages consist of bamboo huts with stilts on steep hillsides. Distinguished by black and red jackets (women) and bright green baggy pants (men).

hill tribes of northern thailand, mien

Mien Hill tribe :

Also known as the Yao, the Mien are the shyest of the tribes, confined to villages in Chiang Rai and limited trekking routes. They have deep Chinese influences, with a written language based on Chinese. Fine silversmiths and embroiderers, the practice polygamy and are distinguished by red and black embroidered costumes and unique red fur boas’ around their necks.

hill tribes of northern thailand, mlabri

Mlabri Hill tribe :

The MlaBri people are also known as Yellow Leaf people. They used to live deep in the jungles of Thailand and were rarely seen. Banana leaves were used as a roof on their shelters. When these leaves turned yellow a week or two later, they moved to a new place in the jugle to continue their hunter gatherer lifestyle. They do not like to be call spirits, but they like the name “Yellow Leaf People.”