Rarely would you get a chance to spend time with the different ethnic and indigenous groups in Thailand while traveling unless you seek them out. It is quite an adventure where you can experience tribal life, living in a village, experience the hospitality of the hill tribe folks and most important of all, bring home a holiday experience in Chiang Rai that is unforgettable. Spend a day trip in Chiang Rai with the 5 Hill Tribes Villages of Chiang Rai.
This village is not far from PB Valley Chiang Rai, infact it is on the way there about half a mid-point. The turning is on the left of the road into PB Valley Chiang Rai and then you proceed a little further in. There are quite a number of signboards to show you the way. The village sits atop a hill in a clearing but that is just the reception area. There are 5 different types of tribes in this village but they all live peacefully together in several settlements. The 5 different tribes are the Palong Long Necks (also known as the Karen Long Necks),Kayor, Akha, Lahu, and Lu Mien. This village is also known as theUnion of Hill Tribe villages and the Karen Long Necks. There are approximately 200 villagers in this settlement. There are visible differences in the outlook of these different tribes which you can observe when you visit.
An offerings table with the altar. Tribal folks can be very superstitious in their beliefs as they are people of the land. These tribes are originally from the nearby countries of Myanmar, Laos, and Yunnan in China, having migrated to Thailand ages ago but kept very much to their culture till today. The 5 Hill Tribes Village in Chiang Rai is the first of its kind that strives to preserve the hill tribe traditions and way of life for these people. Hill tribe folks are also known to be very knowledgeable in the way of animals, the use of various types of plants and vegetation, reading the terrains and most of all being able to eke out a living in the wilderness. They are also very resilient and there is much that the modern world can learn from them and the old ways.
To live among the hill tribes, you have to first respect their culture, traditions and beliefs. There is homestay at the Hill Tribe villagethat you can enquire at the settlement centre. Bear in mind that everything here is back to nature and there are very few modern amenities! However it can be the experience of a lifetime in Chiang Rai if you do take up the program.
As you enter the settlement information centre, you will be able to see some of the tribal handmade products on sale by the different tribes. The hill tribe folks are well-known for wooden sculpture carvings, silk weaving, silver craftsmanship,bag making and other smaller items of ethnic and native value. The sale of these items are in support of the villagers who live in this settlement as they are dependent on donations and the selling of their products. There is noentrance fee into the 5 Hill Tribes Village in Chiang Rai so please feel free to donate to them as they use the funds for daily necessities and home schooling for the children.
There are signposts in the village and at the centre that shows you how to get onto the path that leads to the different villages. I would suggest you pick up a map at the information centre before heading down to the villages. There is also a little museum in the information centre that shows a brief history of the tribes and the different items used in their daily lives. Though these people are not of Thaiorigin but they have brought with them a certain addition to Thai culture as this is also another famous attraction in Chiang Rai that is considered part of eco-tourism in Thailand.
Below are some of the tribal handicrafts from silk scarves to cushion covers and wooden carvings. The women folk of the tribes are very ingenious at making dyes for the silk threads from various natural ingredients like the indigo colours from pea flowers and their yellows from turmeric. You can also watch silk weaving demonstrations in the village itself.
They also make very nice little bags and pouches with animal motifs aside from their scarves. It takes quite long to weave just one scarf so the work put in is very much appreciated for the sheer talent and ingenuity of these tribal women folk.
If you have visited the tribes and on your way out, there is a donation box. Please do feel free to be generous in supporting these group of tribal folks as a form of appreciation. This helps them to buy basic necessities and other materials they may require.
Beautiful wooden carvings and I think some of them are ceramic. These statuettes depict the Karen Long Necks or Palong Long Necks which is their proper tribal names. Most people just generalize them all as Karen Long Necks but when you visit the village you will understand more on the different tribes. Unfortunately we only had enough time to visit the two tribes which are the Palong Long Necks and the Kayoh tribe.However, we will be back on the next trip to document more and hopefully stay awhile to watch their tribal dances and rituals.
At the back of the information centre is a stairway that led down to the villages. Did not look too far from where I was standing but do not be deceived, it is down hill all the way to the bottom of the hill, which means …. you have to climb back up all the way when you are done! However, it is worth the trek down and up!Looking brave and determined at the start but totally knackered by the time I finished climbing up and that was just two settlements. When a tribes person tells you “Oh is just a short walk away”, take it with a pinch of salt. These people are super fit and “just a short walk” could mean 1 km.
Thailand Hill Tribes. Looking all brave from the top of the stairway on the way down to the village
There you go, a good look at just the top part of the stairway and this is not even half way down to the first village. So my advice is travel light with just your camera and water, not your whole back pack unless you are planning to do the homestay. However the best part is even though it may be tiring walking back up but there are lots you can see of the flora and fauna too on the way up and down so that pretty much diverts your attention and the air is so fresh you wouldn’t complain.
Oh for those of you who need to use the washroom, fret not they have kindly thought of your convenience for a clean toilet! If you try the homestay, you will probably use the shower here too but expect cold showers especially in the winter months! Isn’t that going to be refreshing and invigorating but that is what makes these people so resilient and healthy. There is much you can learn from them even insurvival skills and an outdoor adventure in Thailand.
If you decide to do a homestay program at the village this gives you an idea of their lodge. It is quite comfortable and you will also be able to join in their activities of which there are many but I will travel blogabout it the next time when I do one of their stay programs and experience the different tribes in the village!
A view of another village from the bottom of the first flight of stairs. Wooden huts of palm frond roofing. Some of these huts have wooden or rattan flooring and are raised off the forest floor. It is quite interesting to be able to stay in one of these homes and live like a tribes person.
The first village in the settlement is the Palong Long Neck village. Here you can see several huts where outside on their patios the women folk are mostly involved in handicrafts. Most of them areweaving silk scarves or threading the dyed silk cords. You can also see some of their handicrafts on display for sale.
Most of the homes as you can see are raised off the floor and sit at the side of the hill. By raising the flooring it provides good ventilation on the inside as well as keeping pests out of the homes. Made of wood with leave thatched roofing these homes have a natural characteristic and charm of their own. They do have basic items like electricity and water but much else is left as natural as possible.
Yes, by natural it means you see free range chickens running around and I guess this must be the stud of the village as he was crowing all morning trying to get the attention of the hens. The villagers also raise wild boars, farm fish and grow their own food source further down the hill.
The difference between the Palong Long Neck tribe, the Kayor, Akla and other tribes are the ornaments they wear to adorn themselves. It is mostly the women folk who wear the adornments. The Lahu and Lu Mien tribes do not wear ornaments. The Palong Long Necks wear rings around their necks which starts from a very early stage in their lives. These tribal neck rings extend the length of their neck spine bones to an incredible length and these rings are to never be removed lest their neck suffer injuries or are easily broken. Therefore these heavy brass neck rings act as supports for their necks.
The brass rings worn by the Palong Long Necks are worn as a child around the age of 4 or 5 starting with one or two basic rings. These rings are worn around the neck while the spine and neck bones are still in their early formative years. Over the years as the child grows, more rings are added. The more rings worn by a tribes woman, the more beautiful they are in the eyes of their customs. Even with the heavy rings around their necks, the Palong Long Neck women have a certain poise and grace about them that is very rare. They are not gangly or clumsy looking at all. There are half rings which you can try at the village and you will realize how heavy they actually are!
All the settlement villages in this community are well-kept, clean and there are many activities which are running on a daily basis. There are tribal dance demonstrations at the local community hall,pottery classes, weaving and wood carving. Visitors can alsoexperience different tribal customs, try their tribal costumes, learn about farming and livestock handling plus much more includingjungle trekking.
The tribes grow local produce such as tubers (sweet potatoes, tapioca, bananas, mangoes, beans and vegetables) which you can also buy directly from them. They are harvested fresh daily so you can be sure they are organic produce and fresh.
The tribal women of all the tribes are very skilled in silk weavingespecially for scarves, shawls, clothing and bags. It takes a long time to weave even one piece and they are very colourful which is a trademark of the different tribes here. You can even get the brass rings that the women folk wear as ornaments.
It is a tradition for the women to weave scarves and shawls because they experience two climates here in the north and the countries of their origin. They have hot summer months and cold winter months with temperatures as low as 9 degrees celcius, even in Chiang Rai. So if you go in the colder months you would see them wearing these woven scarves or shawls and warmer style clothing.
You can watch daily demonstrations of hand weaving for scarves and shawls on your visit there. The women folk will more than oblige you for a photo, asking nothing in return but normally we would buy something just to support their efforts for the work as some of the items are really nice.
The roles of the women folk are mostly in making handicrafts, clothing and light farming. The men folk which you mostly see only further into the village tend to the heavier work loads such as constructing the houses, tending to the animals and cultivation or hunting. The men folk dress differently from the women as they do not wear neck rings and very few or no adornments. Some of the tribesmen do wear their traditional headwear in the other tribes.
The neat little home of a tribe folk with sleeping and living quarters at the back and a little trading post in the front. You will have plenty of opportunity to shop for well made handcrafted items at these villages.
Other village homes belonging to other tribes are sometimes made from clay and mud depending on the type of tribe. There are quite a number of tribes scattered around Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and othernorthern provinces in Thailand but we decided to visit this particular one as it was a union of all 5 different tribes in one settlement.
Below is a Kayor tribal woman.As you can see, they differ in costumes and adornments from the Palong Long Necks.Most of them do not wear neck rings but they wear heavy ear lobe extensions and different types of necklaces made from beads, bones and feathers. They also wear arm, ankle and leg rings but not for extension purposes. Their style of hand-woven scarves and shawls are also different in design which have more patterns.
The homes of the Kayor tribe also differ from the Palong Long Necks, as they are simpler in design, more open and prefer the use of palm frond partitions. Each tribe is unique in every way which is why it is good for you to make a visit to the 5 Hill Tribes Village of Chiang Rai so you can actually see the difference of each tribe as you walk from one village to the next.
The Kayor tribal women prefer a sort of shawl like dressing compared to their fellow Palong Long Necks and they love colourful necklaces, even the very young girls. They have round fairer faces compared to the Palong Long Necks which have oval and sharper features. It is good to be observant when you visit the villages so that you can catch most of the details and have quite a tale to tell of yourholiday to the tribal villages of Chiang Rai!
The village folk live a very simple life. Their homes are simple and they have no real need for modern entrapment and are quite happy living their communal life. Their possessions are few as they live of the land mostly and are happy creating hand crafted items for sale or selling their produce to eke a living.
A young Kayor girl having her daily siesta outside her patio. Life is simple here.Below is a young Palong Long Neck sitting on her patio selling her handicraft to visitors in the village
A collection of items for sale from the Kayor tribe. Those long sticks in the middle are a typical local tribal tobacco and they even havetribal pipes of many varieties. Some are made from ceramics, silver, hardwood and clay. These tribes people are also famous for theirsilverware and silver rings, amulets and ankle rings. They also have beads made from clay, bone, silver, semi precious stones as well as silk bands and off course the traditional scarves and shawls.
A Palong Long Neck weaving at her loom of which this one is much larger probably for making shawls and pieces of cloth for clothing as well. Behind her are dyed and spun silk threads. In this settlement you can see how they dye the silk threads and roll them on bamboo spools such as those for use when weaving.
This village is one of the most interesting Hill Tribe villages in Chiang Rai and it is actually more than a day trip to the 5 Hill Tribes Village of Chiang Rai. Try their homestay as there are a lot more activities to occupy your time and it is a rare opportunity to stay in a hill tribe village.