My visit to the Hill Tribes at Baan Thong Luang in Chiang Mai was hands down the most special day and the highlight of my trip. I was so amazed at this Eco- agricultural village that was the home to many different hill tribes. I thought we were only off to see the more famous “long neck” tribe and so getting to experience others firsthand was such an added bonus. Wandering around the hills of this village, surrounded by rice paddy fields and thatched roofed huts, i couldn’t help but think that this was an amazing way to live life. Simple and peaceful and that is overrated these days don’t ya think? The young boys of the village were running round playing ball and the younger kids were having a midday nap in the village kindergarten. Bless them they were awful cuties. The women of the tribes were busy crafting their specialities from weaving textiles or handmade dolls and jewelry. I adored all the vibrant colours. If only we could get away with wearing all these out there traditional outfits back home? It would be a much brighter and colorful place that’s for sure. One thing i noticed which i thought was strange was the men seemed scarce. The women were definitely out numbering them. Maybe they were elsewhere outside of the village working, who knows. I came across one man however taking care of his pig and the tiny piglet. God he shouldn’t have let it to run around,it was so damn cute i was debating taking it home with me. I wouldn’t say no to a teacup pig any day.
I learned that this village was set up as a cultural conservation project that is accessible and mainly geared towards tourists. I loved that when we were there, my family and i were the only visitors in sight. As with most attractions in Thailand, it was strange not to see tonnes of backpackers and travelers alike roaming round making their mark. I am sure that the village could become a tourist trap on certain days i wont deny that, i just reckon we got really lucky. After experiencing the hoards of tourists in Maya Bay the previous week, being the only ones in the village made it all the more special and memorable. The village was set up in 2005 and the tourists that come to visit are now the main source of income for the tribes. There is an entrance fee of 500 baht and then you can purchase any of the gifts or souvenirs the tribes have on display. I bought a beautiful ring chain for only 200 baht. Its fab,and quite different. You could buy something at each tribe hut however a lot of the stuff was more or less the same and while it would have been lovely to be able to give something to each one it just wouldn’t be possible. Unlike most market areas in Thailand, where you get bombarded with Thai locals trying ever so hard to sell you their products, i didn’t feel any kind of pressure to buy anything here. I also didn’t feel the need or want to haggle here(for once, i love a good haggle). The tribes people are so chilled out and didn’t try and force us to purchase anything at all. Very refreshing that is, when you have been living in Thailand for a while. I felt like the tribes were just so full of pride about their traditions and to have them on display in the village was their way of sharing them with the world. They were more than happy to get in for pictures with us and there is no doubt that they are a friendly bunch of people. We spent quite a while at the village but i could have honestly stayed all day i found them that interesting. I have heard there is the opportunity to stay overnight at certain hill tribes in Thailand, if i am ever back in that neck of the woods, that will be on my cards for sure.
The most interesting undoubtedly is the ladies of the long neck tribe. Before coming here and meeting them face to face i had seen many pictures of the women with the brass rings round their necks. What i was not prepared for was the weight that the coils actually were. I tried one on for only a few seconds and my heart pours out to the women cos that has got to hurt to wear all day every day. They can weigh up to an astonishing 10 kilos. Imagine carrying that extra weight round everyday? I asked one lady does she ever take hers off. She told me that it NEVER comes off. She sleeps and showers with it on. Now that is dedication if iv ever seen it. The girls start to wear a few rings at about the age of five and over the years build up the number of rings to 25 and upwards. The brass ring makes the ladies muscles around the collarbones go down so it gives the appearance of the elongated, giraffe like neck. Its not actually a stretched neck like you would think. Its bizarre really. Its not only their necks, but they also have the rings on their shins and arms. They are blinging with brass head to toe. This look is a symbol of beauty to the tribe. Its truly amazing to learn of the different beauty standards living in Thailand. I still find it fascinating that Thai culture perceives pale skin as something so beautiful when back home you get slagged for being pasty and tanned skin is more beautiful. Such an eye opener. Beauty aside it is said that they wear the rings to protect themselves from tigers. I am not fully convinced that these rings would fully guard you if you got cornered by a tiger, but we have to live in their hope i guess.
The Big Ear tribe or better known as Lahu tribe was the other tribe that stole a piece of my heart, especially these two…just look at them!!!!
Theses two were the most fun and engaged with us the most. From playing musical instruments for us to letting us have a go of their crossbow. They don’t look that happy in the pictures but they were all smiles and full of life in person. The black jacket and big earrings are what they are most recognisable for. They believe that ears are the most sensitive part of the body and it is a look also associated with beauty. It was lovely to watch them chilling in their bamboo huts and just go about their daily lives. Traditionally the Lahu people are animist so it was interesting when you finish your trek to the last tribe on the hill, which is the long neck where you find a christian church. Apparently some have converted over to Christianity over the years.
Here is a few other precious moments i captured while at the village…
I have read many a mixed reviews of the hill tribes,
some people think its a mere money racket for tourists and more like a marketplace than anything else. Everyone’s opinion will be different and we are all entitled to those. However i think
any experience while travelling is what you make of it. If you just
breeze through this village and don’t take the time to interact with the
tribes people then yes you might just leave here feeling a little
empty. For me i made as much effort as i could to communicate with them
and that’s why i had such a positive experience. I honesty recommend a visit to see the fascantaing people of the Hill Tribes to everyone. Take from it what you will. How do you feel about the Hill tribes of Chiang Mai?
We combined our trip here with the Tiger Kingdom and Doi Suthep temple(posts coming soon) and had our own personal driver for the day which is a good option and leaves you to choose how long or little you want at each place for 200 baht each.
Hope you enjoyed the read