Settlements Long Lost to the World
Chiang Mai is usually the jumping-off point for treks into the surrounding jungles, where a dozen or so hill tribes live much as they have for centuries, without electricity and plumbing – not to mention schools and clinics. Until recently, these villages harbored opium-growing operations, which were their sole source of revenue. Today the Thai royal family has taken an interest, encouraging the cultivation of alternative agricultural crops, which the people are slowly accepting. The Karen people have lived in the region since ancient times.
Others – Hmong, Akha, Lisu, and Lahu – began migrating in the 19th century and continue to cross from the nearby borders of Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. A village-to-village trek through the mist-blue mountains offers fascinating interactions with a variety of cultures, and often includes overnight stays in simple settlements. Western visitors may be considered either commonplace or exotic, depending on the village’s previous experience and accessibility, and on your local guide’s personal connections.
The older women proudly dress up in full regalia to welcome visitors from abroad, layering on colorful embroidered and handwoven traditional clothing and silver-bangled headdresses. Get there before MTV does.