A local hill tribe guide to join you is a must. Village customs and traditions must be strictly obeyed, only a local guide knows as every village has different rules. Here are a few tips when touring or trekking.
Please be careful with trekking operators that advertise new area or
village. Most good eco-culture friendly operators go to the same area
and villages year after year. They have an excellent relationship with
them so everything is in balance and harmony so they do not need to go
to a new area.
Most hill tribe villages do not have handicrafts as they spend most
of their time working in their fields. There may however be elderly women
in the village taking care of young children that do make handicrafts.
In this case there will be one home or area where handicrafts can be
viewed and bought. No one will bother you to buy anything and you are
not looked at as a major source of income.
Make sure you are not allowed to give candy to children or money for
pictures. Fruit is the best option to give and can be purchased for around 25 Thai Baht per Kilo. Hill tribe children get candy any time their parents can aford it as it is very cheap but they never have enough money for fruit. Figure to purchase around 10 Kilos of fruit for a normal sized village.
Lahu Village tour near Chiang Mai Thailand Video
Nothing should be exchanged directly between the visitor and anyone
in the village. Give your gifts or fruit to the village headman, elder or teacher and they will distribute it. They know all the children and make sure everyone gets their fair share. If you do this yourself or the guide the older children will take it away from the younger ones. Another trick is a child will run back to their house and put it away and come back for more. The teacher or village headman will not let this happen.
A village is a very communal place and what belongs to
one belongs to all. Jealousy and hate between villagers can arise because
one family or person received something from you and they didn't.
It is true that many villages that are visited by tourists drop drastically
in population because of jealousy. Most move away to a different village.
Usually that of another family member who is married to a someone in
Before taking pictures during your village trek or hill tribe tour wait. When you arrive there will be lots of excitement so keep your cameras in your pack or the vehicle. After about 30 minutes and after the fruit has been given out things will settle back to normal. You will know when to take pictures when the children are playing, the villagers are doing thier normal daily routines and you are mostly ignored. This is the time to take out your camera and take pictures. You will get much better candid shots of the villagers doing what villagers do. No need to ask or pay money for photos but take your photos from a distance not in their face. Your guide should know this.
Visiting hilltribes in North Thailand Video
Ask to meet your guide first. Talk alone with your guide.
Find out how much your guide knows about the village as you can. Tell
your guide you want to give candy to children and pay villagers money for photosand if he or she says no problem find
a different operator and guide. Many tour operators don’t care about the well being of the villagers and will say yes to anything you want to do..
Ask how many persons are going on the trek with you and get it in writing
as part of your receipt. Many people are told a small number later to
find out there are up to 15 persons going on the trek. If they come to
pick you up and there is more than what they wrote on your receipt when
you paid for the trek get your money back. 6 persons should be the maximum
and the fewer the better and a private trek is best. The fewer people
on the trek or tour the better the experience.
Overnight in a Lahu hill tribe village, Chiang Mai Thailand Video
An eco-culture tour and trekking operator will keep the number of persons
visiting a village small. The impact of even 50 visitors a month in a
village is devastating and should not be allowed. Some excellent operators
take visitor to a village only once a week and then no more than 6 persons.
They have many villages they can visit so they can take tourists daily
to different villages.
There are areas where hundreds of trekkers visit each month to the same villages. In many villages in these areas the villagers will run up to you and try to sell you trinkets made in China as soon as you arrive. You will need to pay money for photos or make a purchase from them. Once you buy something from 1 you will be bombarded by several more selling the same trinkets. The villages heavily visited by tour groups and trekkers are mainly the Mae Teang and Pai areas.
Some want to visit hill tribe villages on their own and most of these want to spend an evening with a family in the village. This is not a good idea. You must know the culture and customs of the village and each village is different. You can do a lot of harm by just entering the village from the wrong gate. Many have gates for visitors and gates for residents and the villagers believe if you enter from the wrong gate you could be bringing in bad spirits with you. They will then have to spend money for a ritual to cast out bad spirits that you brought in.
If you pay money to stay with a family the other families will be jealous and this could cause unbalance and arguing among villagers. They also barely have enough food to feed their family and will feed you and not have enough to feed themselves. They do not eat the same food as Thais so if you bring food they may not eat it. They do not use fish sauce but salt and they do not eat the white pig but black pig. Also they do not eat their own animals, not even eggs. They purchase eggs and meat from other villages to eat as they will not kill their own animals so sell them to other villages. If you give them money for food they will have to travel a long way to the market and will cost them time and money.
Planting Rice at a Karen hill tribe village
If you would like to visit a real hill tribe village find a tour or trekking operator that follow the basic rules of Eco tourism in Thailand They can provide a local hill tribe guide that knows the culture of the village and knows the villagers like family or has family in the village.
Eco-tourism is not cheap so before you go out to find the best price
for a trek or tour, first think about who wins and who looses on a cheap
tour or trek. No one wins. Think about it.
Written by Randy Gaudet Founder and Director of All Thailand Experiences and has been living in Thailand and helping hill tribe villagers and Orphan childrens homes since 1989. Read more about the Author
Our hill tribe village photos away from the normnal tourist crowds.